Coming Home to Israel
I was born and raised in Imphal, the capital city of Manipur, India’s easternmost state and home to many Bnei Menashe. In the mid-1990s, Rabbi Eliyahu Avichail of Jerusalem opened the Amishav house in Imphal. It consists of a synagogue, two guest rooms, a mikvah (ritual bath) and one classroom, in addition to the living quarters for the center’s staff. It was at the Amishav house that I was able to acquire a basic knowledge of Judaism and halacha (Jewish law).
Thanks to the generosity of some Australian well-wishers, religious books and primary Hebrew textbooks were donated, enabling us to open a library which I was proud to administer. As I advanced in my Hebrew studies, I also began teaching others the language of our forefathers. Shortly thereafter, I began to serve as the chazan (cantor) of the Beth El synagogue located in the Amishav house.
In mid-1999, I received the long-awaited and much hoped for news: permission to go to Israel. Finally, my dream was coming true: I was to return to the land of our ancestors. After over 2,000 years of exile, I was going home.
As excited as I was, I was at a loss as to the rules and procedures for obtaining the necessary visas and undergoing the requisite formalities. In addition, I did not have the necessary funds to pay for the cost of airfare and transportation from Manipur to Israel. To my great relief, friends in Israel informed me that it would all be taken care of by the Amishav organization. Rabbi Avichail would shoulder the burden of arranging the visas, purchasing the airline tickets, organizing places to stay in Israel and ensuring all of our initial basic needs. I can not begin to imagine what troubles and hardships were involved in making it all succeed, and I am very grateful to Rabbi Avichail for his dedication and efforts.
After the arrangements were made, I left my home in eastern India and landed at Ben-Gurion Airport on October 8, 1999. The moment my feet touched the holy ground of the Promised Land, I felt transformed into a new person, both physically and spiritually. Whatever fears and anxieties I had, they melted away instantly when I saw the familiar faces of friends and relatives who had come to greet me at the airport. Among them was Rabbi Avichail, whose big smile radiated warmth. Just as my friends had told me, Rabbi Avichail had arranged for my accommodations in advance, and I was able to rapidly begin my absorption into Israeli society.
After staying with my brother (who had come to Israel previously) for four or five days, I moved into the Machon Meir yeshiva in Jerusalem. I took a range of Judaic studies courses and I was able to complete the formal conversion ceremony in about 7 months. I enjoyed the learning immensely and I continue to study there so that I can deepen my knowledge and appreciation of our rich and beautiful heritage.
I have now been in Israel for a year and I am very happy. But as the saying goes — even on the bright side of the moon, there are dark spots. It is now five months after my conversion was completed, but I still have not been issued a Teudat Zehut (identity card) and various other documents that go along with having full Israeli citizenship. I just hope that this will get sorted out soon.
I was very excited to learn recently that another 100 Bnei Menashe will be coming by the end of this year, as well as 100 more next year. I left behind so many relatives and friends in India who dream of coming home to Israel — I pray that I will be reunited with them again soon here in the Jewish state. Though the financial burden on Rabbi Avichail and Amishav is immense, I hope that Jews around the world will help to make this dream become a reality.