According to the tradition that is handed down to the community’s younger generations, they are the descendants of the tribe of Menashe, one of the 10 tribes that were exiled from Israel at the end of the First Temple period.
The Shavei Yisrael organization, which has been working among the Bnei Menashe community in India, established centers over the past decade for the study of Hebrew and Judaism for them in order to help them strengthen their Jewish identity and assist those who wished to immigrate to Israel.
This is a very organized group with approximately 50 synagogues and an umbrella organization that unites all the communities. Shavei Yisrael, with its director, Michael Freund, has been working with the Israeli government for several years as well in order to persuade it to bring all the Bnei Menashe here. Individuals from the Bnei Menashe community began to immigrate to Israel as early as 1982.
By 2003, approximately 1,250 members of the community entered the country on tourist visas provided by the Ministry of the Interior and in small groups.
In March 2005, Israel’s Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar recognized the Bnei Menashe community’s connection to the Torah and to the people of Israel, and decided “they must be helped to return to the homeland of the Jewish people.”
Incidentally, the matter of the Bnei Menashe entered Israeli public discourse in 1996, when members of the community sent an emotional letter asking for help to the prime minister at the time, Benjamin Netanyahu. The one who opened the letter and took the matter under his responsibility was an adviser in the Prime Minister’s Bureau by the name of Michael Freund, an immigrant from the U.S., who later took the matter on as a personal project.