|Motto||Find Our Lost Brethren|
Shavei Israel (Hebrew: שבי ישראל, Returners of Israel) is an Israeli-based Jewish organization that reaches out to Israelites around the world who are descendants of Jews in order to strengthen their connection with Israel and the Jewish people. Founded by Michael Freund in 2002, Shavei Israel locates lost Jews and hidden Jewish communities and assists them with returning to their roots and, sometimes, with aliyah. The organization’s team is composed of academics, educators and rabbis.
Goals and objectives
The Shavei Israel organization was founded to help people whose ancestors had become separated from Judaism (including alleged descendants of the Lost tribes of Israel, crypto-Jews, hidden Jews, and Jewish forcibly assimilated under Communist rule,) reconnect with the Jewish people, and in the second decade of this century also became active in helping individuals and groups of converts become part of the mainstream Jewish and Israeli communities. Shavei Israel sponsors rabbis and teachers to work with groups of "lost Jews," provide them the Jewish education and assist them in aliyah if they choose. Its affiliated rabbis are posted in Palma de Mallorca, Barcelona, Valencia, Granada, and Sevilla in Spain; Belmonte in northern Portugal, San Nicandro in southern Italy, Brazil, Krakow and Wroclaw in Poland; and in Mizoram and Manipur, in North-East India. In December 2010, Rabbi Shlomo Zelig Avrasin was sent to work with the Subbotnik Jewish communities in Russia, particularly Vysoky.
In Jerusalem, it operates Machon Miriam, a Spanish-language "conversion and return institute." Dozens of Spanish and Portuguese crypto-Jews graduate from Machon Miriam each year, and undergo formal conversion by Israel's Chief Rabbinate.
Amishav is an organisation distinct from Shavei Israel, which it predates and to whose creation it contributed. It was founded in 1975 by Rabbi Eliyahu Avichail and follows goals similar to those of Shavei Israel. Several years after founding Amishav, Rabbi Avichail stepped aside as leader of the organisation in favour of Michael Freund. Freund went on to found Shavei Israel in 2002.
Michael Freund, founder and director of Shavei Israel, was reared in Mahhattan and immigrated to Israel 1995. In 1996 he became deputy director of communications under Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. It was while serving in this post that he first learned of the Bnei Menashe when a letter arrived from the Bnei Menashe community in India beseeching the Prime Minister to enable them to make aliyah.
Freund is the largest single funder of Shavei Israel, and pays for his own travel expanses to far-flung Jewish communities out of his own pocket.
Bnei Menasha of India
The organization supported the Bnei Menashe of India in being recognized as "descendants of Israel" by the Israeli Chief Rabbi in March 2005. Shavei Israel assisted with teachers in India. As of 2013, a total of 2,000 Bnei Menashe have made aliyah (immigrated to Israel). The organization assists immigrants with their integration into Israeli society. Some 7,200 Bnei Menashe in India hope to emigrate to Israel; the organization is teaching them Hebrew and normative Judaism.
As part of its educational efforts, the organization has published a series of books on Judaism in a dozen languages, including Chinese, Japanese, Mizo, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Russian and German.
In 2003, 350 genetic samples of Mizo-Kuki were tested in the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology of Haifa under the guidance of Prof. Karl Skorecki. In agreement to the late Mizo research scholar, Isaac Hmar Intoate, who helped collect the samples, no proof was found which seemed to indicate a Middle Eastern origin for the Mizo-Chin-Kuki.
In March 2005 Rabbi Shlomo Amar announced the recognition of the Bnei Menashe by Israel and their possibility of immigration under the Law of Return. Those who wanted to immigrate were required to undergo a formal, full conversion as their people had been separated from Judaism for so long. In June 2005 the Bnei Menashe completed the construction of a mikvah in Mizoram under the supervision of Israeli rabbis to start the process of conversion to Judaism. Short afterwards, a similar mikvah was built in Manipur (Shavei was involved in all this mass conversion and immigration process
Freund supported the resettlement of 218 Bnei Menashe in Upper Nazareth and Karmiel in November 2005. A total of 1,700 Bnei Menashe moved to Israel, mainly settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip (until the disengagement in 2005).
In 2013 Freund learned of a large groups of Latin Americans from Christian families who were converting to orthodox Judaism, thousands or tens of thousands of whom wanted to immigrate to Israel. Freund began working with Israeli authorities and with the Latin American converts, and the first, small group of converts moved to Israel in June 2015.
The mass conversion of Mizo-Kuki peoples aroused the concern of the Indian government, as it prohibits proselytizing. In November 2005 Israel recalled the Rabbinic Court teams which had been preparing several hundred Bnei Menashe for conversion to calm the concerns of the Indian government. At the time, some Hindu groups complained that the government had paid more attention to Christian complaints of proselytizing than to their own about Christian missionaries.
After suspending the issuance of visas to Bnei Menashe for a few years, in January 2010 the Israeli government announced that the remaining 7,200 Bnei Menashe could make aliyah within a period of 1–2 years after completing conversion at facilities in Nepal. This allowed them to avoid problems with India.
- Michael Freund, "The Emergence of Turkey’s Hidden Jews", The Jerusalem Post, 24 March 2011, at the Shavei Israel website
- Fishbane, Matthew (19 February 2015). "Becoming Moses". Tablet Magazine. Retrieved 2 May 2016.
- "Russia's Subbotnik Jews get rabbi", Ynetnews; accessed 17 October 2014.
- Machon Miriam, Shavei Israel website
- Kestenbaum, Sam (28 April 2016). "The New Jewish Diaspora?". The Forward. Retrieved 2 May 2016.
- Linda Chhakchhuak (2006). "Interview with Hillel Halkin". grassrootsoptions. Retrieved 2007-03-03.
- Mochkofsky, Graciela (28 April 2016). "The Faithful". California Sunday Magazine. Retrieved 2 May 2016.
- Itamar Eichner, "Members of Bnei Menashe to make aliyah", ynetnews.com, 01.08.10
- Bess Twiston-Davies, Faith News, The Times, 22 October 2005; accessed 17 October 2014.
- Book Store, Shavei.org.
- The Jewish Connection, Myth or Reality, Isaac Hmar
- Isaac Hmar, "The lost and found Jews in Manipur and Mizoram"; accessed 17 October 2014.
- Saudades, Shavei-related site on Portuguese Sephardi history and subjects; accessed 17 October 2014.
- Rabbi backs India's 'lost Jews', BBC News, South Asia, 1 April 2005
- "India's lost tribe recognized as Jews after 2,700 years", Peter Foster, Telegraph.co.uk, 17 de 09 de 2005
- "Lost Tribe' makes aliyah" by Jessica Steinberg, 27 December 2002/Tevet 22 5763, Jewishaz.com, Vol. 55, No. 18.
- Jerusalem Post
- "More than 200 Bnei Menashe arriving in Israel", Israel National News; accessed 17 October 2014.
- Forero, Juan (24 November 2012). "Colombian evangelical Christians convert to Judaism, embracing hidden past". Washington Post. Retrieved 2 May 2016.
- Jerome Socolovsky,"For Portugal's crypto-Jews, new rabbi tries to blend tradition with local custom", Our Jerusalem.com, 13 October 2003.
- Surya Narain Saxena, "UPA Government goes out to help conversion", Organiser.org, 15 January 2006.
- "Members of Bnei Menashe to make aliyah", Arutz Sheva; accessed 17 October 2014.