Photo Credit: Courtesy of Shavei Israel
Ezra Janggousang, 3, with his menorah in Churachandpur, India, December 7, 2023.

In a poignant gathering in Churachandpur, nestled in the southwestern reaches of the Indian state of Manipur, hundreds from the Bnei Menashe community in northeastern India convened on Thursday. Their purpose: to illuminate the first night of Hanukkah with the warm glow of candles, marking a symbolic celebration deeply rooted in their newly embraced heritage.

The Bnei Menashe, also known as the sons of Manasseh, trace their lineage back to one of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel, exiled more than 27 centuries ago by the Assyrian Empire. During their prolonged exile, the concept of Hanukkah was unknown to them, for their ancestors had been displaced from the Land of Israel approximately 560 years before the historic events of Hanukkah unfolded. Only in recent decades, following a reconnection with the Jewish people, did the Bnei Menashe adopt and cherish the observance of this festival.

Bnei Menashe lighting candles for the first night of Hanukkah in Churachandpur, India, December 7, 2023. / Courtesy of Shavei Israel

“The story of the Maccabees’ heroic determination to preserve their Jewish identity resonates strongly with the Bnei Menashe, who – against all odds and with tremendous effort – have managed to cling to their faith and that of their ancestors down through the centuries,” remarked Michael Freund, Founder, and Chairman of Shavei Israel.

“This Hanukkah, the community unites in prayer, expressing collective hopes for the safety of Israel’s soldiers and the secure return of all hostages in Gaza,” Freund added.

Bnei Menashe lighting candles for the first night of Hanukkah in Churachandpur, India, December 7, 2023. / Courtesy of Shavei Israel

According to their claims, following their expulsion from the Land of Israel, the ancestors of the Bnei Menashe embarked on a centuries-long journey through Central Asia and the Far East before settling in present-day northeastern India, bordering Burma and Bangladesh. Throughout this extended sojourn, they steadfastly adhered to Jewish practices, observing Shabbat, maintaining kosher dietary laws, celebrating festivals, and upholding the laws of family purity. Generations passed, yet their enduring dream persisted – a return to the land of their forebears, the Land of Israel.

Facilitating the realization of this dream, the Jerusalem-based Shavei Israel organization has enabled over 5,000 Bnei Menashe to make Aliyah, the immigration to Israel, with plans to assist more community members in their journey. Presently, 5,000 Bnei Menashe eagerly anticipate their eventual return to the Jewish homeland.

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