Mizo 'Israelis' fight for identity
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Mizo 'Israelis' fight for identity

A new Israel group from the Mizos is collecting funds to celebrate the announcement of Mizos as descendants of ancient Israelites.

india Updated: Aug 28, 2005 22:17 IST

A new Israel group from the Mizo community is in the process of collecting funds to celebrate the announcement of Mizos as descendants of ancient Israelites, B'Nei Manashe, or sons of Manashe.

Set up on May 17, 2005, the All Mizoram Israel Committee (AMIC), according to its chairman ZD Lalhnuna, was created to counter "some people's" objective of trying to club Judaism with Israel. "There are many people in the Mizo community who believe that Judaism is not necessarily a part of being an Israelite.

Just because it has been accepted that we are descended from a tribe of ancient Israelites does not mean we have to embrace Judaism, which is a religion just like any other religion," says Lalhnuna. "With people trying to blacken the fact of our ancestry by labelling all who believe in this ancestry as potential converts to Judaism has prompted us to form this new group.

Everyone from any religious denomination can be accepted in our group so long as they believe in the descendant story."

Quite expectedly, the descendant theory has created its own tensions within the Mizo community. According to PC Biaksiama, a Christian research scholar and Reverend Zothuama, a Presbyterian pastor, there is a fear in the Presbyterian Church in Mizoram of a "wholesale conversion to Judaism which would leave a very depleted Christian community in the state". "The number of those who want to convert to Judaism is very small and a majority of them do so because of economic reasons."

According to them, of the approximately 1.5 lakh Mizos who believe they are descendants of an Israeli tribe, only a few thousand believe in Judaism. This, incidentally, is borne out by a statement of the revered Sephardic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar, who said on March 30 this year that the declaration of Mizos being B'Nei Manashe has not triggered off the expected stampede to Judaism as believed by some Christian church leaders.

Lalhnuna is emphatic that the chief rabbi's announcement has in no way affected those people who believe that Mizos have strong roots with Israeli tribes towards conversion to Judaism. He said Jews are welcome to live in their homeland practicing their own religion while brother Israelites can live here in Mizoram practicing Christianity.

"We are clear of our ancestry and the announcement by the chief rabbi reiterated a fact that we had known for many decades. But this has in no way affected our faith in the Christian religion. The few who believe they need to convert to Judaism can do so if they want to and live in Israel. We, as their brothers, will stay on in Mizoram and practice our own religion here. What it will amount to is that Jacob's (grandson of Biblical of Abraham) descendants would be living in their two separate lands practicing their separate religions," he said. He said their lives were not a matter of religion, but of 'Hnam' (nationality) and ancestry.

First Published: Aug 28, 2005 22:17 IST