Aizawl, Dec 14 (IANS) — In predominantly Christian Mizoram, where about 95 percent of the nearly 900,000 people are Christians, talking about Judaism is not taken very lightly.
“I realized my roots were in Israel and we were actually Jews, and so got a cross tattooed on my hand and went to meet old people in remote areas bordering Myanmar,” Tlau told IANS.
“Going without a cross and asking about Jewish roots would have angered people. After a lot of research and gathering of oral history from elderly people, I was convinced we were Jews.”
Mission accomplished, Tlau, now a consultant for a World Bank road project in the northeastern state of Mizoram, decided to have the tattoo removed through painful plastic surgery.
Tlau’s parents, devout Presbyterian Christians in Mizoram, which is wedged between Myanmar and Bangladesh, named him Peter. He later became Peer, opting for a name that had a Jewish connotation.
He took years to convince himself he was a Jew, even as he worked in the Mizoram Presbyterian Synod here in the state capital, attended daily church prayers and secretly entered a small synagogue in the city at night.
“I went to the synagogue telling people that I was learning Hebrew, so nobody suspected me,” Tlau said. In 1996, he got circumcised — as is mandatory for any Jew — and openly proclaimed himself a follower of Judaism.
“Today my wife and three children do not go to church and instead follow Judaism strictly,” he said. “But my parents are still devout Christians.”
Local tribal Mizos are believed to have very many things in common with Jews in Israel and are often said to be descendants of one of the 10 lost Biblical tribes.
Rabbi Eliyahu Avichail, who runs the Jerusalem-based Amishav Associaton that deals with claims of being descendents of the 10 lost tribes, claimed to have identified 3,500 tribe members who were practicing Jews when he visited Mizoram in 1994.
According to Israeli law, every Jew enjoys the “right of return” — or the right of abode in Israel. About 800 Mizos have already settled in Israel and many more are keen to migrate to their “promised land“.
Like Tlau, 24-year-old Yonathan Ralte was born to Christians parents. Ralte speaks a smattering of Hebrew and reads the Torah slowly and stays at the Aizawl synagogue.
“My parents are still Christians but I am a practicing Jew since the past three years,” Ralte said.
“I receive lessons in Hebrew four hours a day and hope to become a full convert soon. I want to go to Israel once I am fully converted and accepted by the Jewish Council in Israel.”
At the local synagogue, 70 to 100 Mizos attend prayers thrice daily.
“Many people cannot read the Torah in Hebrew. We have made roman scripts of the holy book in the Mizo dialect,” said Allenby Sella, a Mizo and principal of the Amishav Hebrew Centre here.
Like in any Jewish home in Israel, Mizo Jews too place the mezuzah or a wooden box containing verses from the Torah at the entrance of their homes, besides wearing the headgear during prayers.
“I am convinced the Mizos are Jews. There are lots of similarities between Israelis and Mizos,” said Rabbi Hannock Avizedek, an Israeli preacher who is in Aizawl for the past three months, teaching Hebrew to some 400 people daily.
Syed Zarir Hussain
© Copyright 2001-2003 IANS India Private Limited, New Delhi. Posted on Religioscope with permission.