RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:
Almost 2,000 have been allowed to come to the Jewish state, but many more are waiting. Their migration is frozen by disagreement over whether or not they are really Jews. NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro has this story.
TZVI KHAUTE: This was my home sweet home in (unintelligible).
(SOUNDBITE OF KNOCKING)
KHAUTE: (Foreign language spoken)
LOURDES GARCIA: He still remembers the feeling of awe when he arrived at Ben Gurion Airport.
KHAUTE: It is a dream come true. Not only my dream; it is the dream of our forefathers. There was the longing and then the yearning always to make aliyah, to reach the Holy Land.
GARCIA: Michael Freund is the chairman of Shavei Israel, a Jerusalem-based organization that works with lost Jews around the world. He has been instrumental in bringing the Bnei Menashe here.
MICHAEL FREUND: Initially, I didn't believe the whole lost tribe bit, but I was very taken by them on a personal level, on a human level - by their sincerity, by their desire to become part of the Jewish people. So I thought we should help them. So I became involved through the bureaucracy then in arranging for groups to start coming in an organized fashion.
GARCIA: He says he is now convinced that the Bnei Menashe are Jews who were sent into exile 2,700 years ago.
FREUND: I think we have a historical responsibility, a moral responsibility, to reach out to them and to facilitate their return.
GARCIA: Dr. Shalva Weil is an anthropologist at Hebrew University and one of the world's leading experts on the Bnei Menashe. She says they Bnei Menashe are not one cohesive group.
SHALVA WEIL: It's a very new kind of religion that's developing in northeast India which combines elements of Israelite identity. But some people who are doing correspondence with me say they are Christians but they believe they should go and live in the state of Israel. Some people say that they're Jewish. Some of them believe that they're both Christian and Jewish at the same time. Many of them don't believe that they are the tribe of Menashe at all.
GARCIA: Still, Weil says there could be millions of members of the Bnei Menashe who ultimately want to come here. And allowing the group to come in based on their link to a lost tribe could also pose a larger challenge for the Israeli government's immigration policy.
WEIL: There might be billions of lost tribes out there by now. 'Cause 28,000 were dispersed by Sennacherib and Shalmaneser, kings of Assyria. Through natural increase, this could be half the world today.
GARCIA: Unidentified Woman: (Singing in foreign language)
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GARCIA: Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News.
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