Archive for October 2013

Ted Cruz speaks truth

October 22, 2013
The latest reports of the failure of ObamaCare underscore the fact that Ted Cruz was right, and his critics – who attacked him both publicly and privately – were wrong.

During the budget and debt ceiling debates, some errant politicians repeatedly said that their vision of “leadership” was to do nothing, have ObamaCare’s implementation do real harm to the American people, and when it failed we could ride in like the cavalry and tell the public that since Obama’s plan failed they should now give us a try.

It was truly baffling to watch these individuals go on TV and tell the American people this:  ‘Our plan is to watch you suffer through something we know is horrible and then you can come begging to us for relief.’  That is not leadership.

Instead, Ted Cruz, Mike Lee and conservatives in the House and Senate spoke truth to power. They stood up and took action based on principle and explained that the dangers of ObamaCare were so great that they weren’t afraid of paying a short term political price if it meant a long term gain for their country.

As Americans are now beginning to sort through the train wreck of ObamaCare and assess how we got into such a disastrous mess they will appreciate the fact that some people had the courage of their convictions and spoke out. That is what “leadership” is all about. And that is why whenever we have the chance we should elect brave leaders over establishment cogs who prefer to practice politics as a ‘game’ – focusing on tactics and strategies instead of on principles, ideals and ideas.

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Pray expecting great things

October 22, 2013

TUESDAY, OCTOBER 22, 2013

IN TIMES OF DISCOURAGEMENT
by David Wilkerson
[May 19, 1931 – April 27, 2011]

The first thing the Holy Spirit often does in times of discouragement is bring
to your remembrance the precious promises of Jesus. He has done this with me as
He flooded my soul with promises from God’s Word. “Your life isn’t over,” He
assured me. “You don’t know it, but the best is still ahead of you.” The work
of the Holy Spirit is to undo the lies of the enemy and bring encouragement from
on high!

Multitudes of Christians enter God’s presence every day expecting to be
reproved by Him. How that must grieve our Lord. When we go to prayer, we ought
to be prepared to hear a good word from our loving Father. For years every time
I entered my prayer closet, I expected to hear a rebuke from the Lord. Thank
God, He has taught me a better way.

On the other hand, there are entire denominations that avoid any mention of
holy reproof. They say very little about sin because they want to preach only
positive, upbeat messages. In the process, they ignore all the convicting,
life-giving reproofs spoken by Christ and the New Testament writers. Such
churches claim to preach a gospel of love, mercy and grace. But, sadly, they
misuse God’s grace, turning it into a license to sin.

I realize I am not writing this message to that kind of people. Rather, I’m
speaking to overcoming Christians who avoid sin as one way of loving the Lord.
I’m speaking to those who enjoy intimacy with Christ because they hunger and
thirst for Him constantly. If this describes you, and you’re downcast and
depressed, please know it is happening because you are under attack for loving
Jesus!

Be assured that all who wait on the Lord will receive His glorious promises:

“Since the beginning of the world men have not heard, nor perceived by the ear,
neither hath the eye seen, O God, beside thee, what he hath prepared for him
that waiteth for him” (Isaiah 64:4).

“As it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into
the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.
But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all
things, yea, the deep things of God” (1 Corinthians 2:9-10).

Read this devotion online: http://sermons.worldchallenge.org/en/node/24992?src=devo-email

Lier-in-Chief strikes again

October 22, 2013
Today, President Obama played fast and loose with the truth when he arrogantly declared that ObamaCare is alive and well – and the law of the land.  
The President scolded detractors whom he characterized as “rooting for the failure” of his signature legislation. 
Mr. President, we don’t have to “root” for ObamaCare’s failure. It’s catastrophically failing all by itself! 

ObamaCare is the most lethal concoction ever injected into the laws of our nation and it must be stopped before it inflicts irreversible damage on our healthcare system, economy, culture, and families.

The “lost” tribes are returning to Israel and so soon will Yeshua the Messiah

October 17, 2013

Breaking news: Israeli government approves new Bnei Menashe aliyah

Government resolution approving Bnei Menashe aliyah (in Hebrew)

Government resolution approving Bnei Menashe aliyah (in Hebrew)

On Sunday morning, the Government of Israel unanimously passed a resolution allowing  Israel Returns to bring 899 Bnei Menashe from India to Israel (you can see the original resolution in Hebrew on the left). The government action means that Israel Returns’ planning for the next wave of Bnei Menashe aliyah, which we have reported on for you here over the past several months, is now kicking into high gear.

In 2012 and 2013, we enabled 274 Bnei Menashe to immigrate to Israel and rejoin the Jewish people. That was no easy task, involving a myriad of details, from flights to food, and arranging housing, classes and childcare programs on a very large scale.

We are now looking at more than a 300% increase in the number of Bnei Menashe who, with Israel Return’s help, will immigrate to Israel in the coming 15 months. The aliyah is scheduled to begin in December – that’sjust over six weeks from now!

The Bnei Menashe are descendants of the tribe of Manasseh, one of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel who were exiled by the Assyrian empire more than 2,700 years ago.

Israel Returns’ staff has already been preparing the physical groundwork in both India and Israel. Now we need to make sure that our financial house is ready.

The next group to come has a special importance: it will be entirely from the Mizoram region of India, which hasn’t seen an organized aliyah to Israel in over 7 years. Airfare from Mizoram to Israel, with transit via Delhi, is approximately $1,200 per person. An additional $1,800 per immigrant is required to assist with absorption costs once the Bnei Menashe arrive in Israel.

For all 899 new immigrants, that comes to an astonishing $2.7 million.

At this critical juncture in Bnei Menashe history, ask yourself: what can I do to make the Bnei Menashe’s 2,700-year-old dream of returning to Israel a reality? Can I play even a small part in this unfolding miracle? Am I ready to join forces with hundreds of others dedicated to ensuring a true ingathering of the exiles?

Time is running out. We need your help now. Please visit the Support Us page on our website and make your generous donation today.

15 grandmothers and a hidden Jewish legacy: the story of Genie Milgrom

Genie Milgrom

Genie Milgrom

The rabbi didn’t know what to make of Genie Milgrom. She had placed on the table before him reams of documentation going back hundreds of years, all demonstrating what she hoped would be incontrovertible proof that her family’s ancestors in Spain were Bnei Anousim, (descendants of Jews forcibly converted to Catholicism at the time of the Inquisition and who are often referred to by historians by the derogatory term Marranos). In those documents Milgrom had traced a firm matrilineal record going back an impressive 15 generations. Her goal: to be declared Jewish by birth.

There was only one hitch: Milgrom, who grew up Catholic, was already Jewish: long before she chanced upon evidence that her family may have had Jewish roots, she had become interested in Judaism on her own and had converted in an Orthodox ceremony in Miami 20 years previously. Since then, she had been living a strictly observant lifestyle.

“What do you want me to do?” the rabbi asked Milgrom, sincere but perplexed, after spending several hours reviewing her documents. “I can’t make you any more Jewish than you already are!”

But Milgrom was insistent – it’s a trait that took her from a prim and proper Catholic schoolgirl to becoming an international businesswoman and ultimately the go-to person for hundreds of other Bnei Anousim seeking to trace their Jewish lineage back hundreds of years.

The outcome of the story: it took a few more years and even more documentation, uncovered in the wee hours of the night by a tireless Milgrom in the Portuguese national archives in Lisbon, but she got what she so fervently sought: proof of her Jewish lineage, eventually going back an astounding 22 generations, and formal confirmation from several key rabbinical authorities.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves

Genie Milgrom grew up in a devout Roman Catholic family with no inkling of her hidden Jewish past. Her grandparents emigrated from Spain, first to Havana, Cuba, and then, after Castro’s take-over, to Miami, Florida, when Milgrom was 5-years-old. She describes herself as “the perfect model Catholic child, complete with saddle shoes, Irish kilt-style uniforms, mass every morning with prayers in Latin.” And yet, she says, “I never fit in. I went through the motions, I prayed the loudest, but deep inside, I knew something was wrong.”

When she was 7, she attended a summer camp where she met her first Jewish friend. “I was drawn to her like a firefly to light,” Milgrom says. “She fascinated me and I stuck to her like glue.” During the school year, Milgrom sought out any connection she could find to Jews and Judaism. “It was inexplicable,” she adds. “It made no sense, but I felt more at home with the occasional Jew I met than I did inside a church.”

A very bright child, Milgrom enrolled in a Catholic university when she was just 16. There, she befriended the only other girl her age on campus – who happened to be Jewish. “What was a Jewish girl doing in that school?” Milgrom wonders. “There are no coincidences in life.”

Milgrom spent hours with her new friend, trying to glean the smallest details “about religion, Shabbat, anything I could.” She took classes in theology and paid special attention to the Jewish topics.

But then it all stopped. Milgrom married just a year after school began, at age 17, had two children, and began working in the family business. It was another 16 years before she had a moment to breathe. But when she did, it was Judaism that once again filled her heart.

“I began to devour volumes of Jewish books,” she says, “on the holidays, marriage, Shabbat, philosophy – anything I could get my hands on.” Moreover, she started visiting synagogues for the first time and created what she calls “a new life on the side.”

Her thirst for Judaism, however, resulted in an irreparable rift in her marriage, and she and her husband eventually divorced. This freed Milgrom to dive into Judaism even deeper. After some 5 years of formal study, she converted to Judaism through the Orthodox Beit Din in Miami. Shortly thereafter, she met the man who would become her husband. He had been raised in a large religious family in Antwerp, Belgium, and had moved to Miami for work. Milgrom finally found what she was seeking for so long: a fulfilling Jewish life and a loving community.

And then the entire story of how she got to that point was dramatically flipped on its head.

It was a Friday morning and the telephone rang. Milgrom’s mother was on the line. “Your grandmother has passed away,” she said. Milgrom asked her mother to please hold the burial until Sunday, rather than do it on the Sabbath when Milgrom could not attend, but her mother was insistent. “In our family tradition, we must do the burial immediately!”

This struck Milgrom as strange. The tradition of burying someone as soon as possible is not a Catholic one, but a Jewish custom.

The day after the funeral, Milgrom’s mother produced a box that Milgrom’s grandmother had specified be delivered to her granddaughter only upon her death. Milgrom opened the box and her jaw dropped: inside was a Star of David earring and a five-fingeredhamsa pendant. “At that moment, I said to myself ‘holy moley!’” Milgrom recalls. “My grandmother must have been a Marrano.

Other memories suddenly began to make sense. When her grandmother would make dough for bread or dessert, she would always separate out a small piece, and put it in the back of the oven to burn. This is the Jewish tradition of taking challah. “My grandmother also always taught me to check for blood in eggs,” she says, another Jewish law.

With these clues beckoning, Milgrom began a search that would last more than a decade to trace back her Jewish roots. Particularly important would be showing that all of her grandmothers were Bnei Anousim, because Judaism is based on matrilineal descent.

It was slow going at first. There was an old family tree, but it only went back to 1790. Still, it was intriguing that family members seemed to be marrying only other relatives from the same village – that might be a way of preserving hidden Jewish heritage, Milgrom thought. She hired a researcher to scour the archives in Spain looking for birth and death certificates. “I told him I don’t want brothers and sisters, only grandmothers,” Milgrom says. “He would scan what he found at night and send them to me by email. I’d make a full bibliography on every name he found, with five references on each, showing that these were names used by Marranos. Eventually I had circumstantial evidence going back hundreds of years.”

The results of her research are now the subject of a book “My 15 Grandmothers,” published in 2012.

At this point, Milgrom flew to Israel and met with staff at Israel Returns,including Educational Director Rabbi Eliyahu Birnbaum. “Rabbi Birnbaum was very impressed. He told me that I’d done some wonderful genealogy work, but to truly prove my Jewish roots, I needed an actual Inquisition record with the family name on it.”

Not deterred, Milgrom hired another researcher in Spain who she charged with the new task, but the elusive Inquisition document was not to be found. “I almost passed out and died. I’d been working on this for years,” Milgrom says. “I can feel it – I’m Jewish in my soul, so how can this be?”

Milgrom decided she had to take things into her own hands. She and her husband got on a plane and flew to Spain to visit Fermoselle, the medieval village where Milgrom’s family was from. Fermoselle is located in the Castile and Leon region of Spain, not far from the town of Zamora, and situated along the Duero River that forms a natural divide between Spain from Portugal. “That’s when I realized it,” Milgrom says, still excited today over that discovery from several years ago. “The Inquisition records I was looking for weren’t in Spain. They must be in Portugal!”

Milgrom fired up the GPS on her phone and the couple sped off to Lisbon to pour through the national archives. Fortunately, all of the Inquisition records had recently been digitized. “I started plugging in family names and one after another, Inquisition records began appearing,” she says breathlessly. “We found 40 records all showing maternal lineage, going back 22 generations.” When the family tree was done, she had an astonishing 8,597 names recorded on her mother’s side.

Milgrom returned to Israel with the new documents and left it with a prominent rabbinical court, which has dealt with questions of Bnei Anousim lineage in the past. “It took them two and a half years to translate everything from medieval Spanish and Portuguese to Hebrew,” she says, “but in the end, I got a beautiful letter saying that, while I came to Judaism one way, through conversion, I was in fact born Jewish. ‘G-d works in mysterious ways,’ the letter added.”

Milgrom remains in touch with Rabbi Birnbaum and Israel Returns’ Chairman Michael Freund, along with staff working with Bnei Anousim. “They were always there for me to answer my questions,” she says. “They never turned me away. More importantly, they shone the light that enabled me to eventually complete this work.”

Milgrom now spends her spare time speaking to other Bnei Anousim around the world about how to successfully conduct genealogical research. Milgrom’s fluent Spanish often takes her to South America and Europe for business and she maintains an ever busy calendar of engagements; in the past year, she’s had bookings in Argentina, Ecuador, and Spain, in addition to her home state of Florida. “I try to bring awareness and encouragement to people like myself,” she says.

In July of this year, Milgrom visited Zamora, not for work but as a featured speaker at a conference on the Jewish history of the region. The event was attended by more than 180 people, 40 of whom were scholars, dignitaries and journalists, including Dr. Abraham Haim, president of the Cultural Council of the Sephardic Community in Jerusalem; Dr. Avi Gross of Ben Gurion University, and Dr. Ruth Behar from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

She is well positioned to continue as a role model for the increasing numbers of Bnei Anousim seeking to reconnect with their heritage. Milgrom is currently the president of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Miami and is executive vice-president for the Society of Crypto-Judaic Studies.

While she is delighted by the outcome of her many years of research, she jokes that perhaps it should have been easier, even obvious, to prove her 500 year connection. ”By tenacity alone they should have known I was a Jew!”

Visit the most beautiful Bnei Menashe sukkot in India

Bnei Menashe sukka belonging to the Buhril family in India

Bnei Menashe sukka belonging to the Buhril family in India

Every year, the Bnei Menashe community in India conducts an annual “Kosher Sukka Inspection Program” during the intermediary days of the holiday of Sukkot. A team of 10 inspectors visited 8 Bnei Menashe villages in the Churachandpur area – Mualkoi, New Bazar, Phailen, Sijang, Zohar, Monglenphai, Matiyang and B.Vengnuom – viewing tens of creative sukkot (the temporary outdoor “booths” built especially for the festival).

The purpose of the program is twofold: first, as a competition, the inspectors judged the most beautiful dwellings (and awarded prizes). Second, the inspectors helped educate the Bnei Menashe community on how to build a sukka that is both lovely and kosher (for example, it should have a thatched rather than a tin roof).

We have pictures of some of the sukkot here, sent to us by our emissary to the Bnei Menashe in India Yochanan Phaltuel.

Sweating it out on Yom Kippur in Moreh, India

Sweating it out before Yom KIppur in India

Sweating it out before Yom KIppur in India

It is a heavenly irony that, no matter what the temperature on the days before Yom Kippur, when the actual Day of Atonement arrives, it will be unseasonably hot. It was that way this year in Israel and it was even more so in India, as Israel Returns’ emissary to the Bnei Menashe, Yochanan Phaltuel, discovered.

Yochanan decided this year to leave his regular home base in Churachandpur, where Israel Returns maintains its Indian headquarters, and spend the holiday with the Bnei Menashe in the northern town of Moreh along the border with Myanmar (Burma), a 7 hour, 172 kilometer drive away from Churachandpur.

Moreh is already well known in India as the hottest place in the state of Manipur (one of the two main states where the 7,000 Bnei Menashe still remaining in India live). But this year, the temperature on Yom Kippur topped over 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) with 85 percent humidity!

No problem, you might think; just crank up the air conditioning and turn on the fans. Not so in rural India, where electricity can be erratic even on the coolest of days, Yochanan reports. Our wilting emissary tried to stay sanguine. “In the Torah, it is written that on Yom Kippur we are to ‘afflict ourselves,’” he says. “So, as we bring ourselves to cry from our hearts on this awesome day, so too come our bodily tears – sweat pouring out like drops of water, falling on the pages of our machzorim [the Yom Kippur prayer books].”

Heated poetry aside, Yochanan survived and sent us a number of pictures taken before the holiday, including a few from the annual ritual ofkapparot, where Jews symbolically rid themselves of their sins by waving small sacks of money over their heads (which is then given to charity)…or, invoking a much more ancient tradition, live chickens. We have pictures of both here.

Yochanan’s visit to Moreh also afforded him the opportunity to attend the tombstone consecration ceremony for Yedidiah Manlun, on the 30-day anniversary of his death. The ceremony was held at the Zion Veng cemetery in town, which is used by both of Moreh’s two Bnei Menashe communities, Moreshet Menashe and Beith Shalom. We have pictures of the ceremony here.

Kosher cooking in a Polish town

Noemi and Debora at the cooking workshop

Noemi and Debora at the cooking workshop

In an open air plaza, on the very spot where a synagogue once stood in the Polish town of Tarnowskie Góry, two proud Jewish women conducted a workshop on kosher food and Jewish cooking. The women – Noemi Berenstein and Debora Saleh – are two of the three residents of Israel Return’s Be’er Miriam project, an apartment and cultural center in the city of Katowice, opened earlier this summer under the auspices of Israel Returns and its emissary to the region, Rabbi Yehoshua Ellis. (See our full report here.)

Tarnowskie Góry is about an hour’s train ride from Katowice and is part of the Silesian metropolitan area of over 5 million people. The setting for the workshop was a larger “Collage of Cultures” festival and Be’er Miriam was invited to represent the Jewish history of the region.

Jews have lived in Silesia for hundreds of years. In the mid 1700’s, a Jewish entrepreneur, Salomon Isaac, became one of the founders of the Upper Silesian mining and metallurgical industries. The synagogue in Tarnowskie Góry was established in 1864; it was burned to the ground when the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939 and its ruins completely dismantled in 1943.

In 2006, the Culture and Art Foundation in Tarnowskie Góry unveiled a monument in the square at Szymala Street, where the cooking and food workshop took place, to commemorate the location’s former synagogue. The monument has the shape of a column and includes a quotation from the book of Genesis in both Hebrew and Polish: “He was afraid and said, how awe-inspiring is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” (Genesis 28:17) Here are some pictures of both the former synagogue and the monument now in its place.

Noemi and Debora traveled the hour to Tarnowskie Góry complete with pots, pans and kosher ingredients to demonstrate a repast of mostly Israeli delicacies: hummus, falafel and pita. There was also salad with spinach and mandarin in poppy seed sauce, and a Middle Eastern-inspired dessert of yogurt with pomegranate, tahini, honey and mint.

Rabbi Ellis reports that the visitors to the workshop “mostly didn’t know much about Jewish culture and asked many questions about the ingredients, about what is kosher, and basically what is important in Jewish life.” The workshop was popular for another reason: spectators got a chance to try some foods that they’d never experienced before. (The Be’er Miriam women fortunately are good cooks!)

The workshop also was an opportunity to share with locals more information about the activities at Be’er Miriam in general. “We invited all the people who came to join us in our regular Israeli cooking classes, film screenings, and the Krav Maga courses we offer, and several signed up,” Rabbi Ellis continues. [Krav Maga is an Israeli-invented martial art intended primarily for self-protection.] The local media came out as well and Noemi and Devora were interviewed with more questions about Jewish culture. You can read more about Be’er Miriam here.

Here are some pictures from the workshop and day in Tarnowskie Góry.

The next generation of Bnei Menashe leaders springs into action

Bnei Menashe group gathers before the Sabbath

Bnei Menashe group gathers before the Sabbath

As the 94 Bnei Menashe men and women returned to their hometowns and families, following a 50-hour cross-country journey by bus and after already having been away for nearly a month, the Rosh Hashana holiday was quickly approaching. But rather than take even a moment to rest, these remarkable young Bnei Menashe leaders jumped right into action, the excitement of their 25 days of intensive study informing their every move. There were lessons to prepare, services to lead, and communities to inspire. Their jobs as the “next generation” of Israel Returns Fellows in India had now begun.

Israel Returns has just concluded its largest-ever training seminar for Bnei Menashe leaders. Incoming Fellows from all over India – from the states of Manipur, Mizoram, Assam and Nagaland – as well as two young boys from across the border in Myanmar (Burma), participated in the program which was organized and conducted under the supervision of Israel Returns’ Rabbi Hanoch Avitzedek and Tzvi Khaute, with Bnei Menashe Rabbis Yehuda Gin and Gurion Sela flying in from Israel for the entire duration.

Israel Returns’ emissary to the Bnei Menashe, Yochanan Phaltuel, was there as well, and he fills us in on some of the details. “The first week of the seminar was held in Gangtok, a resort town and the bustling capital of Sikkim, India’s smallest state. For the second and third weeks of the seminar, the group shifted to Yuksam, a smaller and more peaceful village.”

Yuksam is the last base camp for treks to Kanchandzongha, the highest mountain peak of India and the third tallest in the world. “The place is quite beautiful,” Yochanan reports. “You can just relax and gaze at nature and you will not even be aware of how quickly time flies by.” The Ban Jhakri waterfall just outside the village added a pleasant and persistent scenic backdrop. From their hotel windows, the group could “see the majestic Himalayas covered with snow in the clear morning skies,” Yochanan adds.

Not that anyone had time for much mountain gazing: a packed scheduled covered a wide variety of subjects on basic Judaism, including emunah (faith),  halacha (Jewish Law), chagim (Jewish holidays), Shabbat, Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah (literally: “the laws which are the foundations of the Torah”) as set down by the medieval scholar, Maimonides; as well as a complete review of daily practical mitzvot.

The group did get out for at least one major excursion; to the top of a mountain that Yochanan reports was infested with leeches! “None of us had ever seen such a battalion of these blood-sucking crawling worms in our lives,” he reports, clearly still re-living the unwelcome surprise awaiting the Bnei Menashe trekkers. The group was undoubtedly happy to return to their studies at the end of that day!

There were some non-study extras, as well, including an arts and crafts session where the group got to create some homemade challah cutting boards (see picture below); a dance performance put on by the Bnei Menashe women; an afternoon of sports and physical competition (anyone for standing on your head? – see picture below); and even a magic performance complete with fire eating.

The Sikkim seminar was organized specifically to train a new cadre of Bnei Menashe Fellows in India. Many of the current Fellows either made aliyahearlier this year with the most recent group of 274 Bnei Menashe immigrants or are scheduled to move in the coming months, so “there is a deep sense of urgency in keeping the ember of Torah education and Jewishness among the Bnei Menashe community going,” explains Yochanan. “The seminar is a crash course in openness and truthfulness for the new Israel Returns Fellows. In many ways, it is like the very ‘first’ seminar for the Israelites who came out of Egypt into the wilderness with Moses. Israel Returns is continuing the Sinai tradition down to the Bnei Menashe today.”

We have some great pictures from the seminar.

Welcome home to the new Bnei Menashe Fellows! May they all be inscribed in the Book of Life.

This Rosh Hashana, help bring the Bnei Menashe home to Israel

Azriel Hmar looks out at the beach in India and dreams of a new life in Israel

Azriel Hmar looks out at the beach in India and dreams of a new life in Israel

Azriel and Mayian Hmar, along with their two children Annie and Angel, have a comfortable life in the city of Aizawl. Hailing from the northeastern Indian state of Mizoram, Azriel, 45, is a high-level government employee in the capital city and a leader in the Bnei Menahse community there. His wife, Mayian, teaches Jewish subjects to the Bnei Menashe children of Aizawl on Shabbat and Sundays. Both are college educated and, in addition to the local tongue of Mizo, Azriel and Mayian speak English fluently and Azriel has also mastered Hindi. Their children attend prestigious schools in town.

And yet, the Hmars are prepared to give it all up, to leave their friends, family, home and standard of living, to realize their most passionate dream: to make aliyah and join the Jewish people in Israel. They have been saving and planning for many years for the day when the gates of immigration would finally open for them.

That day is nearly here.

As we head into Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, we have much to be thankful for. With your generous help, in the last year, Israel Returns overcame numerous bureaucratic barriers, resulting in the dramatic resumption of aliyah from India. In the Jewish year 5773, we brought 274 Bnei Menashe men, women and children, families and singles, from the Indian state of Manipur to Israel.We arranged for housing and Hebrew language instruction for the new immigrants. Today, they are all settled in their own homes in two welcoming northern Israeli communities: Midgal HaEmek and Acre.

The Bnei Menashe are descendants of the tribe of Manasseh, one of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel who were exiled by the Assyrian empire more than 2,700 years ago.

In the coming year of 5774, with G-d’s help, we will bring 899 Bnei Menashe to Israel– that’s more than three times as many as this past year – beginning as early as November and continuing over the following 12 months.

We couldn’t have brought the first group to Israel without your assistance and we are turning to you again for this year’s even bigger challenge. Airfare from Mizoram to Israel, with transit via Delhi, is approximately $1,200 per person. An additional $1,800 per immigrant is required to assist with absorption costs once the new future Israeli citizens arrive in Israel. The Israeli government may chip in, but the onus is squarely on our shoulders.

The cost to help the Hmar’s – from the moment they pack their bags until they set up in their new homes in Israel – is a total of $12,000 for the entire family. The cost for all 899 immigrants is staggering $2.7 million.

Please consider making a Rosh Hashana contribution that will enable Azriel, Mayian, Annie and Angel to come to home to their people – to our people – in the land of Israel. Your assistance will be felt immediately and directly, on the ground, with the individuals who need it the most.

With your help, the Bnei Menashe will see their 2,700-year-old dream of a Shana Haba b’Yerushalayim (“Next Year in Jerusalem”) become a reality. Join us in making this miracle come true!

Thank you and Shana Tova!

Summer seminar for “Hidden Jews” of Poland launches today in Jerusalem

The group at the Western Wall on their first night in Israel

The group at the Western Wall on their first night in Israel

Izabella only discovered at age 13 that her grandfather was Jewish. Agata learned she was Jewish when she was 8-years-old, but her mother, afraid of what her daughter’s friends would say, refused to let Agata tell her classmates. Michael took a DNA test, which proved his connection to the Jewish people and helped him connect with long lost relatives in the U.S. Sandra found that her family’s name appears on a list of Jews in the town of Lubraniec some 13 times. Mateusz recently found documents that verify his family’s Jewish roots; his parents have formally converted to Judaism and he is eager to join them.

What connects Izabella, Agata, Michael, Sandra and Mateusz? They are all among the “Hidden Jews” of Poland who arrive in Jerusalem today for the start of Israel Returns’ annual Polish-language summer seminar in Israel. This year, 16 young Poles (10 women and 6 men) will be participating in the two-week program, which mixes study, travel and home hospitality for what previous attendees have referred to as a “life changing experience.”

The Israel Returns seminar is packed with opportunities to reconnect with Judaism and learn more about both historic and modern Israel. Every day includes classes with Polish-speaking rabbis and educators. Rabbis Baruch Babaev, Boaz Pash and Yehoshua Ellis Israel Returns’ emissary to Katowice, Poland) will be leading the learning. Mornings, as in years past, will be dedicated to Hebrew classes, while afternoons include courses in faith, Jewish Law, and the upcoming High Holidays.. Morning, afternoon and evening prayer services will also be conducted.

The touring part of the seminar includes trips to Masada and the Dead Sea; the Jewish Quarter and the Western Wall tunnels in the Old City of Jerusalem; Yad Vashem, Mea Shearim and the Golan Heights.

The group will be in Israel for two Shabbatot and both will be spent “on the road.” For the first weekend, participants will be hosted by families in the community of Dolev near Modi’in. For many, this will be their first time getting to know a religious Jewish family.Israel Returns’ community Shabbat encounters are consistently cited as one of the highlights of the program. The following Shabbat, the group will stay in the Kabbalistic city of Safed at the Ascent Center.

Program attendees will also spend a full day at a yeshiva and midrasha in Jerusalem – for the boys it will be the Machon Meir yeshiva. The girls will study at the Nishmat Institute.

Israel Returns sponsors and heavily subsidizes the seminar; program participants pay only a nominal “symbolic” fee. The total cost for the seminar, including lodging, food, touring and instruction, comes to more than $20,000. If you’d like to help defray some of these costs, please visit the Support page on the Israel Returns website.

Here are some pictures and a video from last year’s seminar. Watch this space for more news as the 2013 session unfolds.

“New Generation” of Bnei Menashe leaders to meet at India seminar

Sikkim Seminar 2013 Banner (2)This Thursday, August 1, a convoy of some 100 Bnei Menashe will set out from their homes in the northeastern Indian states of Manipur and Mizoram for a demanding 50-hour journey across the country. The buses will circumvent narrow mountain roads over the course of two days and nights, passing through picturesque villages with striking views of the Himalayas. The vehicles will stop only a few times for passengers to stretch their legs and grab a quick bite to eat as they make their way to their final destination: a retreat center in rural Sikkim, India’s least-populated state.

Despite the punishing itinerary, there won’t be any complaining. For this isn’t an ordinary group of Bnei Menashe. All 100 participants were handpicked by Israel Returns to serve as the “new generation” of Bnei Menashe “Israel Returns Fellows,” part of a program that trains young Bnei Menashe men and women to be leaders and educators in their communities. These Israel Returns Fellows work long hours, on an entirely voluntary basis, in addition to their regular jobs. Sometimes, they will travel from village to village, leaving their families for as long as a month at a time, as they teach classes on Jewish topics and Hebrew to an eager and often isolated population.

Now, as the Bnei Menashe aliyah has resumed, it is time to reward the current crop of Fellows and bring them home to Israel as well. “They’ve been working for so many years, we felt it wouldn’t be fair to block them from coming too,” explains Israel Returns, Director for Bnei Menashe Aliyah and Absorption, Rabbi Hanoch Avitzedek. But if all the Fellows come to Israel, who will be left in India to work with the 7,000 Bnei Menashe still remaining?

That’s the goal of the seminar starting this week: to train a new group of leaders who will replace their friends and colleagues who have served tirelessly for so many years.

The seminar in Sikkim will last for over three weeks at considerable expense borne entirely by Israel Returns. In addition to transportation, housing and food for the 100 Bnei Menashe participants, the costs include flying in teachers and facilitators from Israel. Well-known Bnei Menashe educators Rabbis Yehuda Gin and Gurion Sela will provide instruction in the two primary Bnei Menashe languages, Kuki and Mizo, respectively. Also shuttling in from Israel will be Rabbi Avitzedek, Tzvi Khaute, Israel Returns’ Coordinator for the Bnei Menashe, and a 27-year-old Israeli woman who will take care of the group’s social activities.

This is not Israel Returns’ first intensive seminar for Bnei Menashe Fellows. Indeed, until last year, seminars were held annually. But last year, with the resumption of the aliyah, all of Israel Returns’ resources, both time and financial, were directed towards that more immediate task of bringing the first group of 274 Bnei Menashe to Israel. Another group is expected to arrive later this year and the wave of immigration will continue through 2014. As a result, now may be the last and only chance for a Fellows seminar of such undertaking.

The process of selecting the “new generation” of Bnei Menashe leaders has been ongoing for some time. In Mizoram, Israel Returns concluded a 5-day seminar for 50 Bnei Menashe this past weekend. That seminar’s purpose was twofold: to help identify potential new Fellows from Mizoram and to provide participants with “strength, motivation and a positive experience,” Rabbi Avitzedek says.

For both the just-concluded seminar and the longer one coming up, the study topics will be on more of an introductory level than the content of previous sessions. “We’ve chosen some very good people, but they don’t have all of the knowledge of the current Fellows,” Rabbi Avitzedek says. “So we’re going back to basics: what is the rhythm of daily Jewish life, from waking up to going to sleep? How do you keep kosher, Shabbat, and family purity? There will be less philosophy than in the past and more focus on practical matters.”

The name for this year’s seminar – “From Earth to Sky” – came from Israel Returns’ coordinator for the Bnei Menashe in India, Yochanan Phaltuel. It recalls the Biblical story of Jacob’s Ladder, which bridged the physical and spiritual worlds, Rabbi Avitzedek explains. “Our goal is to show in very concrete ways how one can connect the ‘normal life’ of the earth and with the spiritual domain of the sky – without leaving either one of them behind.”

Putting on a seminar of this size and duration is a major undertaking. The cost, including flights for the staff from Israel and accommodations at the Hotel Flora Fountain in Gangtok, comes close to $50,000. We are actively seeking donations to help support this seminar as well as future training for the new Bnei Menashe Fellows. If you are able to help, please visit our Support page and make a note in the comments that you are donating for the Israel Returns “New Generation” seminar for Bnei Menashe.

Portuguese town gets first Torah in 500 years

Shavei Israel Chairman Michael Freund carrying the Torah in Trancoso

Israel Returns Chairman Michael Freund carrying the Torah in Trancoso

The Isaac Cardoso Center for Jewish Interpretation in Trancoso, Portugal, was formally dedicated this weekend in the presence of Israel Returns Chairman Michael Freund, Rabbi Eliyahu Birnbaum, Israel Return’s Educational Director, and some 50 Portuguese Bnei Anousim who came to Trancoso for a weekend Shabbaton sponsored by Israel Returns.

There was one additional “guest” at the dedication: a new Torah scroll, the first to make its home in Trancoso in nearly 500 years. The Sefer Torah,which was purchased with funds from the city, will take center stage in the newly built Beit Mayim Hayim synagogue – literally “the House of Living Waters” – part of the $1.5 million Cardoso Center. Rabbi Birnbaum brought the Sefer Torah from Israel.

“Five centuries after the expulsion of Portuguese Jewry, the streets of Trancoso have once again been filled with Jewish singing and dancing as we bring a Sefer Torah to its new home,” Michael Freund said at the dedication.

More than 60 people, including the mayor of Trancoso, Julio Sarmento; local resident and municipal worker Jose Domingos, a Bnei Anousim who serves as an advisor to the mayor; as well as a number of residents of Trancoso, attended the installation on Sunday. We have pictures of the Torah being carried through the streets of Trancoso here.

The procession’s starting point faced a large and imposing cathedral in the very same public square where the Inquisition had once tormented Trancoso’s hidden Jews. Speaking to the assembled crowd, Freund told the participants, “We are here today because your forefathers did not surrender to those who sought to force them to abandon their faith. They bravely and stubbornly clung to their Jewishness in secret, risking everything. Let us all take inspiration from their example.”

Israel Returns’ programming in Trancoso for Bnei Anousim (people whose Iberian Jewish ancestors were compelled to convert to Catholicism more than five centuries ago and whom historians refer to by the derogatory term Marranos) is being overseen by the organization’s emissary to the region, Rabbi Elisha Salas. The weekend seminar, which began on Friday, included prayers, communal meals and classes taught by Freund and Rabbis Birnbaum and Salas.

The Cardoso Center is both intended to attract increased tourism to the area and to commemorate the countless Portuguese Jews who were persecuted, displaced or forcibly converted. The Center includes public assembly rooms, a small garden, video projection systems and two exhibition halls, one dedicated to the history of the Jews in Portugal and the other on the renewal of Jewish life in the region in recent years.

Near the entrance to the synagogue is a memorial wall filled with the names of Bnei Anousim who were tried and punished by the Inquisition for secretly practicing Judaism, including some who were publicly burned at the stake in the 18th century.

The facility itself is named after Isaac Cordoso, a 17th century Trancoso-born physician and philosopher who came from a family of Bnei Anousim. Cardoso later moved to Spain with his family and then fled to Venice to escape the Inquisition, where he and his brother Miguel publicly embraced Judaism.

The Center’s dedication and the installation of its Torah Scroll comes on the heels of a bill passed earlier this month by the Portuguese government to naturalize the Jewish descendants of expelled Jews.

According to the new legislation, “the government will give nationality…to Sephardic Jews of Portuguese ancestry who belong to a tradition of a Portuguese-descended Sephardic community, based on objective prerequisites proving a connection to Portugal through names, language and ancestry.”

That makes Portugal essentially the only country outside of Israel to have a Jewish “Law of Return” – an ironic twist of fate but one which is, nevertheless, welcome after so many years. ”For centuries, Trancoso was home to a large number of Bnei Anousim and it has a riveting history,” Freund said earlier this year at the announcement of an agreement between Israel Returns and the city of Trancoso which grants Israel Returns the right to administer the Center and organize Jewish cultural, educational and religious activities on its premises. “We are now making great strides in providing the opportunity for a renewal of Jewish life in the region for those who seek it.”

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Israel Returns Chairman Michael Freund has written an emotional, first hand report about the Hachnasat Sefer Torah (Torah dedication ceremony)It includes some fascinating details uncovered by Jose Domingos describing how the Bnei Anousim “hid” Jewish symbols in the architecture of their homes – for example, an etching that appears at first to be three prongs but is actually an inverted shin, the Hebrew letter often used to denote one of the Divine names. The article appeared today in The J

It get old after a while

October 17, 2013

No one is happier with the new budget deal brokered by the Washington Establishment than the left-wing media.

They were the most ardent supporters of Obamacare and the most vocal critics of conservatives who dared to challenge this disastrous legislation.

As the only organization with the sole mission of documenting, exposing, and neutralizing left-wing media bias, the Media Research Center just released a study showing that the so-called “news” media were instrumental in blaming the shutdown on Republicans, while covering for President Obama.

The study found that “Network reporters and anchors repeatedly instructed their audiences to blame Tea Party extremism for the consequences of the shutdown.”

It was a pathetic propaganda campaign carried out by a left-wing, hyper partisan press corps determined to destroy conservatives. They were dishonest to the core in their reporting on the shutdown.

Now we need you, our grassroots army, to forward this email to friends and family so that Americans understand how the media advance the Left’s agenda and why they cannot be trusted.

Thank you for all that you do for the conservative cause.

What Matt has to say about our ownership

October 13, 2013
Mathew Staver, Chairman
Liberty Counsel Action
ObamaCare is a menace to our nation. It is overt socialism at its core, immoral, and completely unconstitutional.  As I’ve written many times before, just because ObamaCare is the law of the land doesn’t make it lawful.

Liberty Counsel Action and our sister organization, Liberty Counsel, have fought vigorously against ObamaCare in the courts, legislatures, and court of public opinion long before the day ObamaCare was signed into law – and the fight will go on.

The hubris of President Obama, his administration, and leftist sycophants extolling the so-called virtues of the Affordable Care Act, which are proven deceptions, while demonizing those of us who know the truth and stand against ObamaCare, exposes a deep-seated underlying problem.

Liberal “progressive” Democrats believe they “own” the government – and we, the loyal opposition, just get to participate in it at their discretion!  They are sadly mistaken. Please see my vital update below – Mat.

Bob,

As conservative columnist Ann Coulter declared in a no-holds-barred commentary last week, “Democrats to America: We Own the Government.”

Ms. Coulter cited a case in point that should have every patriot up in arms…

“A longtime Democratic operative, Karen Finney, explained the Democrats’ intransigence on MSNBC…by comparing House Republicans to a teenager trying to borrow his mother’s car. “No, I’m not negotiating!” Mother says. “It’s MY CAR!”

Apparently, the Left thinks the government is theirs and the people’s representatives are like teenagers trying to borrow the government, which in their twisted view belongs to Democrats.

That’s not how the Constitution views the House of Representatives. To the contrary, the House is considered most reflective of the people’s will because its members are elected every two years.

As a matter of fact, the Republicans who mistakenly assume they have something to do with running the government represent most of the people who pay taxes to operate it. So it’s more like a teenager who is making the car payments, maintaining the car insurance, and taking responsibility for registering the car being told: ‘It’s not your car.’

But the Democrats refuse to even negotiate. It’s their government – and if you Republicans think you’re going out dressed like that, you’ve got another thing coming!”

This eye-opening commentary has been well received throughout conservative circles, and Ann Coulter’s analysis of the “shutdown showdown” is being passed along on the Internet at a high rate.

DOA

October 10, 2013

We’ve all heard the stories about uber-expensive government items: the titanium hammer for $600, the $60,000 airplane toilet seat, $400 ashtrays and a myriad of other wasteful costs passed along to taxpayers.

Today Grassfire learned of another: $634,320,919 for the ObamaCare website, Healthcaregov!

Costing taxpayers more than seven times the original contracted price, the “flagship technology portion of
the Affordable Care Act” has been a complete and utter failure.

As Digital Trends reported, “Government has a long history of spending money unnecessarily. But in an age when the U.S. is home to the world’s largest, most successful Internet companies, how is it possible that we can’t even manage to build a functional website without blowing though hundreds of millions of dollars?”
Truer words may have never been spoken. But in that same breath, the colossal failure of the ObamaCare website may be a sort of “golden fleece” — provided that grassroots Americans are smart enough to realize it.

With experts calling Healthcaregov “the digital equivalent of a rock,” the signs couldn’t be clearer. ObamaCare simply isn’t ready for primetime — and it’s not going to get any better!

But if Republicans fold under the intense and growing pressure by Obama and the Left, the government will continue moving forward with plans to take over one-sixth of our economy. AND they’ll keep shoveling hundreds of millions of tax dollars to “Band-Aid” a system that was DOA … dead on arrival!