November 26, 2017

Dreams Come True

Israel is a multi-cultural Mosaic. These days, you hear many languages on Ahuza, Ra’anana’s main street. And we can spot the countries of origin right away, without even hearing the language spoken.

For instance, French men tend to wear tight pants and chic leather loafers while les femmes grocery shop as if parading along a Christian Dior catwalk. (And yes, they carry a fresh baguette under their arms!)

French aside, we now hear Spanish, Italian, Portuguese (recent immigrants from Brazil), Russian, Ukrainian, Amharic (from Ethiopia), Arabic, German, English and, from time to time, some Hebrew.

But what about Kuki-Chin? This is a Sino-Tibetan language that is spoken by our Bnei Menashe immigrants and is now heard on the streets. The Bnei Menashe, called Kuki, are from West Bengal in northeastern India.

Just last week, two flights of Kuki olim landed in Israel. After watching a video of showing reunions of these families at the airport, tears ran down my face – tears of joy and tears of pride, realizing I’m witnessing the redemption of scattered peoples returning to Israel.

The Kuki story is a miracle unto itself. In 722 BCE,  the Jews were expelled from Israel by the King of Syria. The tribe of Menashe travelled northeast and kept wandering until they found themselves in the Chin Hills not far from where India meets Burma. 

Although this area is mostly Hindu, the Bnei Menashe were able to keep their Jewish customs and traditions for 2,700 years. They did this through prayer, song and stories. Over the years, some were converted to Christianity by missionaries but others clung to their dream of a return to Zion. They often had to practice their religion in secret, but recently have been able to pray openly.

And now, 2,700 years later, the Bnei Menashe are finally coming home. The chief rabbi of Israel acknowledged their Jewish roots and an organization called Shavei Israel is bringing them to Eretz Israel.

In the past 15 years, some 3,000 have come to Israel, many of them settling outside Jerusalem and in the Galilee. In Tsfat in the Galil, I often see them shopping on market day, their babies cozily tucked inside colorful cloths. The young moms are tiny and compact, exuding happiness in the lightness of their step.

This very special people has a thirst for learning. They are spiritual and proudly practice their Judaism. They are committed, sincere and are true Zionists. And once they arrive, they become educated, find jobs and join the army.

There are still 7,000 living in West Bengal who wish to make aliyah. They are learning Hebrew and Torah studies in preparation for their dream to come true.

And just last week, families fell into each other’s arms in a beautiful reunion. One woman waiting at the airport was reunited with a niece she had not seen in 23 years and with a mother she had not hugged in 15 years. Now, together, they will live in the land of their dreams.

When I look at these people, I am inspired. While living life day to day, it is easy to become ungrateful, frustrated, disenchanted. Yet when we look at the Jewish redemption and of dreams coming true, it’s our wake-up call to see the bigger picture. It's time for reflection and pride and it's a moment to pull out the Kleenex.

These new olim may be counting their blessings to be here, but we must recognize that they are a blessing for the Jewish people. Israel is a living, colorful, radiant mosaic.