Every year, Jews from around the world migrate to Israel, a process known as aliyah, a Hebrew word meaning “ascent.” But for the Bnei Menashe community of India, who believe they are descendents of one of the 10 lost tribes of ancient Israel, the road has been long and fraught with difficulty.
While almost 2,000 members of the group have been allowed to come to the Jewish state from their home near India’s border with Myanmar (formerly Burma), many more are waiting, their migration frozen by disagreement over whether or not they are really Jews.
Now an Israeli, Tzvi Khaute wears a kippa, or Jewish skull cap, but still greets his family in his native Kuki, a dialect spoken in the remote northeastern corner of India, where he is from.
Khaute’s family home in the West Bank settlement of Kiryat Arba is decorated with both reminders of India and the symbols of his present life — Jewish religious books and framed sayings in Hebrew.
He remembers the feeling of awe when he arrived in 2000 at Ben Gurion International Airport, near Tel Aviv.
“It is a dream come true,” he says. “Not only my dream, it is the dream of our forefathers. There was the longing and the yearning always to make aliyah, to reach the Holy Land.”