Homecoming to Israel for 'lost' Jews in India delayed by COVID-19

·2-min read
Indian Jews, members of the Bnei Menashe, suffering from the coronavirus disease, lie on their beds at a COVID-19 care facility, inside a Gurudwara or a Sikh Temple, in New Delhi

By Adnan Abidi

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - More than 100 Jews from India's northeastern Manipur state have had to delay plans to emigrate to Israel as family members fell ill with COVID-19 and were placed in quarantine in New Delhi.

Soizagin, 40, who will soon renounce his Indian citizenship, calls his permanent move to Israel a "golden opportunity".

"We have been very excited," said Soizagin who goes by only one name and is recuperating at a Sikh temple, which has been turned into a COVID care centre.

"(We've been delayed) just because of this COVID positivity. Otherwise...we should have left by 31st of last month."

Soizagin is part of India's roughly 6,000-member Bnei Menashe community, which lives largely in Manipur and neighbouring Mizoram state and has formally been recognised by Israel's rabbinical leaders as Jews.

On Wednesday, about 40 Bnei Menashe were quarantined at the New Delhi Sikh temple, said Soizagin, who was dressed in an olive green T-shirt and black pyjamas and donned a Jewish kippah skullcap.

The tale of how Bnei Menashe or the "Children of Menashe" settled in an Indian region, sandwiched between Bangladesh and Myanmar, is grand in its sweep of history but short on scientific support.

Exiled from ancient Israel by the Assyrian empire around 730 BC, a tribe is forced east and travels through Afghanistan and China before settling in what is now India's northeast.

With time all that is left is a name -- Manasseh, Menasia or Manmase, an ancestor whose spirit the community invokes to ward off evil.

That name is then linked to the Israelite tribe of Menashe, one of the biblical "Twelve Tribes of Israel", 10 of which disappeared after the Assyrian invasion.

While search for conclusive proof of Bnei Menashe's Jewish origins continues, the community says some of their practices were similar to ancient Hebrew traditions.

Shavei Israel, a Jerusalem-based organization which has been locating descendants of the lost tribes of Israel and bringing them home, has previously called the Bnei Menashe's return a miracle.

(Reporting by Adnan Abidi; Writing by Sankalp Phartiyal; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

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