Friday, December 30, 2005

Shavei Israel

Shavei Israel

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Shavei Israel , "Israel returns" in Hebrew, is an Israeli-based Jewish organization that was founded by Michael Freund in 2004. It is comprised of a team of academics, educators and rabbinical figures. Its main goal is to locate "lost Jews" and assist them in returning (Hebrew "teshuva" תשובה) to Judaism. It is the only group devoted to this purpose.

Shavei Israel was formerly known as Amishav, which was founded by Rabbi Eliyahu Avichail.

Shavei Israel is mostly known for its activities around the world in search for the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel, most notably for its work with the Bnei Menashe.

The group is also extensively involved with emerging communities in Spain, Portugal, South and Central America and Mexico, seeking people whose Sephardic ancestors were forced to convert to Catholicism during the Spanish and Portuguese inquisitions in those lands. The descendents of these forced converts were known as Marranos, they are also known as crypto-Jews if they maintained their Jewish faith in secrecy, or as Anusim if later generations eventually embraced Catholicism and lost all connection with their Jewish roots.

Shavei Israel also helps people whose Judaism was lost through cultural assimilation, to reconnect with or return to Judaism.

Shavei Israel insists that it is not a missionary organization, but simply a group trying to reconnect people to their Jewish roots.

Shavei Israel sponsors rabbis and teachers to work with various groups of "lost Jews" in places as far afield as India and the Iberian Peninsula. Shavei Israel rabbis are currently posted in Palma de Majorca, Spain, Oporto in northern Portugal, Brazil, and at the Shavei Israel Hebrew Centers in Mizoram and Manipur, North-East India.

It offers various educational options in Israel, including Machon Miriam, the only Spanish-language conversion and return institute in Jerusalem. Dozens of Spanish and Portuguese crypto-Jews graduate from Machon Miriam each year, and proceed to undergo formal conversion by Israel’s Chief Rabbinate.

They also help people who have converted to Judaism make Aliyah (immigrate to Israel) The organization has also published a series of books on Judaism in a dozen languages, including Chinese, Japanese, Mizo, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Russian and German.

Shavei Israel is largely responsible for the Israeli government's recognition of the Bnei Menashe as Jews in March 2005.