JERUSALEM, Israel -- Old Testament prophets told of a day when Jews would return to Israel from the four corners of the earth. Some Jews are now returning from the world's two most populous nations: China and India.
Recently, friends greeted seven Chinese Jewish men at Israel's Ben Gurion Airport. They flew from Beijing. Their journey marked the end of a nearly four-year bureaucratic struggle to get to Israel, but also marked the fulfillment of a biblical promise several thousand years old.
"We are witnessing the ingathering of the exiles from the four corners of the world. It's taking place before our very eyes," Michael Freund said.
Michael Freund of Shavei Israel -- a group committed to bringing Jews back to Israel -- says their arrival was prophetic.
"The prophet Zechariah in chapter 8 tells us that God promises that He will save His people from the East, from the countries of the East and from the countries of the West," Freund said.
Home video of the Jewish community shows these men came from in Kaifeng, China. This community began more than 1,000 years ago when historians believe Jews from Persia or Iraq settled in China.
Freund says their ancestors once dreamed of going back to Israel. These men are fulfilling that dream, a dream shared by the several female Chinese Jews who immigrated four years ago.
"I still remember my grandma always read her Bible like Isaiah, I think 60 chapter says Hashem (God) will like the eagle bring His people come back. And always this Word and scripture came into my mind and I think it's true," Chinese immigrant Zhang Lan said.
The men themselves were joyful.
"Today, we most happy. We very, very so happy," Chinese immigrant Xue Zei said.
But the Chinese Jews represent just one group returning to Israel.
A group of Jews coming from India three years ago represent members of the lost tribe of Manasseh. They joined other family members who had already immigrated to Israel for an emotional reunion. They were the largest group of Bnei Menashe in history to come to the Promised Land.
"Today is one of the most happiest day for the Bnei Menashe history because we never had a large group like this that made aliyah," Bnei Menashe tribe member Allenby Selah said.
The Jewish agency believes the tribe of Manasseh is located in northeastern India in the states of Mizoram and Manipur.
For many of these Bnei Menashe, coming to Israel is a life-long dream.
Several thousand Bnei Menashe remain in India and hope to come to Israel.
Shavei Israel has identified groups like the "Hidden Jews" in Poland, the Subbotnik Jews of Russia, the Benei Anousim Jews in Spain, Portugal and South America, as well as the Bnei Menashe and the Jews from Kaifeng, China.
After their arrival, the Chinese came to the Western Wall. They came to pray and begin their new life here in Israel. Organizers say they represent the first group of Chinese men to move to Israel in history.
Experts estimate 2,000 Jews live now in China and organizers of this immigration hope more of them will come to Israel.
Freund calls it and the return of other Jews worldwide a sign of the times.
"God is gathering His people in. And this is an event not only of theological significance but of tremendous historical significance as well," he said.
*Originally published November 16, 2009