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September 3, 2015 / 19 Elul, 5775
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Shavei Israel’

Two Communities, One Celebration: Bat Mitzvah Girl Adopts Bnei Menashe Immigrants

Wednesday, June 24th, 2015

Becky Melamed knows how tough it is to be a new immigrant. She arrived in Israel from New York with her family in 2009 when she was just six years old. So, as she was turning 12 and planning her bat mitzvah, she knew she wanted to give something back to other new immigrants who might have it even harder than she did.

Becky’s mother Lisa was friends with Shavei Israel’s director of marketing Laura Ben-David, who had helped the Melamed family with their own aliyah when Laura was working for the aliyah organization Nefesh b’Nefesh. In her new position at Shavei Israel, Laura had posted pictures of her trip to India when she went to assist with last November’s Bnei Menashe aliyah.

Lisa showed the pictures to Becky. “I wonder if there are any Bnei Menashe girls my age?” Becky asked her mother. “Maybe we could share my bat mitzvah with them?”

There were ten Bnei Menahse girls from India who fit the description and who had arrived in Israel at the end of 2014. Becky and Lisa drove up the Kfar Hasidim absorption center to meet the new immigrants.

From that very first meeting, Becky developed a close bond with her peers from so far away. “We brought games – jump rope and Chamesh Avenim,” a popular Israeli pastime played by throwing and picking up five small stones, Lisa recalls. “And we did an art project – we created a tile with their names and a mirror that you can hang on a wall or a door.”

While Becky was tossing stones with some of the Bnei Menashe girls, her mother was interviewing the others so that Becky could give a presentation to her classmates back home about her new Bnei Menashe friends.

Over the course of the next few months, Becky stayed in touch the Bnei Menashe girls in Kfar Hasidim and then as they moved out of the absorption center to their permanent homes in Safed. When the holiday of Purim came, the girls in Becky’s class prepared a Purim kit to deliver to her friends in the north, complete with costumes, groggers (noise makers used during the reading of the Scroll of Esther), candies and brachot (blessings) for each of the girls.

“We drove back up before Purim and gave them mishlochei manot (Purim gifts) and did another art project,” Lisa says.

The two groups also got together in Jerusalem when the Bnei Menashe came to visit the Kotel (the Western Wall) for the first time. “It was wonderful and heartwarming,” Lisa says, “not just for Becky and the girls, but for anyone who was at the Kotel that night. To see 250 Bnei Menashe, singing passionately about Jerusalem in their native language of Kuki – it was incredibly moving.”

Finally, the big day arrived. The Bnei Menashe girls came down from Safed by mini-bus and went straight to Becky’s school where they got to know Becky’s classmates, ate snacks and did another art project together. Then it was off to Becky’s house where the Bnei Menashe girls got all dolled up for the bat mitzvah – with fancy hair do’s and professional makeup.

The bat mitzvah party was held at a nearby restaurant, with dancing and food. Of the 100 guests, 70 were other 12-year-old girls, including the 10 Bnei Menashe. Becky was hoisted up above the crowd on a chair and tossed into the air with a large tablecloth. Had the Bnei Menashe girls ever seen such traditions? Apparently yes, Lisa says. “After the Bnei Menashe get to Israel, many of the couples go through a new chuppah (wedding ceremony) and there’s lots of dancing and fun there. Let’s just say that the Bnei Menashe girls were not timid on the dance floor!”

There was something the girls had not encountered before: American simcha “shtick” – all kinds of wild and crazy paraphernalia meant to enhance the festivities. Pompoms, oversized sunglasses and Hawaiian necklaces are apparently not part of Bnei Menashe celebrations back in India!

The Bnei Menashe girls brought their own modest gifts for Becky. One in particular stood out: a beautiful Indian necklace. A Bnei Menashe girl named Elisheva had brought three such necklaces from India but she’d lost two of them along the way. This was her last one and she gave it to Becky.

The Bnei Menashe girls enjoyed themselves tremendously, but Becky and her mother also received a lot from the experience. “Becky was very sensitive to the fact that the Bnei Menashe girls may not have a lot,” Lisa explains. As a result, “she gained an appreciation for what it’s like to make aliyah without things. We came with a lift and all our furniture and moved into a big house. The Bnei Menashe went straight to an absorption center with just a suitcase. It changed Becky’s idea about what aliyah is. Israel is not just another ‘destination.’ It’s a place people dream of coming to with all of their hearts. Immigrants like the Bnei Menashe identify so much with the Jewish nation; they are part of us. That really strengthened Becky. She admired their courage.”

And yet the girls also had a lot in common. “They both came to a place where they didn’t understand the language and culture,” Lisa says. “It was hard for Becky, going into first grade and not being able to read Hebrew yet.” As a result, although “they came from a very different starting place, we’re all here together.”

At the bat mitzvah party, Becky spoke about the mitzvah (commandment) of living in Israel and how lucky she was to be here. She congratulated the Bnei Menashe girls on their aliyah and called them up individually to give them presents – necklaces with their names on them.

Exhausted, the girls all piled back into the Melamed’s home for a post-party sleepover. In the morning, the Bnei Menashe girls were in for a final surprise: sushi – something none had ever eaten before. But they liked it – especially the spicy green wasabi sauce. “I remember that when we visited them at Kfar Hasidim, we were eating together in the dining room and some of the girls ran back to their rooms to get extra hot sauce to put on their food,” Lisa says. “They really like their spicy food!”

Most of the communication with the Bnei Menashe was done, surprisingly, in English, which is widely taught in India. The Bnei Menashe girls are still at the beginning part of the Hebrew acclimatization.

Lisa Melamed had been dreaming about aliyah ever since she and her husband honeymooned in Israel 17 years ago. Four children later, they finally made aliyah and their family has since grown to include two Sabras (children who were born in Israel).

It is traditional for a bat mitzvah girl to give a portion of any cash gifts she receives to charity and Becky found the perfect recipient – the Bnei Menashe. But not her new friends. Becky participated in a new campaign Shavei Israel launched earlier this month on the website Jewcer to raise money for the next Bnei Menashe aliyah, The first 80 Bnei Menashe in this group arrived in Israel last week, with another 170 due by the end of July.

Bnei Menashe Olim from India Settle in Golan Heights

Thursday, June 18th, 2015

The Shavei Israel organization brought a group of 78 Bnei Menashe immigrants on Aliyah Thursday from the northeastern Indian state of Manipur, which borders Burma and Bangladesh.

Absorption Minister Zev Elkin greeted the immigrants upon arrival.

The new Olim will settle in Katzrin on the Golan Heights, which was the tribal patrimony of Manasseh in Biblical times.

This is the first time that Shavei Israel is settling a group of Bnei Menashe on the Golan, approximately 2,700 years after their ancestors were exiled from the land.

Spain Passes Citizenship Restoration Law for Jews Expelled in 1492

Thursday, June 11th, 2015

It has only taken a half a millenium, but on Thursday Spain passed a law granting citizenship to any descendant of Jews expelled from the country in 1492.

The law – which took three years to create – was hailed as a “historic rehabilitation” by Justice Minister Rafael Catala and Foreign Minister Manuel Garcia Margallo.

It was in 1492, as Colombus was preparing to set sail to explore the New World that Jews were given an ultimatum: convert to Christianity, or leave.

Those who stayed and pretended to convert became known over the centuries as “Marranos” – the “hidden” ones – or “Anusim” – the “forced” ones. Their descendants are scattered throughout the world, including many who later ended up intermarrying with Muslims, some who live in Judea and Samaria. Their families still keep fragments of Jewish traditions in their homes, although most no longer remember why.

The Jews who chose to preserve their identity and left, fled to North Africa and the Middle East, many of whom arrived in what is now known as Turkey.

The Federation of Jewish Communities in Spain said in an official statement on Thursday that passage of the law in Madrid had launched a “new stage in the history of the relationship between Spain and the Jewish world; a new period of encounter, dialogue and harmony.

Contrary to what one might think, the descendants of those expelled not harbored feelings of hatred or resentment but rather the contrary, they cultivated a deep love for the land they were from and intense loyalty to tradition and language received of their elders,” the statement continued.

The law goes into effect in October, when the Jewish community can begin the process of checking the lineage of anyone who wishes to activate their once-proud centuries-old Spanish citizenship.

That process involves proving one’s ancestry, showing a basic knowledge of Spain and its culture, and embarking upon a minimum of one pilot trip to the country. In addition, one must pay an application fee of 100 Euros for the privilege. So much for “restoration.”

Under Israel’s Law of Return, any person is entitled to citizenship in the Jewish State if he or she can prove that one grandparent — either maternal or paternal — is Jewish. The pace of the “ingathering of the (Jewish) exiles” described in the Torah has been growing over the past decade. Jews who were driven from the Land of Israel by the Romans and the Babylonians have begun to return through the efforts of groups such as Michael Freund’s Shavei Israel, Nefesh B’Nefesh and others.

Bnei Menashe Children Celebrate Their First Shavuot in Israel

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014

On May 26 the Jewish State welcomed home members of the Bnei Menashe community of Northeast India. Today they are already celebrating their first Shavuot in Israel at the Shavei Israel immigrant absorption center in Kfar Hadidim, near Haifa.

The new Olim, who hail from the northeastern Indian state of Manipur, were brought to Israel by the Jerusalem-based Shavei Israel organization, which received permission from the Israeli government last October to bring 900 Bnei Menashe to the Jewish State by 2015.

The Bnei Menashe are considered to be descendants of the tribe of Menashe (or Manasseh), one of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel exiled by the Assyrian Empire after King Solomon’s death more than 2,700 years ago.

“After 2,700 years, we are bringing members of the Lost Tribe of Bnei Menashe home to Israel. Their arrival here on the eve of Shavuot is particularly fortuitous, since they will now be able to celebrate the festival of the giving of the Torah for the first time here in the Jewish state,” said Michael Freund, founder and chairman of Shavei Israel.

Recently arrived Bnei Menashe children with Michael Freund, founder and chairman of Shavei Israel.

Recently arrived Bnei Menashe children with Michael Freund, founder and chairman of Shavei Israel.

About 40 people came home to Israel on this trip. That 40 are part of the larger group of 250 that Shavei Israel is bringing to Israel through the summer. Altogether, Shavei Israel has already brought 1,500 Bnei Menashe to Israel. There are 7,000 Bnei Menashe still living in India who hope to make Aliyah to Israel.

Shavei Israel is a non-profit organization founded by Michael Freund, who immigrated to Israel from the United States, with the aim of strengthening the ties between the Jewish people, the State of Israel and the descendants of Jews around the world.

The organization is currently active in nine countries and provides assistance to a variety of different communities such as the Bnei Menashe of India, the Bnei Anousim (referred to as the derogatory “Marranos” by historians) in Spain, Portugal and South America, the Subbotnik Jews of Russia, the Jewish community of Kaifeng in China, descendants of Jews living in Poland, and others.

Ancient Chinese Jewish Community to Hold First Traditional Seder in China

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014

Kaifeng, China, April 7 – Nearly 100 members of the ancient Jewish community of Kaifeng, China, are expected to attend a first-of-its-kind traditional Passover Seder that will take place next Monday, April 14, at the start of the holiday in Kaifeng. The Seder, which is being sponsored by the Jerusalem-based Shavei Israel organization, will be conducted for the first time by 28-year-old Tzuri (Heng) Shi, who made Aliyah from Kaifeng a few years ago with the help of Shavei Israel and completed his formal return to Judaism last year.

As part of the preparation for the upcoming Seder, Tzuri was sent to Kaifeng by the Shavei Israel organization with all of the traditional Passover items including: Kosher Matzah packages from Israel, Kosher for Passover wine, Passover Haggadahs, which were prepared especially in Hebrew and Chinese, Kosher for Passover cakes, traditional red horseradish, and traditional Charoset.

“We are proud and excited to organize this historic event,” said Shavei Israel Chairman and Founder Michael Freund. “Kaifeng’s Jewish descendants are a living link between China and the Jewish people, and it is very moving to see the remnants of this community returning to their Jewish roots as they prepare for Passover,” he added.

Scholars believe the first Jews settled in Kaifeng, which was one of China’s imperial capitals, during the 8th or 9th Century. They are said to have been Sephardic Jewish merchants from Persia or Iraq who made their way eastward along the Silk Route and established themselves in the city with the blessing of the Chinese emperor.

In 1163, Kaifeng’s Jews built a large and beautiful synagogue, which was subsequently renovated and rebuilt on numerous occasions throughout the centuries. At its peak, during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), the Kaifeng Jewish community may have numbered as many as 5,000 people. But widespread intermarriage and assimilation, as well as the death of the community’s last rabbi, brought about its demise by the middle of the 19th century.

Nevertheless, many of the families sought to preserve their Jewish identity and pass it down to their descendants, who continued to observe various Jewish customs. Currently, there are estimated to be approximately 1,000 Jewish descendants in Kaifeng.

“In recent years, many members of the community have begun to explore their heritage – thanks in part to the Internet, which opened up new worlds for them and provided access to information about Judaism and Israel that was previously inaccessible to them,” Freund noted.

Shavei Israel is a non-profit organization founded by Michael Freund, who immigrated to Israel from the United States, with the aim of strengthening the ties between the Jewish people, the State of Israel and the descendants of Jews around the world. The organization is currently active in nine countries and provides assistance to a variety of different communities such as the Bnei Menashe of India, the Bnei Anousim (referred to as the derogatory “Marranos” by historians) in Spain, Portugal and South America, the Subbotnik Jews of Russia, the Jewish community of Kaifeng in China, descendants of Jews living in Poland, and others.

Watch the video of the Kaifeng community preparing for Pesach, being led in v’hi sh’amda by Ram, a chazan from the Kaifeng Jewish community.

Young, Hidden Polish Jews Discover Heritage in Israel

Tuesday, August 27th, 2013

Shavei Israel, an Israeli organization dedicated to discovering hidden Jewish communities and lost Jews, recently brought 16 Polish Jews to Israel to rediscover their Jewish identity. Michael Freund, chairman of Shavei Israel, explained, “In Poland, in most people’s eyes, to be Polish means Catholic. In Poland, the sense of identity is very much linked to religion, so when a person discovers he is Jewish or has Jewish ancestry, it comes as a shock to people. They become outsiders. It can be traumatic.”

During the Holocaust, 90 percent of Polish Jewry was murdered, decimating the 3 to 3.5 million Jews that lived in Poland on the eve of the Nazi invasion, leaving only 350,000 alive by war’s end. While most surviving Jews left Poland after a brief return to search for relatives, some remained. Due to communist rule and memories of the Holocaust, many hid their Jewish identity. Today, there are many communities with “hidden Jews,” who are disconnected from their Jewish roots and ancestry.

“There are people who suspect they might have Jewish roots and want to know yet don’t change their live styles. Others could return to Judaism or pursue a secular journey to learn about Jewish culture. We are talking about a human phenomenon, so different people react different,” Freund explained. “Some of them become religious Jews and do a conversion, while others are struggling with their new identity and are trying to figure out what to make of it and how it should impact their life. One thing that unites them is that they all want to learn more about their heritage and want to see the land of their ancestors.”

Some hidden Jews grew up as Catholic, the children of Jews who converted while hiding in Catholic orphanages. Others were raised without religion playing any role in their lives. According to Freund, “One young man [in this group of 16] who began to get interested in his family genealogy and then at the same time took a DNA test discovered that he has Jewish background. That combined with documents he found convinced him he has Jewish ancestry. He was even able to locate distant cousins in the US that are Jewish. This prompted him to study more about Judaism. He converted and became religiously observant.”

Most of the 16 Jews in this group, however, are at an earlier stage in their journey. “In many other cases, they have a grandparent who revealed it to them or are people who don’t know for sure, since their family will not discuss it with them,” said Freund.  Their suspicion grew out of their lack or church attendance or extended family. “They have relatives who refuse [to speak about it] and that fuels their speculation even more.”

Freund believes that roots are powerful. “When we walk the streets of Jerusalem, the trees are uneven and the roots have spread out and lifted the rocks up. If that is true of a tree, how much more so of a human being! Sometimes they burst upwards to show they are still there. More people through out Poland are discovering and embracing their Jewish roots. They are trying to go home.”

Visit United with Israel.

64-Year-Old Polish Jew Celebrates Bar Mitzvah at the Kotel

Thursday, May 30th, 2013

Mariusz Robert Aoflko, a 64-year old Jewish attorney from Krakow who grew up thinking he was a Polish Catholic, celebrated his Bar Mitzvah on Wednesday, May 30, at the Kotel, with friends and other “hidden Jews” from Poland.

Mariusz spent his entire life as a Catholic. However, 13 years ago, right before his mother passed away, she told him something that turned his whole world upside down: he is a Jew, and a Kohen.

This week, Mariusz (who now goes by the name of Moshe) is visiting Israel for the first time and this morning celebrated his Bar Mitzvah at the Kotel, 13 years after the secret, which he calls “his rebirth,” was revealed.

It turns out that both of Mariusz’s parents were born to Jewish families who perished in Auschwitz. After the war, the fear of being Jewish in Poland led his parents to hide their religion and to live as Polish Catholics.

After learning his true identity, Mariusz was in complete shock, but slowly, over the years, he decided he wanted to live a Jewish life. He contacted Shavei Israel’s emissary in Krakow, Rabbi Boaz Pash, and became involved with the Jewish community in Krakow.

Last month, he met Michael Freund, founder and chairman of Shavei Israel, at the entrance of the Auschwitz Concentration Camp, and told him his story. “I was deeply moved,” Freund said, adding, “I told him that since 13 years have passed since he found out he was a Jew, it is an appropriate time for him to have a Bar Mitzvah.” Freund then offered to arrange the event at the Kotel, all paid for by the organization.

“By embarking on this journey into my heritage, step by step, it all starts to become clear to me,” said Mariusz. “I am not doing this to prove anything to anyone. All I ask is to embrace the truth about my family and regain the lost identity that was hidden from me for decades.”

Today, there are approximately 4,000 Jews living in Poland, but experts suggest there may be tens of thousands of other Jews who to this day are either hiding their identities or simply unaware of their family heritage. In recent years, a growing number of such people, popularly known as the “Hidden Jews of Poland,” have begun to return to Judaism and to the Jewish people.

Shavei Israel is a non-profit organization founded by Michael Freund, who immigrated to Israel from the United States, with the aim of strengthening the ties between the Jewish people, the State of Israel and the descendants of Jews around the world. The organization is currently active in nine countries and provides assistance to a variety of different communities such as the Bnei Menashe of India, the Bnei Anousim in Spain, Portugal and South America, the Subbotnik Jews of Russia, and the Jewish community of Kaifeng in China.

Shavei Israel currently has two full-time emissaries in Poland, located in Krakow and Katowice.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/breaking-news/64-year-old-polish-jew-celebrates-bar-mitzvah-at-the-kotel/2013/05/30/

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