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MIZOS CLAIM JEWISH ROOTS, SOME HAVE EMIGRATED TO ISRAEL

Updated: January 26, 1995 05:00 PM GMT
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Many Mizos living in Mizoram and Manipur states in northeast India say they believe they are diaspora Jews who will one day return to the promised land.

As the theory gains acceptance among Mizos, as well as some Jews in Israel, some 200 Mizos have left India for the Middle East to settle on the West Bank.

Most Mizos in northeast India became Christians during the past century, but some shops, streets and traffic junctions still bear Jewish names such as Israel Stores, Zion Street and Israel Point.

Mizos say they are one of the 10 lost tribes of Israel and descendants of Manasseh, king of Judah (687-642 B.C.). They say that by about 313 B.C., during rule by successors of Alexander the Great, descendants moved eastward.

First settling in Afghanistan, they moved later to China´s Keifeng province around 231 B.C. Mizos say they helped construct the Great Wall, but their Jewish traditions and culture, rituals and animal sacrifice irked the Chinese.

They also say persecution and harassment forced them to leave China through Burma, which encircles most of Mizoram, to settle in India 500 years ago. They quote folk songs to prove their ordeal and exodus from China.

"Strange are the faces and no friends they are," says one of their songs. "I had to leave Sinlung my home."

Zaithanchhungi, a Mizo researcher, finds distinct similarities between Mizo Jews´ physical features, culture, tradition, rituals, customs and ways of worship and that of Jewish ancestors.

According to Zaithanchhungi, who visited Israel several times, synagogues are a prototype of the Mizo ancestral "zawlbuks," places of worship. About 50 years ago, areas dominated by Mizo Jews had zawlbuks, the scholar said.

Zaithanchhungi visited Tel Aviv University twice as part of her research.

According to her, Mizos´ forefathers were called "Lusei" in Burmese, meaning "10 tribes." Armed with these claims, a 12-member Mizo team went to Israel in 1986 but were sent back to India because their Jewish claims were suspect.

A general assembly of Mizo tribes in 1987 at Aizawl, the Mizoram state capital, discussed ways to gain acceptance by Israel.

All Jewish (Kneseyah, Messianic and Judaic) groups in the region decided to work under a common banner, Messianic-Israel-Zionist Organization (MIZO). MIZO was asked to start dialogue with Israel to seek recognition.

Later, Rabbi Eliyahu Airchali of a Jerusalem-based organization that traces the lost tribes of Israel helped some 200 Mizo Jews emigrate to Israel. They were mostly youths 18-25 years old from Manipur´s Churachandpur district.

"We are excited over acceptance in the fraternity," says Thangliana, a retired Mizoram state government official and promoter of the Jewish solidarity movement in the area.

Rabbi Eliyahu, who visited Mizoram and Manipur in 1994, said he believes some 6,000 Mizos who belong to the lost tribe of Manasseh live in the states. He attributes their changed facial features to intermarriage.

Zaithanchhungi said she met some Mizos who emigrated during her visit to Israel. Some were granted Israeli citizenship and have taken various jobs.

Two Mizo youths, Benjamin and Ezejiel, joined the Israeli army, and a family of four who left Manipur a few years ago now lives in Jerusalem, she said.

However, B. Thanmawia, director of All India Radio´s Shillong station, denies that the Mizo Jews in Mizoram are authentic Jews, although he admits he is still studying the matter.

According to Thanmawia, Mizos who emigrate to Israel are expected to provide cheap labor in Israel´s technologically backward and turbulent areas and are "well aware of the dangers on the way."

"If dangerous exposure in the strife-torn Ghaza strip could not dampen their spirit for the promised land," he said. "There is a possibility of a steady emigration of tribals, some of whom adhere to Jewish faith in their own way."

END

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