Yehuda Lave is an author, journalist, psychologist, rabbi, spiritual teacher and coach, with degrees in business, psychology and Jewish Law. He works with people from all walks of life and helps them in their search for greater happiness, meaning, business advice on saving money, and spiritual engagement
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Are There Lost Tribes in India? - Breaking Israel News | Biblical Perspective
"Assuredly, Thus said Hashem: "Behold, I will found in Tzion, Stone by stone, A tower of precious cornerstones, Exceedingly firm; He who trusts need not fear." Isaiah 28:16 (The Israel Bible™)
A member of the BetYisrael community standing at her front door. (Courtesy)
Hundreds of members of the non-Jewish BetYisrael (House of Israel) community in India revere Israel, observe the Jewish Shabbat (Sabbath) and Biblical festivals, study the weekly Torah portion, are familiar with the Hebrew alphabet and decorate their homes with Hebrew letters and Jewish symbols.
Lingamurthy Gaddi is the Founder and President of BetYisrael. He told Breaking Israel News that the members of his community believe they are descended from the Tribe of Ephraim. "We have around 100 people within our community in Hyderabad (the 4th most populated city in India). We have hundreds of people who live in other states in India who believe like us.
"Our ancestors were a shepherd family and belonged to the Tribe of Ephraim from the House of Yosef (Joseph). We can find the Tribes of Levi, Ephraim and Manasseh in India, but in recent years, there are thousands of people awakening and identifying their souls, in the terms of Torah, by connecting to Israel."
Gaddi said BetYisrael includes leaders and members from all over India as well as from, "Kuwait, [other] Middle East countries and Africa. We have a dedicated team of leaders and members who are passionate for the Torah and love for Yisrael."
According to Gaddi, the group is influenced by Hassidut, a Jewish movement that began in Europe in the 18th century and teaches Jews to worship God with love and joy. Hassidut is also known for, among other things, esoteric Torah teachings which have become inextricably interwoven with mainstream Judaism.
In stark contrast to explicit Torah teaching and the belief of Jews worldwide, the group Gaddi shepherds in India also believe that Jesus, whom they refer to as Yeshua, was the messiah who is calling upon "the Lost Sheep of the House of Israel, who require a renewal or restoration of their covenant."
They also believe that they are the community Zefaniah speaks about. Gaddi explained, "[We are] crying, praying and preparing to bring the offerings to the Holy Place of Yerushalayim, as prophesied in Zephaniah."
From beyond the rivers of Cush, My suppliants Shall bring offerings to Me Zephaniah 3:10
This verse can be better understood by knowing that the Biblical Cush is Ethiopia and that India lies across the Indian Ocean from Ethiopia.
"We follow and observe the Torah commandments and festivals," explained Gaddi. "My testimony is about true Torah foundation teachings. We are very serious in our heart to connect to the Jewish nation. Our intent of heart is to glorify the Most Holy Ancient One of Yisrael."
Gaddi taught himself the Hebrew alphabet using online resources. He reported that, through his efforts, "We know Alef-Bet. I am teaching alphabet training to our community and our children. But we need teachers to teach reading and speaking Hebrew."
About his personal Torah study, Gaddi said, "I am more passionate about learning deep levels of Torah. My zeal is to always meditate on the Torah on a deeper level by understanding the 22 Hebrew letters."
He would like his community to learn more Hebrew in order to be able to read the Bible in its original language. The community also dreams of having a kosher Torah scroll so they can read from it.
In preparation for a Torah scroll, the community laid the foundation stone for a synagogue in Hyderabad on the first day of Hanukkah. Among other guests, they invited Britt Lode.
Britt Lode wearing the Ephraim headscarf during her visit. (Credit: Britt Lode)
Norwegian resident Lode is the editor of The Light From Zion, a book about the weekly Torah portion, written by Orthodox rabbis especially for pro-Israel Christians. Lode told Breaking Israel News, "My purpose, and the reason why I was invited, was to come and speak about my last book The Light from Zion and the work I am doing in connecting Christians with the Jewish people and the Torah around the world.
"They know a few people from the Jewish community," Lode explained, "but they are not well-connected with the Jewish people. This was also a reason why they wanted me to come – to help them connect with the Jews, since they know I have been working in this field for 20 years and can help them moving forward."
Asked about her observations during her recent visit, Lode said, "I learned that the community has a very strong faith in the God of Israel and much knowledge about the Bible and the Torah. Most of the people had not been to Israel yet, but still they had the menorah and the Star of David on the front door in their houses. They had the Hebrew alphabet on their walls in their living rooms.
"They celebrate the Shabbat and all the Jewish holidays. They know about major Jewish rabbis and their teachings, including the Baal Shem Tov, Rashi, Rambam, Hillel, Maimonides and so on. They treasure commentaries [of the Jewish sages] and teach them to others."
During her visit, Lode reported that she, "encouraged them to keep up the good work they are doing in learning and teaching Torah. I encouraged them to travel to Israel, to learn more Torah from the Jews and to connect to more Jews. I offered them my help in doing this. I encouraged them to continue the important work they are doing in India, to bring the light from the Torah to the people of India."
Lode concluded with this reflection, "I was truly truly blessed during my mission to India. I really want to emphasize the prophetic dimension of what's going on in India with the Children of Ephraim. It can't be said strongly enough.
"As I see it, the God of Israel is doing something powerful in our days, He is calling Ephraim to wake up! It's like He is saying right now, in front of our eyes:
Truly,Efraim is a dear son to Me, A child that is dandled! Whenever I have turned against him, My thoughts would dwell on him still. That is why My heart yearns for him; I will receive him back in love —declares Hashem. Jeremiah 31:19
Gaddi shared his community's long-term vision, "We have been working to have good relations with the House of Yehudah (the Jewish people). Our vision is to establish the Ephraim Synagogue and Torah University in India. We are looking to build a big Torah library which connects to [the Torah books of all the Jewish sages]. We would be very grateful if anyone had books to contribute for Beit Yaaqov Torah University.
"And we are also looking for Jewish rabbis and Jewish Torah teachers who can come to India and teach Torah to all the Lost Sheep of Israel. [It is] our hearts' desire to love and walk with House of Yehudah," he concluded.
In Search of Uganda's Incredible Jews - Breaking Israel News
"Now, therefore, our God, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love, let not all the hardship seem little to you that has come upon us, upon our kings, our princes, our priests, our prophets, our fathers, and all your people, since the time of the kings of Assyria until this day." Nehemiah 9:32 (The Israel Bible™)
Heart of Israel's A Y Katsof (left) poses with a young Ugandan girl. (Credit: A Y Katsof/Heart of Israel)
The name Entebbe is one that conjures indelible images for most Israelis. In 1976, an Air France plane with 248 passengers on-board was hijacked on its way from Tel Aviv to Paris. The hijackers eventually flew the plane to Entebbe, Uganda – the place where Israel launched one of the most daring rescue missions in military history. It was also the place where Yoni Netanyahu – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's older brother – was killed in action. Whereas once, Uganda may have been viewed as unsafe for Jews, this can no longer be said. Well for at least the one tribe of Jews that lives here.
Having landed, our group piled into a small car and drove the 225 kilometers to our destination, but it didn't take us more than about eight hours.
A narrow road, (they drive on the left side here), packed with motorcycles and cows that cross the street whenever they please, and packed buses that stop whenever there is a road side market place, so the peddlers can surround it from all sides and sell cheap food to the people through the windows.
In the meantime, our driver is stuck helplessly behind, all he can do is honk and honk, hoping that it will push the driver in front to speed up.
The next day starts with morning prayers, morning blessings, the same ones that we recite every morning at home in Israel, then the morning psalms are sung, in a mix of Hebrew and their local tribal language to the beat of an African drum.
You may well ask, how did a Jewish tribe of about 3,000 people ended up in East Uganda? Approximately 100 years ago a British general was appointed to be in charge of East Africa. One day as he was reading the Bible, he asked himself, "why do we not circumcise our male young?"; so he circumcised himself and his family. People began to make fun of them calling them "Jews" and saying that they killed Jesus. His children were not able to go to school with others of their age and they were constantly beaten up and harassed by Catholic neighbors; but their Jewish faith remained strong.
Over the past 20 years, rabbis came and preformed official conversions for them, and now they live in harmony with their neighbors.
Their homes are self-built with mud bricks that they make on site. At almost every group of homes, you can still see the left over piles of bricks that was used. Each home consists of a living room, and two small bedrooms. The walls are bare, no shelves, no pictures, and almost no furniture. In the bedrooms lie thin mattresses on the floor for people to sleep on.
Every morning and evening, the girls walk to the nearby watering hole to draw fresh water. You are considered lucky and living on prime real estate if you only have to walk 100 meters to the watering hole.
Until recently, everyone had to walk at least a mile through the swamp lands, and draw water from a spring, but now the government has drilled holes and installed hand pumps so people have access to clean water closer to their homes.
"It has made our children lazy and spoiled when we have a water pump so close to our home, " one of the mothers told me. Meanwhile, I think to myself how my kids are too lazy to walk to the fridge, or even fill up the ice tray so that their water will be freezing cold, because supposedly it is undrinkable otherwise.
The water pump is also the community hang out, so, I am told it is where one is most likely to find one's spouse. The biblical echoes called to me loudly; just like Eliezer found Rebecca, Jacob found Rachel, and even Moses met Tsipora. here to, the local. It is inspiring and comforting to see a millennia old ritual still being played out today.
Here you will see girls placing 20 liter jerry cans on their head – and then setting off for home.
This water will be used for drinking, cooking, washing dishes, and even showering.
In every compound there is a small separate room – a kitchen – in which you can see the burning smoke marks from the sides of the windows.
A tiny room, with three bricks in the corner and a little twig fire lit with a pot sitting on top. The father of the family that I visited has many rice fields. One can tell that his children are not wearing torn clothes and in the pot on the fire, kosher goat meat is cooking.
Twice-a-week, one of the community's two shochets (ritual animal slaughterers) – who actually trained in Israel for a whole year – perform the kosher slaughtering process. The meat is then salted with kosher salt, ready to be cooked and eaten.
There are of course no fridges, or even power so you have to eat it up pretty fast.
I asked how they keep the food warm on Shabbat (Sabbath), they said that for Shabbat day, they have to eat the food cold, because they have no way to heat it up.
In most of the yards, when we came in, there was a woman doing laundry, in to pails, scrubbing the clothes with a bar of soap then hanging them across the yard or drying them on nearby bushes.
Each person has two pairs of regular day clothes, and one for Shabbat. Many of the children in the village, wore torn clothes, some of them without any shoes or sometimes only one.
I met a 14-year-old girl named Ruth. "Why do you only have one shoe?" I asked. "No money," came the reply. So, how much do shoes cost? About 5,000 shillings – or a little more than $1.
Leaving this tiny Jewish community on the long drive back to Entebbe my mind was filled with mixed feelings.
A Y Katsof stands with members of the Jewish community in East Uganda. (Credit: A Y Katsof/Heart of Israel)
Here is a community, which converted to Judaism more than 100 years ago and lived Jewish lives under many hardships. Most likely our Jewish ancestors from thousands of years ago lived lives very similar to this. The support and connection of these people to the Jewish community in Israel is very lightly felt. I would think the most natural thing for us to do would be to give them at least minimal support to help facilitate a stronger connection between them and Israel.