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‘Living out their dream’

Interview with Michael Freund on the return of the Bnei Menashe

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21 Nov 2013 (All day)
‘Living out their dream’

Michael Freund was a communications director in the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the late 1990s when he first started learning about the Bnei Menashe and their claim to be a lost tribe of Israel. He later visited their communities in northeast India and began to advocate for their right to make aliyah through his organisation Shavei Israel (Israel Returns). Through his efforts, some 1700 Bnei Menashe moved to Israel between 2005 and 2007, but a change of law in India and a new government in Israel effectively blocked any further immigration. After five years of determined efforts, the door for their aliyah finally reopened late last year, and the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem partnered with Shavei Israel by covering the costs of the first flights for 274 Bnei Menashe that arrived in January. The next group of some 200 immigrants is expected to arrive in December, and the ICEJ is once again sponsoring their flights from India. We spoke to Michael Freund about this historic endeavour.

Word From Jerusalem:  Michael, you have been working hard over recent years to resume the aliyah of the Bnei Menashe from India. How much of a sense of accomplishment do you feel now that they have started coming home again?

Michael Freund:  This is one of those moments when you really feel the hand of God at work in human history. The Bnei Menashe are the descendants of the ancient Israelite tribe of Manasseh, and their ancestors were exiled more than two thousand seven hundred years ago from this Land. Yet despite all their wanderings, they never forgot where they came from and they lever lost sight of the dream of one day returning to Zion. Now it is happening before our very eyes. Those dreams are coming to reality. I think this is a development of profound historical significance.

WFJ:  It is a miracle! But it is also the fruit of a lot of hard work, fighting bureaucracy, finding your way around some of the obstacles both in India and in Israel...

Freund:  This is true. It has involved a lot of effort and energy. For over five years, since the last flight in 2007, the aliyah of the Bnei Menashe was frozen. But we lobbied intensively. We prayed hard for this day to come. And thanks to God, the Government of Israel passed a decision in October 2012 formally resuming the aliyah of the Bnei Menashe. So it’s been a long haul, but when I see these people arriving in Israel and living out their dream, it makes all the difficulties pale into insignificance. Another important element to add here is that, just as the prophets foretold, Jews and Christians are partnering together in this great return to Zion.

WFJ:  Especially the prophet Isaiah foresaw the Gentiles carrying the Jews home in their arms and on their shoulders...

Freund:  Exactly! Isaiah 49:22 says that the nations of the world are going to carry our sons and daughters back on their shoulders. The fact that the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem has stepped up and put in the funds to cover the flights of these new immigrants is a tangible fulfilment of that verse and of other prophetic verses, too. Particularly in light of the past two thousand years of Jewish-Christian relations, which were unfortunately filled with such hostility and persecution, this new partnership that is developing is an incredible turn of events. It is a sign that there are Christians out there who sincerely love Israel and the Jewish people, who are willing to stand with us, who are willing to pray for us, and who are willing to put their money into helping bring Jews home. That is something that I, as a Jew, and many of my fellow Israelis have come to appreciate and welcome.

I would add that throughout this process of trying to resume the aliyah of the Bnei Menashe, there were many times when we had no resort left other than to lift our eyes to pray. And I know there were countless Christians out there who joined many Jews in praying for this effort, and God heeded those prayers.

WFJ:  This is also a testimony to the power of God’s word, that it always goes forth to accomplish its goal and never returns to Him void...

Freund: We know there are still sceptics out there on both sides. There are Jews who look askance at Christian support for aliyah and I know there are Christians who look at Christian Zionists and wonder why they are getting involved in this sort of thing. But to those critics, I say: “Open the Book! Open the Bible and you will find verse after verse which says this is how it is going to happen. The nations of the world have a role to play in the return to Zion.” So if those critics have a problem with this partnership, then they should take it up with the author of the Book. Because God is the One who declared this would come to pass.

WFJ:  Yes! When God promised that He would “beckon to the Gentiles” to help with the aliyah, we at the Christian Embassy see ourselves in the context of those passages. We are the Gentiles who have answered that calling... Let me ask you about the Bnei Menashe families which you are getting to know as you help them prepare to come to Israel. What are they like?

Freund:  I’ve known many of them for many years. Over a decade ago we opened two educational centers in northeast India to prepare them for the day when they would be able to move to Israel. Teaching them Hebrew, about Torah, about Israel. The Bnei Menashe are generally a very calm people outwardly, but when it finally comes time to make the journey they get very emotional. You can see the anticipation in their eyes. They know the day of deliverance has come. No doubt, when the prophet Isaiah said so long ago: “Fear not! For I am with you! I will bring your descendants from the east.” I think he had this day in mind.

WFJ:  You have helped other Jews from around the world come home. What makes the Bnei Menashe distinct?

Freund:  Most of the Jews who have come back to Israel are originally from the southern kingdom of Judah. The Bnei Menashe, however, are part of the “lost tribes” from the northern kingdom of Israel exiled 2700 years ago. So this is also the reunification of those divided kingdoms from long ago. And in fact, the prophet Ezekiel spoke of the two branches – Judah and Ephraim, or Israel – being brought back together.

WFJ:  And He promised to make them “one nation on the mountains of Israel”...

Freund:  Exactly! These are promises that are happening now. On the same flights from Uzbekistan, we have both Russian Jews and Bnei Menashe families sitting side-by-side and making aliyah together – Judah and Israel coming home as one.

WFJ:  The Bnei Menashe already in Israel have a reputation for being good workers, patriotic citizens, strong family ties. Do you expect that of the remaining 7000 still waiting to come?

Freund:  Absolutely! There is no better way for people to bless Israel nowadays than to help with the aliyah of the Bnei Menashe. They are quality immigrants. They are a blessing to Israel and the Jewish people. They are deeply Zionistic. They are people of faith. They raise beautiful children. They serve in the Israeli army. They defend the land. They are productive and committed members of Israeli society. They make this country a better place. Particularly now, when Israel is facing so much hostility and so many threats around the world, nothing could be more important than to help the Bnei Menashe come home to strengthen this nation.

Please consider paying for an airline seat for one of these Bnei Menashe. You can make the longings of generations come true, as they make their way home after 27 centuries of wandering among the nations.


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