In the spring of 1997, shortly after Israel pulled out of its settlements in Hebron, Michael Freund was working at the communications bureau of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was then serving his first stint in that office. The Diaspora Affairs adviser at the time worked across the hall, where mail to the cabinet was handled. The adviser and Freund kept what they jokingly referred to as “The Crazy File”: letters from across the globe from people who believed that they were the Messiah or who made oddball requests of the government. These were sometimes illegible, sometimes threatening, sometimes naïve and amusing.
One day, a secretary handed Freund a beat-up orange envelope, addressed to the Prime Minster of Israel. Freund opened it. The letter inside had been sent by the leadership of a community in Manipur, in Northeast India, which claimed to be a lost tribe of the biblical people of Israel. The rest of the letter was a simply worded plea to be allowed to come back to the land of their ancestors after 2,700 years in exile. They had written to Golda Meir and every prime minister since then but had never gotten an answer. Why not?
“I read it,” Freund says, “and I thought it was completely nuts.” Then, without really knowing why, he did something crazier. He answered the letter. What follows is the story of what he became, as a result.
This is the prologue to Becoming Moses, a Tablet special profile of Shavei Israel founder Michael Freund, reported in India and Israel. It can be read in its entirety, with multimedia, for free, by clicking here.