Tuesday, March 05, 2013
Moroccan Jews of the Amazon come home
A particularly exotic group of immigrants is expected to arrive in Israel soon: About 100 Jewish Indians living in a jungle on the banks of the Amazon River in Peru. But these Jews trace their ancestry back to 19th century Morocco. Ynet News has the extraordinary story (with thanks: Michelle):
After a five-year struggle, 53 Jews who claim to be descendants of lost biblical tribe make aliyah from village in northeastern India. 'We've been waiting for this moment for hundreds of years,' one of them says. Their story begins towards the end of the 19th century. Young people with Jewish roots, mostly men, immigrated from Morocco to Peru and settled in Iquitos – a remote Indian city in the Amazon rainforest, considered one of the most isolated cities in the world to this very day. The areas can only be reached by boat or plane.
The group members planned to integrate into the rubber wood export industry, which is very popular in the region – and to make a good fortune from their business.
The men in the group – mostly young bachelors – maintained a Jewish lifestyle at first, but as time went by they married local Indian Christian women. Over the years, they had hundreds of offspring who knew about their Jewish roots, but because of their surroundings they found it difficult to adopt a Jewish lifestyle.
A couple of decades ago, a connection was made between the Jewish group in Iquitos and the Masorti Movement, which attempted to bring them to Israel. A small group of immigrants arrived in the Jewish state in the 1990s. Several years later, another group made aliyah. They all underwent Conservative conversion before immigrating.
The rest of the community members continued their life in Iquitos, some dreaming of immigrating to Israel one day and not forgetting their Jewish roots for a moment. They began adopting Jewish customs, marking Shabbat, praying at a local synagogue they built and requesting to be buried in a Jewish plot in the local cemetery. Mezuzahs and pictures of Stars of David can still be seen on many of the community members' doors.
Twelve years ago, 250 of the community members underwent a Conservative conversion process – and continued to dream about Zion. Yedioth Ahronoth has learned that some 100 of them appealed to the Jewish Agency recently in a bid to fulfill their dream and immigrate to Israel.
Rabbi Andy Sacks of the Masorti Movement clarified that all group members held documents proving that they had been lawfully converted. Jewish Agency officials expressed their enthusiasm over the idea and began working on an aliyah plan, but the Interior Ministry demanded further clarifications in regards to the conversion process.
The issue is now under discussion, with all parties awaiting the Interior Ministry's decision. Once the green light is given, the Indian-Jewish magic carpet will hit the road.
The 100 Jews seeking to make aliyah hold a variety of professions: Merchants, teachers, government workers and rickshaw drivers, who will likely have to consider a career change.
The group members range in age from babies to people in their 80s. Some have kept their Jewish names, including Pinto, Levy and Abramovich.
Now all that remains is to wait for them and hope that they are absorbed in Israel as fast and as well as possible. Sharf, director of the Jewish Agency's Aliyah, Absorption and Special Operations Unit, told Yedioth Ahronoth: "Many of the community members have relatives who arrived in Israel in past years and successfully integrated into the Israeli society. Now the relatives left in Peru want to unite with their family members and build a future in Israel."
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Indiana Jones meets Tangier Moshe