Judaism in Jamaica

Jamaican synagogue

Jews from the Iberian Peninsula, but mainly Portugal, settled in Jamaica beginning about 1530 to avoid the Inquisition. At this time, the island was a Spanish territory. In Jamaica they continued to profess being Catholic, but they were able more easily to continue their Jewish observances in secret than on the Iberian Peninsula.

Irwin Berg provides more details: in 1655, the British navy sailed into Kingston, Jamaica, led by an Anousim pilot, Campoe Sabbatha. Once the British conquered the island from Spain, the Jews were able to more openly practice their religion. Over time Jews from other Spanish colonies made their way to Jamaica and their numbers grew.

Although most Jews settled in Spanish Town and Kingston (on the southwest shore of the island), they lived everywhere in Jamaica. Their numbers were surprisingly large until recent times.

Year (and Jewish population)

1700 (400)
1735 (800)
1881 (2,535)
1957 (1,600)
1978 (350)
2005 (250)

In 1671, the citizens of Jamaica petitioned the British government to expel all members of the local Jewish community. Governor Lynch, the colonial governor in Jamaica, opposed the petition and it was not enacted. However, the citizens did manage to get a special tax decreed against Jews in 1693.

In 1703, Jews were banned from using indentured Christian servants, and in 1783, they were again taxed, previous exemptions of duty on the Sabbath were taken away, and they were prohibited from holding any public positions. The Jewish communities flourished despite these restrictions and, when the British Empire declared equal rights for Jews living in any colony in the early 19th century, ten percent of the whites in Jamaica it was claimed were Jews (this according to Ralph Bennett who researched the subject after discovering that his wife had Jewish roots in the Caribbean).

Historian Edward Long described the Jews in 17th century Spanish Town as follows:

The Jews here are remarkably healthy and long-lived….I think they owe their good health and longevity, as well as their fertility, to a very sparing use of strong liquors, their early rising, their indulgence on garlic and fish, Mosaic Laws, sugar, chocolate.

The oldest Jewish cemetery in Jamaica is located at Hunts Bay, midway between Kingston and Spanish Town. It was opened shortly after the British conquered the island in 1655. According to Mordecai Arbell in The Portuguese Jews of Jamaica, the tombstone inscriptions in the Port Royal cemetery are in Hebrew and Portuguese with some English.

Berg personally visited Jewish cemeteries in Falmouth and Montego Bay and noted that, by 1890, no readable tombstone in those two cemeteries contained any Hebrew. However, the number of graves in the Jewish cemetery suggest that there must have been a substantial Jewish community in Falmouth. The oldest readable inscription Berg found was of Isaac Simon, who died on January 17, 1815, at age 60.

In Spanish Town, the Neveh Shalom Synagogue was established in 1704. This place of worship largely serviced Jews of Sephardic descent and so another synagogue was built in 1796 to serve Jews of Ashkenazi descent. The two Spanish Town congregations united in 1844. Today, the site of the Sephardic Synagogue and its adjacent cemetery replete with gravestones featuring names such as Henriques, De Souza, de Pass, Melhado and Nunes, lie largely in ruins, but the Neveh Shalom Institute, a foundation that exists to preserve Jewish Remains in Colonial Jamaica, has plans for its restoration. Archival work is already under way.

In 1655, following the English Conquest, Amsterdam Rabbi Menasseh Ben Israel visited Lord Protector Cromwell and requested permission for Jews to settle in England. The request was granted and the implied permission in English colonies led to another influx of Jewish settlers to Jamaica from places like Amsterdam. All Jewish settlers had to be naturalized as British citizens and as such they were entitled to own property, a right denied to Jews in Medieval Europe.

The town of Falmouth was founded sometime around 1770 and the Jews who came to live there were merchants and traders dependent upon the sugar plantations surrounding the city, as well as upon international trade.

Jews in the city of Port Royal worked primarily as merchants and money changers, rather than farmers and planters. Trade between commercial centres inhabited by Jews such as Amsterdam, the Dutch colonies of Curaçao, St. Eustatius and Saba, the Danish St. Thomas, Genoa, Venice, North America, London, Turkey and India was brisk. The ability of Jamaican Jews to speak Spanish also propelled their success in trade with Spanish America. Goods traded included pepper, cocoa, vanilla, pimento, cocoa and sugar.

By the 19th century, some Jewish merchant families in Port Royal moved into shipbuilding and construction. Jamaican Jews were limited by law to ownership of two slaves only, unless they owned plantations, and few did. In addition, they were charged with only using Jewish indentured servants although this restriction was loosely imposed and therefore largely ignored.

There is little documentation of Jewish life in Port Royal, but Edmund Heath, in a description of the 1692 earthquake, noted the existence of a “Jew’s street” and synagogue.

Most Jews who survived the 1692 disaster left Port Royal and joined their brethren in Spanish Town, Kingston, Montego Bay and other locations islandwide.

In the mid-1800s, Jamaican Jews were given the right to vote and they quickly began to acquire local political power. By 1849 eight of the 47 members of the Assembly were Jewish and, that year, the legislative body decided not to meet on Yom Kippur. (all of the above from Wikipedia)

The first synagogue in Kingston is said to have been built in 1744, but perished in the Great Kingston Fire of 1882. Another, an Ashkenazi Synagogue, appeared in 1787. It too, was lost in the fire of 1882 and replaced in 1887. In 1907, however, both synagogues and many other buildings were destroyed by the Great Kingston Earthquake.

Modern History

Until late in the 19th century, Jamaican Jewish ritual and customs were Orthodox. In 1884 the United Congregation of Israelites was formed from a union of the Ashkenazi and Sephardic congregations, and it continues to exist to this day. This congregation was an umbrella organization for Jamaican Jews from all sections of the island. In 1913, it introduced a prayer book which included an English transliteration of Hebrew prayers for a population that largely could no longer read Hebrew.

A synagogue was built in Montego Bay in 1845, but the congregation declined during the 20th century and, when the synagogue was destroyed by a hurricane in 1912, it was never rebuilt.

Most of Jamaica’s Jews left for Britain, the U.S. and Canada between 1962, when Jamaica became independent, and the 1970s, when political unrest was widespread. This sharply reduced the island’s Jewish population, which by 1978 had only 350 remaining (see the figures above).

This sharp reduction in so short a period seems to have lit a desire to survive among those remaining. In 1969 a Hillel School was founded by the United Congregation of Israelites in Kingston as a secular private primary and secondary school.

As noted above, the Neveh Shalom Institute was founded in 1997 to preserve the sites of old Jewish synagogues and other remains. In 2006 the Jewish community celebrated the 350th anniversary of Jewish life in Jamaica by inaugurating a Jamaican Jewish Heritage Center.

The British periodical Jewish Renaissance has reported that, although the rate of intermarriage and interracial marriage is high in Jamaica, more families of mixed marriages today are choosing to bring up their children as Jews, whereas in the past Jamaican Jews who married out of the faith most often brought up their children as Christians.

Jamaican synagogue interior

An umbrella group called the Union of Jewish Congregations of Latin America and the Caribbean has been formed; it includes Jewish communities in Costa Rica, EI Salvador, Bahamas, Jamaica, Aruba and Panama, among others. The group helps the communities maintain their Jewish identity as members migrate out or marry non-Jews.

An article in Wikipedia claims that an estimated 420,000 Jamaicans have Sephardi Jewish ancestry, due to the Spanish Inquisition.

A very detailed timeline of Jewish history in Jamaica can be found on the Jamaican Jewish History website. . The site also hosts a list of Jewish religious leaders on the island.

A general site for conducting Jamaican genealogical searches can be found here.

Another site has an interesting collection of Jamaican Jewish history, including profiles of leading Jews in Jamaica, newspaper clippings and even a list of those killed during the Inquisition years in Jamaica dated from 1691.

A comprehensive set of links to Jewish Jamaican history can be found here.

Dr. Rebecca Tortello writes a history of the Jews of Jamaica.

UPDATE: Debra Klein published an excellent personal account from her own trip to Jamaica. It’s on the DailyBeast website.

All Around the World, and Especially in Nigeria, Jewish Children sing Ani Maamin

 

“I believe with complete faith in the coming of Moshiach, and although he may tarry, nevertheless, I wait every day for him to come.”

The Krakow Mezuzah Campaign

When we speak of the revival of Jewish life in Krakow we often point to the cultural renaissance taking place throughout the city: Jewish festivals, Hebrew and Yiddish language, holidays and Friday night dinners… All this is true and of course there is much more work to be done. Whenever a Jewish Pole hears about the openness of the Jewish community there is an opportunity to facilitate their stronger Jewish identity and their return to a glorious heritage. I continue to see this with young and old who walk through the gates of the Jewish Community Center of Krakow and are mesmerized by the excitement of the story of the return of the Jew.

There is, however, another dimension that many Jews in Poland are expressing interest in pursuing—spirit. There is an increased interest in the ritual, the ‘mitzvot’ and a desire for some to live a more spiritual Jewish life. For over 20 years since Rabbi Michael Schudrich has been rabbi in Poland (and chief rabbi for 10) he has infused within Polish Jewry the comfort to pursue Jewish identity in all of its facets and profound levels.

The fruits are slowly beginning to ripen.

My beginner’s prayer service consistently brings in Jewish Poles, old and young, who want to learn how to pray, perhaps like their parents or grandparents did. Every Friday evening we gather and learn about the service, explore the Siddur, and engage in discussions about Judaism.

Shaul praying with his Tefillin. (Photo: Courtesy)
Shaul praying with his Tefillin. (Photo: Courtesy)

After dinner Friday night at the Jewish Community Center of Krakow, 10 stay behind and study Torah with me in English, Hebrew and Polish. They want to penetrate into the depths of the Living Torah and to learn more about our tradition. My Basic Judaism class is small but dedicated as we learn about hilchot Shabbat (Laws of the Sabbath) and the intricacies of the Jewish kitchen. The following day I give a class open to Jewish and non-Jewish Poles in which 40-50 come to experience the breadth of the Bible and access the heart of Jewish consciousness.

My Rabbinic colleagues in other cities in Poland—Warsaw, Wroclaw, Katowice—are also experiencing a rise in observance and Torah study. Rabbi Moshe Bloom conducts classes in the Nozik Shul in Warsaw. He recently met Shaul, a young Jewish Pole who has started returning to his roots. Rabbi Schudrich presided at the affixing of a mezuzah on his door and he comes to Synagogue put on Tefillin (phylacteries) throughout the week, finding meaning and spirit in this ancient tradition.

I see this with the work of Rabbi Gurary in Krakow as well. Jews are coming to Synagogue, participating in services and want to come closer and learn more about what it means to be a committed, observant Polish Jew.

Donate to Israel Returns

Shavei Israel also invests time and funds to support Jewish activities mainly for young Poles searching for spirit. Their summer seminar brings 20-30 young professionals to Israel to tour the country, experience the land but also to learn Torah and connect with the tradition.

Perhaps most exciting is my latest initiative to re-affix mezuzahs to the mantels of Krakow’s Jewish homes. Before the war, more than 60,000 Jews lived in Krakow and it can be seen from the remnants on the doorposts of buildings, homes and Synagogues. Throughout Krakow ghosts of a once thriving, rich, cultural and religious Jewish life haunt the streets and remind some of the Krakow that once was but is no more. But perhaps it can be once again. Here are some of the many examples of the spiritual return:

Nachum

Nachum initiated the Mezuzah campaign when he told me that he just moved to a new flat and would like his children to learn what it means to be Jewish; a mezuzah on the front door will fill that purpose.

Nachum and his son kissing the mezuzah. (Photo: Courtesy)
Nachum and his son kissing the mezuzah. (Photo: Courtesy)

Nachum has been living in Poland for the past six years together with his Polish wife Aneta and their two children. He is part of a growing group of Israelis who have settled in Krakow and are searching for a connection to his Jewish spirit.

Golda

Golda and Kordian live in central Krakow in the same building Golda’s grandparents lived in right after the war (during the war it was taken by the Nazis to be used as Gestapo headquarters). Once Mezuzah clad, the building now shows no signs of Jewish life as, together with the cloaking of their Jewish identity, they cloaked any signs of external Jewish life. Only one thing remained—the hidden connection of their Jewish past and their willingness to uncover and return to that past after 70 years. Golda and Kordian invited me to their home to affix a mezuzah on their door.

Olga

Olga discovered her Jewish roots fifteen years ago when she simply confronted her mother and asked outright why they have Jewish books and have always had some connection to Judaism but never actually said they were Jewish. Her mother relented to her and told her the family secret—“your grandmother (my mother) was Jewish”. Today Olga’s family still does not outwardly accept their Jewish roots, but Olga does.

New mezuzah rests on the doorpost of Olga's home. (Photo: Courtesy)
New mezuzah rests on the doorpost of Olga’s home. (Photo: Courtesy)

She comes to Jewish classes, learns about Jewish law and observes some, is the president of the Jewish students’ club (called Gimel for third generation since the war) and engages in all things Jewish. She also told me that she needed a mezuzah in her apartment. When I came I was surprised to find her non-Jewish flatmates, their friends and relatives who all wanted to learn about this ancient tradition called Mezuzah.

Iza

Iza lives with her (non-Jewish) husband near Krakow in a once heavily Jewish populated town of Wieliczka. They moved from Silesia and are wonderful, committed members of the JCC. In Silesia she experienced anti-Semitism but in Krakow she says things are different: a neighbor comes to her and says, you should know that some people still don’t like Jews but if you ever have a problem let me know and I will take care of them….

Her grandparents lived in Lvov before the war and suffered in the Ghetto during war; that horror never left them. Her parents suffered the psychological trauma of growing up in post-Holocaust Poland as children of survivors; they couldn’t handle it. When Iza was two weeks old she was sent to live with her grandparents and is estranged from her parents ever since.

Living with her grandparents was difficult because they had Shabbat dinner but they never wanted to her to expose her Jewishness publicly. People found out anyway…but Iza was and is strong and brave and able to overcome all challenges.

Rabbi Avi Baumol with Iza affixing a mezzuzah on her home. (Photo: Courtesy)
Rabbi Avi Baumol with Iza affixing a mezzuzah on her home. (Photo: Courtesy)

When she brought her husband home to her grandparents she had to lie that he was Jewish but they loved him in the end. Her husband Andrzej loves her and respects her and is willing to live a Jewish life and raise their children Jewish. He too was subject (ironically) to anti-Semitism in Silesia so they moved to Krakow to have a better Jewish life. But they lived in Krakow for four years before entering the gate of the JCC, even though it was so inviting and open, she was scared based on her earlier experiences.

Iza is nevertheless happy in her life, she is married and has a beautiful daughter and is a member of the JCC and their daughter Sarah is at the nursery.

They bought two mezuzah coverings and together with Sarah we affixed Mezuzahs in Wieliczka which perhaps is the first re-affixing of a mezuzah in Wieliczka in many, many years.

Jakub

Jakub appeared on the scene only a few months ago, but he quickly connected to the vibrancy of Jewish life at the JCC in Krakow. His first Shabbat service brought tears to his eyes as he recited the Shema and he has joined classes and students activities on a regular basis. Jakub discovered his Jewish roots ten years ago but took his time until he was ready to visibly express that he is Jewish, through a Kippa which he proudly wears today.

Even more emotional was the first time he put on Tefillin (phylacteries)  I bought him from Israel. One could sense the incredible excitement and reverence he had for the Phylacteries, holding them, learning how to don them, and reciting the Shema with them.

Rabbi Avi Baumol helps Jakob put on his new Tefillin. (Photo: Courtesy)
Rabbi Avi Baumol helps Jakub put on his new Tefillin. (Photo: Courtesy)
Rabbi Avi Baumol (R) and Jakob (Photo: Courtesy)
Rabbi Avi Baumol (R) and Jakub (Photo: Courtesy)

There are many other stories, many other Jewish personalities who are inspired and inspire me whenever I have the privilege of being part of their spiritual development. There are still many more homes to visit and incredible stories to hear. There’s Pola who traces her Jewish roots back generations and there’s Paula whom I met just last year and helped her discover her Jewishness; there’s Sandra in Warsaw and Grzegorz from Gdansk and so many more all over Poland!

In short in Krakow with all these remarkable developments and perhaps thousands more waiting to be revealed I will try to live by the wise dictum of Rabbi Tarphon, the first century Jewish scholar who remarked: ‘the day is short and much work is there to be done…[but] it is not upon me to finish the work, yet I cannot be relieved from it’. I hope to continue to be a part of the resurgence of Jewish life in Krakow in particular and Poland in general for years to come.

 

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The Hidden Jews of Poland

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Prior to the outbreak of World War II, Poland was home to more than 3,000,000 Jews.

Ninety percent of Polish Jewry was annihilated in the Holocaust, and post-war Communist oppression caused many of Poland’s remaining Jews to flee. Those who stayed often had to hide their identities.

But since the downfall of the Iron Curtain, and Poland’s transformation into a democracy, an increasing number of Poles have begun to discover their families’ Jewish roots.

These include young people whose Jewish parents or grandparents were put up for adoption with Polish families and institutions in a desperate attempt to save them from the Nazi onslaught nearly seven decades ago.

Raised as Polish Catholics, many have only recently learned of their true Jewish identity, leading them to play an active role in rebuilding Jewish life.

Amazing Story About Muslim’s Search for Jewish Mom

Dr. Navras Jaat Aafreedi, Tazpit News Agency

It is the stuff of which films are made and novels are written. His absorbing story is such that it connects three continents, Asia, Europe and North America, five countries India, Israel, Canada, United Kingdom and Pakistan, and two communities seen as natural adversaries today – the Jews and the Muslims.

Urdu poet and Hafiz-e-Koran (one who has memorized the entire Koran) Mahfooz Ahmad Khan “Soz Malihabadi” was absolutely ignorant of his Jewish maternal side until he received a letter, dated October 16 , 1995, from his London-based Jewish aunt one day at his modest dwelling in Kakori in Lucknow district.

“I am very happy to know from my cousin David that he could find your address,” she wrote. “I and Ghazala (younger aunt) had a very hard life when my uncles and aunt sent us to Israel in 1956. The life was hard because I was only 17 years old and Ghazala was 11. We had no one in Israel, no parents, no brothers… A person can write a tragic story about us.

“I lived in Israel from 1956 to 1965. It was a very hard country to live in at that time, though things are better now… Ghazala got married in 1964… and in 1965 I immigrated to Toronto, Canada; lived there for one year, and again immigrated to London… I tried to find your phone number from the international operator, but I was told that you are not listed in the phone book…”

Soz had grown up hearing that his mother passed away when he was very young. The next letter from his aunt, dated November 25, 1995, proved to be the catalyst that set him on the search for his mother, Rehana (nee Rahmah), of whom he discovered from the letter that she was still alive and lived in the neighboring country Pakistan.

“You asked me about your mother… She is okay. Her husband died five years ago. She had a daughter Raana, who expired in 1980; she was only 21 years old. Raana died while giving birth to her fourth child. Your mother in Karachi has three grandchildren. She had a very tragic past; we will talk about it. I do not know how she survived all the difficulties. Anyway, we have to talk about so many things…”

Family photo: The small child is Mahfooz Ahmad Khan and the bigger child is his brother. The lady holding the elder child is their Jewish mother, Rahmah alias Rehana, and the man on the extreme left is their father, Maqbool Ahmad Khan. The two girls in the front row are the Jewish aunts. The one seated is the elder aunt, Khatoon alias Katty. The girls in the back row are Mahfooz Ahmad Khan’s father’s sisters (Photo: Tazpit News Agency)

Born in a Baghdadi Jewish family resident in Mumbai, Rehana married a young Pashtun named Maqbool Ahmad Khan in 1947. In 1950, their second child, Mahfooz Ahmad Khan, who later came to be known as Soz Malihabadi, was born to the couple.

Soon Maqbool’s thriving business failed, reducing him to penny pinching and souring his relations with his wife, who aspired to be a film actor. In 1955 they got divorced and Rehana married a Pakistani air force officer and moved to Pakistan, leaving behind her two little sons and two orphan younger sisters in her former husband Maqbool’s custody.

In 1956, Soz Malihabadi’s young orphan aunts, Khatoon and Ghazala reached Israel under the Zionist program of Youth Aliyah emigration to Israel, aimed at the ingathering of Jewish exiles from around the world, while Soz with his father moved to his ancestral village, midway between Malihabad and Kakori in Lucknow district.

When Soz met his aunts in Mumbai after an epoch of 40 years, he inquired about his mother’s whereabouts, but strangely enough they refused to divulge it to him. Not losing hope, Soz made a trip to Karachi, Pakistan, in search of his mother, but to no avail.

The posture taken by his aunts absolutely disillusioned him, and he severed all ties with them. The Muslim son is still in search of his Jewish mother.

Jews from China Defending Israel

From left to right: Gideon, Yonatan and Moshe (Photo- Eran Barzilai)

All three were born in China, in the ancient Jewish community in Kaifeng. They immigrated to Israel some five years ago and recently completed their conversion and naturalization processes. In two weeks, they’ll report to the Israel Defense Forces’ Induction Center in Tel Hashomer and join the army. Despite their relatively advanced age (all three are 25 years old), they are dreaming of enlisting in the Golani Brigade.

The three – Moshe Li, Gideon Fan and Yonatan Xue – are the first Jews from the Kaifeng community to enlist in the IDF.

They immigrated to Israel in 2009 with the help of Shavei Israel, an organization that reaches out to descendants of Jews around the world in an effort to strengthen their connection with Israel, and completed their conversion and naturalization processes last year. The Kaifeng community numbers around 1,000 individuals who, despite much assimilation, still maintain ties to Judaism.

Recent years have seen a fascinating awakening among the descendants of the Kaifeng Jewish community, and especially among the youth, who are seeking their roots and identity. Some are undergoing conversion and returning to Judaism; and there are those, too, who wish to immigrate to Israel.

Michael Freund, chairman and founder of Shavei Israel, which has been in contact with the community for quite some time and even employs a special representative there, managed a few years to get the Interior Ministry’s approval to bring Moshe, Gideon and Yonatan to Israel, and personally financed their immigration and absorption costs. Shavei Israelalso helped to enroll the three in a yeshiva and support them through their conversion process and integration in the country.

The three will now try to fulfill another dream on their way to becoming rank-and-file Israelis – to join the Golani.

To read the rest of this article, please visit the Ynet website.

Michael Freund on Voice of Israel Radio

Fresh upon his return from India, where he accompanied the latest group of Bnei Menashe immigrants on their journey from Manipur to Delhi and finally to Israel, Shavei Israel Chairman Michael Freund sat down for an interview with the “Voice of Israel” radio station to discuss the renewedaliyah from India. You can listen to the interview here:

Michael Freund on the Voice of Israel discussing the Bnei Menashe

Laura Ben-David with Bnei Menashe at Ben-Gurion Airport

Shavei Israel’s director of marketing Laura Ben-David also appeared this week on the Voice of Israel. She spoke with Judy Lash Balint about her recent – and first ever – trip to India where she joined Michael Freund in accompanying the Bnei Menashe home.

You can listen to her in-depth, first person encounter here.

Record Year for Bnei Menashe Return!

Kol Ami students with sign in Kuki and Israeli flag

“This was the first time I really understood what aliyahis all about,” said Tomer Yamtovich as he headed back to the bus after an emotionally uplifting hour of singing, dancing, clapping, hugging and unrestrained joy at Ben-Gurion Airport last week.

Yamtovich was one of 34 students from Kol Ami, an Israeli pre-army academy (ormechina), who swapped a good night’s sleep last week for a late night rendezvous with 50 Bnei Menashe new immigrants who had just arrived in Israel after the long flight from India.

The Kol Ami students came out to demonstrate at the top of their lungs – as perhaps only a group of boisterous, idealistic young Israelis and Jewish youth can – that the Bnei Menashe were finally home, and that their many years of dreaming of Zion had finally become reality.

Kol Ami was the perfect partner to greet the Bnei Menashe, as you can see by the enthusiasm expressed in the accompanying pictures. (They even made a sign in the Bnei Menashe language of Kuki reading ‘Welcome to Israel.’) Kol Ami has a unique syllabus focusing on issues of peoplehood, Israel engagement and the bonds between Israelis and the Jewish community abroad. “It was amazing, exciting and fulfilling,” gushed Kfir Cohen, one of the students who came to the airport. “A once in a lifetime experience,” added Nitzan Hasson.

The group of 50 Bnei Menashe on last week’s flight were the culmination of two weeks of furious activity organized by Shavei Israel, in which nearly 250 Bnei Menashe left their homes in the northeastern Indian state of Manipur to rejoin the Jewish people in the Land of Israel. This brings the total number of Bnei Menashe whom Shavei Israel has brought on aliyahthis year to 660, the largest one-year total ever.

As with their brothers and sisters before them, this month’s group of Bnei Menashe headed straight for the Kfar Hasidim absorption center, where they will spend the next several months learning Hebrew and basic Judaism, before moving into their permanent homes and formally starting their new lives in Israel.

While the final group of Bnei Menashe for 2014 is now here, our obligation to their successful integration into Israeli society is just beginning. And so is our financial responsibility. Shavei Israel, with your help, has already spent $1,200 on flights and transportation for each Bnei Menashe immigrant now in Israel. In 2014, that came to a total of $792,000. But that’s not all.

To cover the Bnei Menashe’s absorption requirements – including room and board for three months at Kfar Hasidim, teacher salaries, study materials and outings, on through setting them up in their first apartments once they leave the center – will cost an additional $2,800 per individual. So far in 2014, we’ve spent $738,000 and, for the 250 men, women and children who have just arrived, another $700,000 is required.

We need your help now more than ever. Our dream of bringing the Bnei Menashe home to Israel is no longer just in the realm of prayers looking towards the future or in lobbying activities in the Knesset. It’s a reality happening right now – as you can see in the pictures below.

Now is the time to open up your hearts –and your pocketbooks – and give generously. The Bnei Menashe have made it all this way. Help them take the first steps to true independence in the land of their forefathers. Please support us today.

———-

A special treat: Below you can watch a video from an earlier flight where, on the bus ride from the plane to the terminal at Ben-Gurion Airport, the Bnei Menashe spontaneously broke out into a rendition of Ka Thangnge Ka Thangnge – their traditional song about remembering Israel and the dream to return. Prepare to be moved!

A special thank you

ad thanking ICEJ - Nov 18 2014

Mazel tov! Subbotnik Jewish couple gets married in Russia

Israel and Elisheva enjoying their wedding meal and party.

Israel and Elisheva enjoying their wedding meal and party.

There is an old Russian custom to steal the shoe of a bride at her wedding. Then the bride or her family must “redeem” the shoe through a variety of different techniques. Sometimes “money” will be demanded. Other times, the shoe-less bride must perform some sort of “task” such as drinking several shots of whiskey. Invariably, the bride gets her shoe back and the party can continue.

It’s all in good fun – even more so when the festivities are part of the small but vibrant Subbotnik Jewish community in southern Russia – which doesn’t see a lot of weddings.

Serge (Israel) and Natalia (Elisheva) Zilnatzkov were married two weeks ago at the synagogue in Voronezh, which until the completion of the shul in Visoky, was the only house of worship for Jews in the area. Israel Returns’ emissary to the Subbotnik Jewish community, Rabbi Zelig Arasin read the ketuba (the marriage contract). Rabbi Avigdor Nosikov, the congregational rabbi in Voronezh, was the master of ceremonies and conducted the ceremony. Members of the community were present as well. After the wedding there was a kosher seudat mitzvah – a festive meal – along with dancing and more drinking.

We asked Rabbi Avrasin what kind of alcohol was on hand. “Vodka, whisky, rum and Samogon,” he said. The latter is a local homemade vodka so strong (it is 60-70 percent alcohol) that, when Israel Returns Chairman Michael Freund tried it while attending a wedding in Russia several years ago, he commented that it might be better suited to removing old paint from a wall!

Israel and Elisheva, both in their thirties, are members of the Voronezh community. Elisheva has Subbotnik Jewish roots but needed to undergo a formal conversion prior to the wedding ceremony. For the past two years, Rabbi Avrasin has been accompanying the couple on their journey. This included frequent visits to Visoky, where Rabbi Avrasin is based. The new Visoky synagogue, which has been built over the past year with the help of your donations, is intended to support the Subbotnik Jews who live in the village. (You can read more about it here.)

Please join us as we say mazel tov to Israel and Elisheva!