Glancing at the headlines, it is easy to think that all is quiet in Israel these days. With an occasional exception, there are hardly any more terrorist attacks grabbing the headlines, and daily life seems to be returning to normal.
Sure, every once in a while we hear something about a few mortar rounds being fired at Jews in Gaza, or about an attempted stabbing or two in Jerusalem. But for the most part, life in the Holy Land appears to be back on track. Nothing, however, could be further from the truth.
Appearances notwithstanding, the Palestinian war against Israel continues, and it would be foolish to think otherwise. Take, for example, the events of August 18, when Palestinian terrorists in Gaza launched a couple of Kassam rockets at the Jewish community of Neve Dekalim. The incident was duly reported, and then quickly forgotten, just another passing item on the media’s radar screen.
But behind every rocket, there is a story. And in this case, it proved to be a painful, and tragic one. August 18 was a quiet Wednesday afternoon, and Donel Benjamin was sitting at home, working on his computer, when the rocket struck.
Donel, a 25-year old who made aliyah from India in 1997, is a member of the Bnei Menashe, a group claiming descent from a lost tribe of Israel. He works in Neve Dekalim’s supermarket, and decided to go home for a quick afternoon break before returning to work. But the Palestinian projectile changed all that, when it blasted its way through the first floor of Donel’s house, nearly destroying the structure and wiping out the family’s belongings.
Miraculously, Donel’s mother and brother, who were home at the time, were unharmed, but Donel himself was not so lucky. Shrapnel from the rocket tore its way through his flesh, causing grave damage to his legs and head. He was rushed to a hospital in Beersheba, and underwent emergency surgery, which may very well have saved his life. Donel is now recovering from his wounds, his head wrapped in bandages. Thankfully, he remembers nothing of the attack, but complains of the pain that he still feels throughout his entire body.
His four siblings and his mother, a widow, are by his side, hoping and praying for his speedy recovery. The local municipal council has already begun work to repair Donel’s home, but the family now faces enormous obstacles, both financial and psychological, with which they must contend.
Of course, none of this was reported in the media, which incorrectly asserted that Donel was a foreign worker and that he had received “only”? moderate wounds. And that is truly unfortunate, because while his current situation might be heartrending, Donel’s story is in fact an inspiration. As a member of the Bnei Menashe, Donel grew up in the far reaches of northeastern India, in the lush green hills of the state of Mizoram. There, he was raised to believe that he and the members of his tribe were descendants of Israel, the offspring of Jews who had been forced into exile many centuries ago, where they lost contact with mainstream Judaism.
Nonetheless, they continued to preserve the memory of their Jewish ancestry, and to live according to the laws of Moses as best they could, from circumcision to the Sabbath to the laws of family purity. From generation to generation, they passed down the tradition, clinging to it as best they could. Donel, and others like him, dreamed of one day making aliyah, thereby closing a historical circle and returning to the land of their ancestors.
In the past decade, Donel and his family, along with some 800 other members of the Bnei Menashe, have made aliyah under the auspices of Amishav, the organization which I head. All of the immigrants undergo formal conversion and build new lives as Israelis and Jews in every respect. They are productive members of society, they serve in the army, support themselves, and live observant Jewish lifestyles. But another 6,000 are still stuck in India, waiting to fulfill the dream of return. And the only impediment standing in their way is the refusal of Interior Minister Avraham Poraz to allow them to come. For over a year, Poraz has adamantly refused to budge, citing, among other reasons, the Bnei Menashe’s religious observance, and their desire to live in the territories, as things he finds objectionable.
Recently, the Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Shlomo Amar, sent two rabbinical emissaries to India to visit the Bnei Menashe, study the community and its background, and report back to him on their findings. I accompanied the rabbis on their visit, and we have every reason to believe that the result will be favorable, and that the Bnei Menashe will at last receive the official recognition from Israel which they have sought for so long. But in the meantime, as Donel recovers from his wounds, his countless friends and family members still in India wait impatiently, hoping they too will be given a chance to come home to Israel.
They are undeterred by the violence, nor are they dissuaded by the obstacles which Poraz puts in their path. Their goal is to rejoin the Jewish people after centuries of separation, and they are confident that this will come to pass. So as much as the Palestinians might wish to scare the Jewish people with their rockets and their missiles, Donel and the Bnei Menashe stand as living proof that they will never succeed. Because come what may, the dream of returning to Zion lives on.
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