Source: Religion News Service
MANIPUR, India (RNS) — Wearing a pale-yellow tallit — the traditional Jewish prayer shawl — Aharon Vaiphei points to a map of Jerusalem at the Shavei Israel Hebrew Center in Manipur in northeastern India. “This is the land of our ancestors,” said Vaiphei, 32, a Bnei Menashe Jew who hopes to make aliyah (immigrate to Israel) this year.
Vaiphei’s dream is shared by the estimated 7,000 Bnei Menashe Jews who are scattered across the rural agrarian landscape of Manipur and neighboring Mizoram. They are keen to return to what they consider their ancient homeland.
The Bnei Menashe claim to be descended from one of the 10 lost tribes of Israel that were exiled by the Assyrian Empire in about 740 B.C., even though there’s no historical record of this. Their pamphlets, based on oral tradition, recount how the Bnei Menashe escaped slavery and made their way to Afghanistan, China and Burma before settling in northeast India. To this day, they believe their origins are different from the local Indian population’s.