aliyah silk road

ICEJ’s Role in Aliyah along the Silk Road

The ancient Silk Road, a network of trade routes connecting the Far East with the Middle East and Europe, not only served as a conduit for commerce but also as a corridor for the movement of peoples and cultures over the centuries. Lesser known is that it also became a route of exile and migration for some of the Lost Tribes of Israel. In recent decades, the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem (ICEJ) has played a key role in the historic return of many Jewish communities from the Silk Road region to their ancestral homeland in Israel.

Jewish Aliyah from India along the Silk Road

One such community is the Bnei Menashe (sons of Manasseh) in northeast India, who trace their ancestry back to the Israelite tribe of Manasseh. According to their oral tradition, the Assyrian Empire took the tribe captive in 732 BC and resettled them in the cities of the Medes, located in what is now Iraq and Iran. The Bnei Menashe believe their forefathers eventually journeyed east along the Silk Road, settling in China before migrating south into India around the second century BC. Ancient Chinese records refer to Jewish communities living in China as early as the Han Dynasty (206 BC–AD 220). The Kaifeng Jews are the most prominent example, building their first synagogue in Kaifeng in AD 1163.

Over time, these Jewish communities in India and China became isolated from the rest of world Jewry. Facing assimilation, dwindling populations, economic hardship, and political instability, the prospect of making Aliyah to Israel became an increasingly attractive option for many of them.

In 2012 the ICEJ began a transformative journey with the Bnei Menashe, assisting them in making Aliyah. To date, we have helped over 1,300 members of this community return to Israel. Our efforts have involved:

  • Verifying their Jewish ancestry
  • Providing pre-Aliyah training to prepare them for their new lives in Israel
  • Arranging their flights and absorption

A total of 4,500 Bnei Menashe have now settled in Israel. Many of the younger generation are serving in the Israel Defense Forces. Entire Bnei Menashe villages in India have emptied as families leave to start a new life in the Jewish homeland.

Meanwhile, starting in 1998, the ICEJ also launched a major operation to reach the Bukharan Jews and other Jewish communities spread across Central Asia. Many faced a precarious situation following the Soviet Union’s collapse, prompting some to leave. That year, our ICEJ Finland Branch drove a bus to Uzbekistan to help transport Bukharan Jews making their way to Israel. Then in 2006 we assisted a group of 120 Bukharan Jews from Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan who had initially settled in Rego Park, New York, but later decided to relocate permanently to Israel.

Kaifeng Jews of China

The ICEJ began assisting Kaifeng Jews as well in 1999 when China finally opened more to the West after the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests. In 2000 we had the privilege of helping the first Jewish family from Kaifeng make Aliyah to Israel via Finland. Our efforts with the Kaifeng Jews have been especially moving for me, as the prophet Isaiah’s words resonate: “Behold, these shall come from afar; and these from the north and from the west, and these from the land of Sinim” (Isaiah 49:12). Most scholars agree that “Sinim” refers to China.

The ICEJ has now assisted over 12,000 Jews in making Aliyah along the Silk Road region in making Aliyah over recent decades, but our work is not without its challenges. The Aliyah process involves navigating complex bureaucratic procedures to verify Jewish heritage, which can be time-consuming. In addition, these communities face significant economic and cultural challenges in leaving their countries to start anew in Israel. Yet despite these challenges, we remain committed to helping the Jewish communities along the Silk Road in their prophetic return to the land of their forefathers. This unique Aliyah has enriched Israel by restoring these historic Jewish communities, each with unique traditions and customs, back to their ancient homeland. I have found it a special honor to be part of this exciting chapter in the modern-day ingathering of the Jewish people. Through this miraculous return of the Jews from the Silk Road, we are witnessing the fulfillment of God’s promise to regather the scattered Jewish people from the farthest corners of the earth.

—By ICEJ Aliyah Director Howard Flower

Be part of this modern-day miracle of Aliyah along the Silk Road! Send your most generous gift today and participate in this prophetic fulfillment.