JERUSALEM: Some 200 members of a north-eastern Indian community would be reuniting with their families in Israel soon where a red carpet welcome awaits them.

The members of Bnei Menashe community, which lives in Indian states of Manipur and Mizoram and claim to be one of the lost tribes of Judaism, will be immigrating to Israel after the government here has approved their request.

The members are drawn from fifteen extended families some of whose kin have immigrated to Israel in the past. The new immigrants will arrive in Israel from India in January by a special flight and will be received by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in a festive ceremony at Ben-Gurion Airport here, sources in the PM office said.

The Israeli government, especially Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit, had been opposing their immigration to Israel for last three years, saying their “Jewishness was not certain”.

Sheetrit, however, relented following a request from cabinet secretary Ovad Yehezkel and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and decided to allow the group to immigrate.

Arrangements for the immigration would be made by the Shavei Israel organisation.

Shavei Israel Chairman, Michael Freund, had recently approached the prime minister and requested for special permission to let 23 Bnei Menashe families to make ‘aliyah’ (immigration of Jews to Israel).

“The new immigrants will most likely settle in the Galilee, whose lush landscape and pastoral setting resemble the land of their birth,” Freund said.

Israel’s Sephardic Chief Rabbi, Shlomo Amar, has ruled that the Bnei Menashe are of Jewish ancestry but must undergo full conversion to return to the Judaism.

Some 1,500 members of the group have already immigrated and acquired Israeli citizenship after undergoing formal conversion, but another 7,000 are waiting for Israel government’s permission to immigrate.

The Bnei Menashe community practices Judaism and claim to be descendants of the tribe of Menashe, which was one of the 10 lost tribes of the kingdom of Israel and was exiled to Assyria in 8th century BC.

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