More than 50 Jews from India fulfilled a centuries old dream this week when they made aliyah, singing Hatikvah after they finally set foot in the Jewish state.
India's Bnei Menashe community, based in the northeastern state of Manipur, numbers more than 7,000 and claims to be descended from the lost tribe of Menashe, exiled after the Assyrian invasion. Around 1,700 of its members have already received Israeli citizenship, but the last few years have been dogged by a struggle to convince the Israeli government to allow the remainder in. In October, the government agreed to overturn an earlier ban and allow 274 more to make aliyah.
Michael Freund, chairman of the Shavei Israel group, which has co-ordinated the campaign to bring the remaining Bnei Menashe Jews to Israel, said that hundreds more would make a liyah in the new year.
"The members of this tribe have never forgotten where they came from," he said after the new arrivals landed in Israel. "We are excited to be able to help them come back,"
For centuries, the Bnei Menashe have carried out Jewish customs and traditions, marking Shabbat, keeping kosher and observing festivals. But there have long been questions over the veracity of their Jewish origin, and while Israeli Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar offered support when he recognised them as a lost tribe in 2005, the new arrivals will still be officially converted to Orthodox Judaism.
"Israel is my heritage and religion. Israel is everything to me," one of the Bnei Menashe Jews told Ynet after the flight landed. "We've been waiting for this moment for hundreds of years."