AWAKE! RISE UP AND SHINE OH MY PEOPLE! The time is right, and how appropriate it is, that in this week’s Torah portion, Vayishlach (Genesis 32:4 – 36:43), we read about the birth of Binyamin, the youngest of Ya’akov Avinu’s sons, and for the first time in the whole of Torah we read the names of the patriarchs of all 12 tribes of the Children of Israel. Alas, where are they today? What has become of the Biblical tribes of legend? We know for a fact that Yehudah, Binyamin and Levi made up the majority of the southern Kingdom of Judea, and a few survivors from the northern tribes would come to join them, but most of “Efraim,” referring of course to the 10 tribes that made up the northern Kingdom of Israel have supposedly become “lost” to history and time. But what if that is not entirely true? What if we were never lost? Indeed, today there are many “emerging” Jewish communities around the world, claiming genetic heritage linked all the way back to the lost exiles of Israel and Judah. Today I am going to tell you about some of them, why we are Jewish, and why it is in the interest of both the State of Israel and Rabbinic courts to fully embrace and welcome this prophetic vision of the return of their lost brothers and sisters. I will also discuss what each of us can do to play a part in the fulfillment of our people’s prophetic destiny, leading the world to finally climb Jacob’s Ladder to the cosmos, and bring humanity to an elevated state of mind, an age of true and lasting peace. Isn’t that a future worth fighting for? Come with me!
We can start with our brothers and sisters of Beta Israel, the Ethiopian Jewish community. Theirs is a most ancient exile, going back thousands of years. Some say they are descendants of the tribe of Dan, one of the 10 northern tribes of Israel taken into the Assyrian exile, others say there is an even older legend, that they are direct descendants of King David and Shelomo (Solomon) themselves. The legend says that Solomon was in love with the Queen of Sheba and that the royal couple had a child named Memelek, meaning, “From the king.” Indeed, many Ethiopian Jews today can trace their ancestral lineage all the way back to the Davidic Dynasty. I say why can’t both legends be true? For thousands of years, their isolation in exile often made it seem like they were the last Jews in the world in their eyes, just like other Jewish communities in exile around the world. And much like other communities, Beta Israel also went through intense persecution for their ethnic and religious identity at the hands of both radical Muslims and radical Christians. In the 1970s and 80s the State of Israel officially began covert efforts to rescue their fellow Jews in Ethiopia with Operation Moses and then Operation Solomon in the early 90s. Countless refugees boarded planes, and were brought home to Israel after nearly 3,000 years of exile, as their ancestral oral traditions prophesied that they would return to Jerusalem “on the wings of giant eagles.” And just like that, their ancient prophecy came true. But the ongoing civil conflict in Ethiopia still rages and endangers the remaining 5,000 Ethiopian Jews whose lives are under mortal threat every day. In today’s Israel, the Ethiopian Jewish community still faces many challenges, including racism unfortunately. But theirs is a community which forms a great percentage of the Jewish population of Israel including IDF officers, Knesset members, and even Miss Israel 2013 (Who I’m in love with), Miss Titi Aynaw whose own story of survival and triumph makes her a badass in her own right. The compelling story of Operation Moses can be seen in the 2019 film Red Sea Diving Resort starring Ben Kingsley and Michael K. Williams and Chris Evans. They too are crucial part of the fabric of Israel; to deny this is not only racist but cruel as well. They are human beings who need our help and together we can help to bring them home to Israel.
Then we come to the Igbo of Nigeria and the Lemba of Zimbabwe, both of whose community can prove Semitic origins in their DNA, and their ancestral traditions are indeed distinctly Jewish with slight differences based on variations of regional exiles. The Igbo people claim to be descended from several of the tribes of Israel, and many of them claim to be specifically descended of a patriarch named Eri, one of the sons of Gad mentioned in the Torah. The Lemba also claim descent from ancient Israelites, as well as Levites and Judeans. Both communities have also been subject to intense persecution and even genocide over the centuries, the Nigerian Civil War alone claiming millions of Igbo lives, the Lemba similarly have had to survive a harsh environment of hatred, cruelty and intolerance of the most barbaric nature. Not to mention emerging communities of Uganda and Madagascar, among other African Jewish communities.
Then we come to northern India, where the Bene Menashe have lived for thousands of years. Also surviving intense persecutions from radical Islamists or radical Hindus in the past. Today they live in relative peace under the Indian government, but equally share genetic and religious connections to ancient Israel, being descended from the tribe of Menashe, one of the sons of Yosef the son of Ya’aqov (Israel), peace be upon them. Israel has similarly made efforts to gather them in, and settle them within their ancient homeland and heritage. Their story of survival over the millennia is deeply moving, and even includes a war for independence attempted in the late 20th century, their own flag proudly displaying a Star of David.
I will now tell you a bit of my own exiled community, the Bene Anusim, also known as Crypto Jews. We are descended of Sephardic Jews from old Spain who were forcibly converted to Catholicism during the days of the Inquisition. Today our community makes up a large portion of the Hispanic population of Latin America, many of whom have Jewish descent and don’t even know it. Thousands of us around the world are discovering a lost part of our family’s heritage, a past hidden for the purposes of survival amidst an atmosphere of religious fanaticism where people were burned alive for daring to express views that differed from those of the Vatican. Not everyone is interested in embracing their Jewish identity, but I was, and so are many thousands like me who have embraced our Jewish heritage proudly and have decided to return completely and according to halacha to Judaism 100%. Ours is a community mentioned in this week’s haftarah from Ovadyah the prophet.
“And that exiled force of Israelites [shall possess] what belongs to the Phoenicians as far as Zarephath; while the Jerusalemite exile community of Sefarad shall possess the towns of the Negeb. For liberators shall march up–on Mount Zion to wreak judgment on Mount Esau; and dominion shall be Hashem’s.” – Ovadyah 1:20-21
If these prophecies are true, it means that the return of these communities, and I dare to believe, others like them, is a direct prerequisite and the key to bringing on the Messianic era, when all nations shall beat their swords into plowshares and the spears into pruning hooks, when nation shall not lift up sword against nation or study war anymore. Because the children of Israel, perfectly represented in Yosef’s coat of many colors, are today made of a rich tapestry of colors and cultures, each of us expressing the sacred words that unite us as one people, one nation, “Shema Israel!” Some today are afraid of such a movement, thinking it somehow threatens the fabric of Judaism. I say I understand why there is so much fear, after all it has only been a mere 70 years since the Shoah, and the trauma is still fresh in our collective mind. But we must not allow for those traumas to reduce us to baseless fear and hatred of one another. Let the brothers stop mistreating Yosef, and let Yosef stop thinking he knows more than his brothers! Let us make peace and realize that we are ONE people. The return of our exiles in no way threatens Ashkenaz or Sefardi Judaism, or Judaism as a whole, quite the contrary in fact, I believe it will both strengthen Judaism and add to its rich diverse beauty. To those who fear I say, remember that we can take measures to ensure these returns can be done in the most halachic way possible, to safeguard and protect our sacred heritage. As for our returnees, we don’t have to give up our own stories and traditions, but we can and should embrace our Jewish heritage above all, and unite as one, serving our one and only Creator, no mortal messiah or angel, or any other deity. We can both proudly represent our respective communities and fully embrace Judaism, reviving what I think should become a kind of Judean or Hebraic Renaissance, one that revives our ancient common heritage.
Now I turn to my final point, why it is in the interest of the State of Israel to welcome us with open arms, because not only would it become the next wave of Zionism and Aliyah, it will dramatically increase the Jewish population of Israel, solving many demographic problems our country now faces. It would also increase the size of Israel’s military, work force and overall economy, all of this would greatly benefit Israel in the long run. I’m not saying there won’t be problems, there’s always problems, but we can overcome them together to achieve our much longed for goals, which Israel has always done since its rebirth in 1948. This is the next chapter in Zionism and the story of our people! It’s worth talking about and awareness should at least be raised both in Israel and around the world about all our communities. We should establish regular communications and mobilize, create a kind of collective digital mind, so that we can take action and make the words of Ovadyah come to life in our own generations. Then the children of Israel will fulfill our destiny, leading humanity to finally ascend Jacob’s ladder to the stars, and elevate the world to a higher state of consciousness, one where we live in peace with one another. In that day Hashem will be One, and His name One!
There are many other Jewish communities emerging around the world. I cannot possibly cover each one in this article, but will make the effort to do so soon.
We are twelve tribes, but one people, one nation, Am Israel Chai!
!עם ישראל חי