06 January 2010 Lost tribe gains new skills with ORT India A group of 14 members of the lost tribe of Menashe have graduated from ORT Indias pre-aliyah training programme in Mumbai. Now hopes rest on an early settlement of their Jewish status so that they can make their new homes in Israel before they become too comfortable in India thanks to their newly-acquired skills. The Bnei Menashe have been accepted as a Lost Tribe of Israel by Israels Sephardi Chief Rabbi, Shlomo Amar, which paves the way for them to qualify for aliyah under the Law of Return; but they are expected to undergo conversation because of their long separation from Judaism. How and where they do that has yet to be finalised. In the meantime, thanks to the exemplary training they have received at ORT India in a programme supported by the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ), the graduates have a very good chance of finding work locally. On the one hand, this is, of course, great news for the people who come from remote towns and villages in the impoverished north-eastern provinces of Manipur and Mizoram. On the other hand, material success can undermine their passionate desire to live in Israel. Young members of the Bnei Menashe community who are undergoing ORTs pre-aliyah training in Mumbai live in ORT Indias single gender hostels which have been refurbished thanks to the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews. ORT India National Director Benjamin Isaac recounted the experience of a graduate of a previous training programme who, having proved herself to be particularly bright, went from hairdressing to computer studies and eventually an IT teacher for ORT. Then she moved to Mumbai, joined a call centre and soon rose to become the manager, Mr Isaac said. We are delighted that she is doing so well but it may now be difficult for her to move to Israel because she would probably have to start again from the bottom. The resolution to the limbo in which the Bnei Menashe find themselves is a political matter out of ORTs hands. In the meantime, ORT India is focusing on providing practical vocational training and Jewish Studies to members of one of the most isolated branches of the Jewish People in the hope that the issue will soon be settled and they can join the dozens of ORTs other Bnei Menashe graduates who have already made the journey home to Israel. ORT India Honorary President Norman Elijah, who presented certificates to the young men and women who had successfully completed courses in computer studies, Jewish Studies, Hebrew, hairdressing, the use of electrical and mechanical hand tools, and early childhood care and education (ECCE), said it was a task which everyone in the organisation was happy to be a part of. We at ORT are very proud that we can give them this kind of education and make them ready to meet the future, Mr Elijah said. We are very, very happy that these young people are learning so much and gaining a foundation for a safe life ahead. Mr Isaac said he was due in Manipur at the end of the month to help organise the next intake of students, which is expected to be a larger group of 20. However, they are expected to share a similarly high level of motivation as their predecessors. The polluted, densely populated city life in Mumbai can take its toll on the health of the Bnei Menashe who enrol with ORT and two members of the recently graduated group had to be sent home as a result. But the Bnei Menashes determination to succeed is illustrated by one of the students, Amos, who refused to be sent home to recover from kidney stones. We wanted to send him home because he was in such terrible pain, it was unbearable to see, Mr Isaac said. But he bravely continued his studies while undergoing treatment and strictly following the prescribed diet. Another student, Ezra, completed the course despite initial opposition from his family, which had converted to Christianity. He was the first member of his family to return to Judaism and he studied with us without his relatives support, Mr Isaac said. Not only did he complete the course but now his brothers want to follow him back to the Jewish People. There are 25 Bnei Menashe boys who, having graduated from ORT Indias pre-aliyah programme, went on to study at the Kfar HaNoar Hadati Educational Village at Kfar Hasidim, one of the more than 30 campuses participating in World ORTs Kadima Mada programme. They are among the latest of several hundred Bnei Menashe who made aliyah before their immigration was blocked by the then Interior Minister Avraham Poraz in 2003. Since 1962, ORT India has provided vocational and technological training for Indias Jewish communities as well as hosting communal events and providing kosher services in Mumbai (Bombay). Outside Mumbai, ORT has operated computer centres and training programmes in Ahmedbad, Alibaug, Pune and Mizoram and, thanks to IFCJ support, a computer training centre at Imphal. World ORT Director General and CEO Robert Singer said he was sincerely grateful to IFCJ founder and President, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein. He has met the Bnei Menashe and appreciates not only their sincerity and goodness but also the potential contribution they can make to the State of Israel. We at ORT join the Bnei Menashe in paying tribute to the IFCJs vision and compassion in supporting this historic and poignant project, Mr Singer said.