Yulia Karra
December 12, 2023

Hundreds of members of the Bnei Menashe community in India over the weekend celebrated the start of the weeklong Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, which began last Thursday night.

The main candle-lighting event was staged in Churachandpur, in the southwestern corner of the Indian state of Manipur. 

During the ceremony, members of the community prayed for Israel’s soldiers fighting in Gaza, and the safe return of the hostages still being held by Hamas. 

The Bnei Menashe, or sons of Manasseh, is a community of Indian Jews from various Tibeto-Burmese ethnic groups from the border of India and Burma. They claim descent from one of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel, who were exiled by the Assyrian Empire more than 27 centuries ago.

Three-year-old Ezra Janggousang at the Hanukkah candle-lighting ceremony. Photo courtesy of Shavei Israel
Three-year-old Ezra Janggousang at the Hanukkah candle-lighting ceremony. Photo courtesy of Shavei Israel

Up until a few decades ago, the community never celebrated the Festival of Light because their ancestors were exiled from the Land of Israel about 560 years before the events related to Hanukkah took place.

After their exile, the community wandered through Central Asia and the Far East for centuries, before settling in what is now northeastern India. They continued practicing Jewish traditions and customs and always maintained their desire to return to the Land of Israel.

The return of a Lost Tribe of Israel, 27 centuries later
Bnei Menashe immigrants are welcomed to Israel. Photo by Laura Ben-David
Thousands of Bnei Menashe in northeast India began coming back to their ancestors’ homeland in the 1980s. About 6,000 more are waiting to join them.
Read more

The Shavei Israel organization, which encourages Jews across the world to strengthen their connection with Israel, has been helping the Bnei Menashe members make aliyah (move to Israel). Shavei Israel also helped organize the candle lighting event in Churachandpur.

Bnei Menashe members lighting Hanukkah candles. Photo courtesy of Shavei Israel
Bnei Menashe members lighting Hanukkah candles. Photo courtesy of Shavei Israel

Over 5,000 members of the community have immigrated to Israel thanks to the Jerusalem-based organization, and 5,000 more are scheduled to arrive in the near future. 

Shavei Israel Founder and Chairman Michael Freund said: “The story of the Maccabees’ heroic determination to preserve their Jewish identity resonates strongly with the Bnei Menashe, who – against all odds and with tremendous effort – have managed to cling to their faith and that of their ancestors down through the centuries.”

More on immigration