Sometimes it is a pleasure to sit in a traffic jam,” joked Michael Freund, Director and founder of Israel Returns, an organization which seeks to fulfill Biblical prophecy by bringing home members of the Lost tribes and hidden Jewish communities.
“Seeing the streets of Jerusalem so full of people, and knowing those people are coming home, is a really inspiring idea,” he said.
Freund spoke with Christian and Jewish pilgrims who came to Israel over the recent Sukkot holiday in a special event hosted by the Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation (CJCUC) and Israel365.
After taking part in a special holiday prayer session, Freund explained to those gathered that despite the hardships new immigrants to Israel face, overcoming those hardships is a matter of faith.
“We pray three times a day for the ingathering of the exiles. Today it’s simple to come to Israel, however being an immigrant, in any country, and especially here is rife with difficulties. When a person is used to a certain culture, a language, to make the shift to a new place is very difficult, and even more so here in Israel which is not in the best of neighborhoods.”
Freund expressed his awe at the continued faith that certain groups of immigrants such as the Bnei Menashe from India and the Jews of Kaifeng, China have. These hidden Jews have kept their faith burning amid hundreds and thousands of years of exile. Despite being completely disassociated from the rest of the Jews around the world,they have kept yearning to return to Israel, and to the Jewish people. And now they are.
“As people of faith know, no one i s ever lost in God’s eyes,” he said. Over 2,500 members of the Bnei Menashe have made their way back to Israel after 2,700 years of being cut off from the rest of Judaism, all thanks to the efforts of Israel Returns.
Israel Returns is planning on bringing over another 250 members of the Bnei Menashe community this November from India and is continuing efforts to bring over the remaining 6,500 that are still in India.
Tzvi Caotip, a member of and spokesman for the Bnei Menashe community, thanked those present for their goodwill and support. He relayed that Christians actually played the part of a catalyst in the return of the community.
“We didn’t have Bibles until Christian missionaries from England came to our community,” he told the crowd. “All we had were stories and traditions about coming from our forefather Menashe, and that we originated somewhere from the west. Once we received the Bibles from the Christians and read the Old Testament, we were able to realize that we are in actuality Jews who came from Israel. Without those Bibles we would never have been able to make the connection.”
Caotip thanked the efforts of Israel Returns and called Freund the modern day version of the Biblical Joshua who lead the Israelites into the land of Israel.
Another member of a lost Jewish community to speak to those gathered was a young woman from China. Her Chinese name is Jin Jin and chose the Hebrew name Yecholya, meaning “God can.” When she came to Israel she chose the name Yecholya as she saw herself as a living testament to God’s ability to do anything.
Yecholya spoke about her journey of exploring her Jewish roots and ultimately her immigration to Israel from Kaifeng, China.
“I grew up and my father always told me that I was Jewish and that God would take me to Israel one day. I didn’t know what Israel was but I wanted candy so I listened. And I dreamt that God would take me to Israel, and if he could do that, then he could do anything,” she explained.
Yecholya asked the crowd to continue to pray for Israel and for its people since it is such a unique place. “Israel does not only have white people, or black people, but the people that God chooses to dwell in it, even if some of them are a little bit crazy sometimes, and have crazy ideas like fulfilling prophecy. Keep praying for this country and help us to return, because we need you all,” she said.
Freund brought home the message to the audience about the modern day miracle – the return of the nation of Israel’s exiles – that is taking place right before our very eyes.
“The Bible tells us that if you bless Israel, then you will be blessed. In all holy things, there is also a flip side that makes it difficult that brings darkness to the world and that tries to stop the efforts of those who work to bring the holiness to light. Make the choice to bless Israel, and help us continue to bring holiness, and holy people back to the land and to their homes.”