December 6, 2006 / 15 Kislev 5767
Pe'er (Peter) Tlau was born in 1956 in an American hospital in Rangoon, the capital of Burma. His father served in the British army during World War II and then joined the Burmese army.
Pe'er grew up in Burma. In ninth grade, his father, mother and seven brothers returned to his parents' birthplace, Mizoram. Located in northeast India, Mizoram is a mountainous region bordered by Myanmar (Burma) and Bangladesh. It was here that Pe'er began his journey back to Judaism as a member of the Bnei Menashe, who trace their descendence from the tribe of Menashe, one of the ten lost tribes of Israel.
"Most of our neighbors in Mizoram were Christian," says Pe'er. "I asked my grandfather why we weren't Christian.'We believe in one unified G-d, not the trinity,' he answered. This simple statement made a great impact on me."
Upon finishing high school, Pe'er wanted to join the revolutionary MIZO forces to fight for Mizoram's independence from India. His father disagreed and sent Pe'er to Burma. In 1981 he returned to Mizoram and studied for his electronic engineering certificate. He married Shulamit seven years later and then opened his own electronics repair shop, followed by a job as an engineer with a State road development project. "We lived a very simple life," says Pe'er. "Most of the people in our village were farmers or government workers."
In 1992, Pe'er and his family began attending Mizoram's small synagogue. They closed up their home on Friday afternoon, rode the 15 kilometers by bus to the synagogue with other members of the Bnei Menashe from their village, celebrated Shabbat and then returned home on Saturday night after sunset.
"Although there was no blatant anti-Semitism, when I put an Israeli flag on my door my neighbors laughed at us and told us to go home to Israel. I told them that we are always trying to reach our homeland, and that one day we will."
Pe'er believed deeply in his Jewish roots. He studied Jewish texts and rituals with his fellow Bnei Menashe and was circumcised in 1995. He and Shulamit named their sons Yonatan, Michael and Elisha. When Pe'er was offered a good job in another city, he turned it down because he did not want to miss the opportunity to go to Israel.
The day he and his family were converted to Judaism was one of the happiest days in his life. "I was filled with such pride and joy," says Pe'er. The other was the day they landed in Israel.
Pe'er and his family arrived in Israel on November 29, 2006. "We were ecstatic. Finally, after so many years, we were home." They were met at the airport by Fanny Groveman, the director of the Jewish Agency's Nazareth Illit Absorption Center, and members of the staff.
"Fanny has been an anchor for us. She takes care of all of us and has made our first few days wonderfully easy."
Synagogue In Mizoram
The Tlau family's aliyah, and the aliyah of the other 214 Bnei Menashe Jews this November was funded and spearheaded by Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, founder and president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews and member of the Executive of the Jewish Agency. Rabbi Eckstein, clearly moved by this remarkable aliyah, greeted the new arrivals at Ben Gurion International Airport. "This is a historic moment for the Bnei Menashe, the State of Israel, and the Jewish people. I have been witness to many occasions when Jews from the four corners of the earth have come home to the Holy Land. This is one of the most exciting experiences I have had as the head of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews. This type of operation is one of the most fundamental missions which The Fellowship has chosen to help actualize.”
The Tlau family is now busy settling into their new lives in Israel. For the past few days they have been taking care of basic necessities like opening a bank account, registering for an HMO, checking into educational opportunities for their children and learning about the different foods and products in the supermarket.
"It was wonderful to eat kosher meat and to make our favorite dishes. In Mizoram we ate fish and vegetables," says Pe'er. "My youngest son was amazed at the open space and well-kept playground. He ran into the house and shouted, 'Look how clean I am, there is no mud on my clothes'."
After their initial adjustment, Pe'er hopes to do an in-service training course so he can practice as an electronic engineer in Israel. He speaks fluent English and passable Hebrew. "I want to speak Hebrew like an Israeli," says Pe'er. "And see my grandchildren born and raised in this great country."