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Family of Indian Orphans Immigrate Amid Efforts to Keep Kids Together

Six orphaned brothers and sisters from India have arrived in Israel to begin an unusual absorption process that will enable them to remain together.

The Malvankar youngsters, ages 10 to 19, are members of Bene Israel, or Indian Jews, who lost both parents within two months in 1990. They had lived in the village of Pali, five hours from Bombay, where their family had owned a vegetable store.

They were cared for by two uncles and a representative of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, which provided them a monthly stipend. After moving to Bombay a year ago, the family became more involved in organized Jewish life and decided to come to Israel, which has 50,000 Bene Israel members, according to Deborah Lipson, JDC public relations director.

With the help of the Jewish Agency, they immigrated to Israel on Sunday.

But their absorption “posed a unique challenge,” according to Lipson, who said most young immigrants are sent to boarding schools and are thereby separated from their families.

To avoid separating the Indian youngsters, a committee of representatives from the JDC, the Jewish Agency and several government ministries worked together to find a way for them to stay together and manage without an adult family member in a completely unfamiliar society, Lipson said.

The children have two aunts in Israel, but neither of them can provide homes for the children, she said.

“There was a special degree of cooperation among all the entities to find a solution,” Lipson said. “Everyone went above and beyond to meet the challenge.”

The children were given an apartment in a public housing complex in Ashkelon and will be provided a “care-giver” eight hours each day as well as a social worker. A legal guardian will also be appointed for them.

The Israeli media reported Sunday that neighbors around the housing complex expressed reservations in anticipation of the youngsters’ arrival.

But Lipson said this was no reflection on the way the children were or would continue to be received. “The apartment is not in the best area of Ashkelon” and the neighbors expressed the fear “that bringing young kids to live in this environment without parents would not make their absorption easy,” Lipson said.

Meanwhile, the school-age Malvankar children were set to begin school this week.

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