Bnei Ephraim visit Israel
Eight members of the Bnei Ephraim visited Israel over the summer. The Bnei Ephraim are a small community of 120 families who live in the Andra Pradesh state of India. The group claims to be the descendants of the biblical tribe of Ephraim, but were actually founded in the mid 1980s when a former Christian preacher, Shmuel Yacobi, visited Israel and became convinced that his people’s past was Jewish, not Christian. Shmuel’s son, Yehoshua, immigrated to Israel in 1993.
The 10-day summer trip included Shmuel Yacobi; his wife Malkah, who is the national president of India’s Hebrew Open University, which offers correspondence courses on Hebrew and cultural relations between India and Israel; and other Bnei Menashe community members.
Participants in the trip landed in Tel Aviv, drove up the coast with a stop in Caesaria, and stayed for three days in Tiberius with a day trip to Safed to visit the tomb of Kabbalist Joseph Karo. The group also spent three days in Jerusalem during which time they met with Shavei Israel’s rabbi and educational director Eliyahu Birnbaum (see picture).
Esther Ephrathi, a member of the tour group, reported Rabbi Birnbaum as saying that all Jews belong to one family and that dispersed Jews, such as the Bnei Ephraim, must join the Jewish family in Israel.
Ephrathi summed up the trip by adding, “I appreciate the Jewish people for reserving the holy places so carefully. I am very grateful to the Almighty G-D for giving me this opportunity to visit the Holy Land!”
The Bnei Ephraim have had a remarkable if brief history and demonstrate a true passion for Judaism. While their roots remain unclear, Shavei Israel is assisting the community with fulfilling its heartfelt desire to deepen their knowledge of Jewish belief and practice. With G-d’s help, more Bnei Ephraim will perhaps one day become part of the Jewish people in Israel.