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Roof being fitted on the Synagogue.

(May 5, 6 2024) It has been over a month since the building of Ma'oz Tzur's synagogue began. The coming of the early monsoon rain has been quite a challenge since it can and has disrupted the progress of work to be done. It came to a complete halt when cyclone Remal struck the eastern part of India last week. Heavy rains accompanied by cyclonic winds wreaked havoc in the region bringing with it floods, mudslides and untold miseries. At least one B'nei Menashe home was swept away by a landslide in Aizawl, capital of Mizoram. Ma'oz Tzur was no exception to this severe weather phenomenon but thankfully, it was spared the damages the nearby surrounding areas had to endure. The synagogue stands on the highest point in the small settlement. The foundation is built of stone and concrete with wooden frames, chipped bamboo walls and red tin roofs. In keeping with the spirit of conservation, the material used are, as much as possible, locally sourced keeping in mind to have the minimum impact on the surroundings. Menashe Kipgen, the administrator has proudly told our newsletter no trees were felled for this project. He continued, "we consciously chose a spot where there would be no need to clear trees." Despite every challenges, the residents hope to complete the synagogue by Shavuot.


Ma'oz Tzur children show its bounty.
Wild mushrooms, a gift from nature.






















In another encouraging development, some of the crops planted earlier this year were ready for harvest, yielding pumpkins, cucumbers, cabbages, coriander, onion, beans etc. "There is no joy greater than eating something that you have planted with your own hands", said Sara Haokip, a resident. These are small steps towards Ma'oz Tzur's eventual goals of self-reliance and sustainability both in terms of food and environment . Apparently, there are many others that grow wild that can be foraged from the land. Depending on the season, residents have a choice of various herbs (some claim to have medicinal values) that grow wild, plenty of bamboo shoots and even mushrooms. The best part about these vegetables is that they grow wild and hence organic in every sense of the word. Isca, another resident, tells our newsletter, "There is a certain aroma in these vegetables from the wild that makes it very special that no commercial grown one can ever equal. I am a child of these hills, I know it".















By Dan Cohen


(31 May, 2024) Parsha Bekuchotai 2024 - Breaking Up with Hashem


Can you break up with Gd?  If you do, how might one go about it? Would you even notice you were doing it?

The parsha this week teaches what will happen if we don't follow Hashem’s mitzvot. Many commentators focus on this lack of engagement and performing mitzvot as a gateway to separating oneself from Hashem.

My journey to and through a life of Judaism and a relationship with Hashem has been long and windy.  At times, mitzvot mattered to me. At other times, mitzvot mattered much less.  


But when I think about what was going on deep down, my Emunah in Hashem didn’t waver much. I always knew he was there, but I needed a break.  Or, in dating terminology, it wasn’t him; it was me.


Rav Hirsch lived at a fascinating time. Jews across Europe weren’t just rejecting their tradition and their mitzvot; many were looking to a life without Hashem—or at least a life that radically changed our national notion of Gd and his role in our lives. 


How can an individual or a section of society move in that direction? After all, our faith in Hashem sustained us through millennia and various exiles. It bonded us as a community and strengthened us when things were bleak.


In Chapter 26, Verse 14-16, we read, “But if you do not listen to Me and do not perform all these commandments, and if you despise My statutes and reject My ordinances, not performing any of My commandments, thereby breaking My covenant then I too, will do the same to you;”

This is heavy stuff. Measure for measure, as we often describe the reward/punishment scale with Hashem. If we ignore him, he ignores us. If we reject, he rejects. 

So, what is the path to this rejection? Here’s how Hirsch describes it. 

If we begin with the idea that our faith in Hashem makes us whole, what kind of mental and spiritual gymnastics does it take to decide if his rules don’t apply or if he may not exist?


First, he says, “hearken” in our verse doesn't just mean to heed or obey. It implies something more profound: a failure to listen to the Word of God. This manifests itself when one must first neglect the study and knowledge of the Torah.  Rashi describes the cause and effect as saying when a man does not learn, he then does not do. Therefore, the first outcome is the byproduct that we don’t practice mitzvot, partially because we don’t know them.


Second, the gradual and intentional departure from Hashem continues when one who doesn’t know or observe is still bothered by his conscience. Hirsch says that the individual will justify this rejection of mitzvot and Hashem in the name of “progress.” He will look down on mitzvot as antiquated. 

This is starting to feel like the wicked child all over again. What does this mean to you? To me?


Third, since others are observing mitzvot around the individual who is not, he might feel like their behavior is indicting him. He then has two choices. To accept that indictment or to recast himself as superior to the others and look upon them with contempt.  


I recognize this behavior, have seen it in others, and even fought it in my reactions to Jewish life. It's so easy to project whatever unease we may have about our choices and behaviors onto the actions and choices of others. This is true across every facet of our lives and choices. 

Rav Taragin at the Gush shared an analysis by the Sfas Emes on the parsha that discusses this behavior in detail. After all, the world offers us many options, choices, and behaviors that do not align with Gd's expectations and mitzvot. It's easy to imagine a person thinking that a world of pleasure and possibilities awaits him if he throws off the shackles of ethical and divinely directed behavior. 


This plays out, especially among mitzvot, which take more work to understand. It's so easy to dismiss these mitzvot flippantly, especially if one is inclined to want distance from mitzvot. Hirsch adds that these same people think the mitzvot limit the “sensual” opportunities in our lives - food, human interactions, and freedom of movement. He may feel that he’s “liberated” himself from these strictures.

The rejections and defections continue.  In verse 15, we read, “if you will despise my statutes…” 

After one journeys through ignorance and contempt, the detractor must project his displeasure onto the institutions that bind us together in communal life. These are the Torah scholars, educational institutions, and others charged with helping keep us faithful. His hate for the Torah turns into hatred for teachers and leaders of the Torah.


After rejection comes intolerance; these same individuals may lean on this hatred to become radically intolerant at every opportunity. After all, he does not respect the Torah or those who adhere to it. Therefore, he might actively obstruct its observance, thinking he is acting for the good of mankind. His dislike of mitzvot now demands that he no longer considers the observance by others as valid.


The final step requires the individual to break what binds him to the covenant with Hashem. He must deny Hashem’s very existence. He must choose to dim the same light of Hashem or his Gd-awareness must be extinguished. Only then can he find any rest and peace. 


According to Hirsch, the journey an individual must take goes from ignorance to rejection to indictment to missing out to contempt to breaking, once and for all, with Hashem. 

Rashi says these steps follow each other. (There are) “seven sins, the first leading to the second, and so on, until the seventh, [and the process of degeneration is] as follows: [First, a person] does not learn [the Torah]; then, he [subsequently] does not fulfill [the commandments]; he then despises others who do [fulfill them]; then, he hates the Sages, prevents others from fulfilling [the commandments], denies the [authenticity of the] commandments and [finally] denies the very omnipotence of God. 


To me, this holds two lessons for each of you.  


As you find yourself along this path, pay attention. Instead of sliding along frictionlessly, choosing one of these steps (sins) after the other, stop and notice that you are on this path and ask yourself why. Noticing may be the best tool to understand any feelings of contempt or rejection you might be experiencing.


I’d also encourage you to apply these tools to notice and understand everything else in your life. This may mean investing, on purpose, in relationships with people, your job, the government, or even yourself.  

If we aren’t careful, our minds can quickly take us through the seven steps of rejection that Rashi outlined. If we don’t stop and pay attention, we may reject things we love in the name of progress we don’t believe in.


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Charred remains of vehicles at Imphal. File photo.

(May 30, 2024) Over a year has passed by since 3rd May 2023, when a pogrom was carried out by the majority Meiteis against the minority Kuki-Zo in the state of Manipur and half-a-year mark crossed since the 7th October 2023 when Hamas terrorists infiltrated Israel and murdered 1,200. Besides both these conflicts having seen no end in sight till today, it involves the B'nei Menashe on the receiving end on both fronts. Three B'nei Menashe communities were completely destroyed in the valley along with their synagogues in Manipur while on the other side, the B'nei Menashe experienced Hamas's first-hand attack in the southern township of Sderot and had to be evacuated. These two conflicts see several similarities viz-a-viz the extensive employment of false narratives to deny people's connection to their homes, the perpetrators playing the victim, to name a few. The war in Israel continues to grab headlines the world over but the situation in Manipur have dismally fallen from the attention of the mainstream media. War still reigns happily over the region, continuing to this day, with the dominant Meiteis seemingly determined to rid the Kuki-Zo of the hills surrounding the Imphal valley claiming it to be part of their ancient kingdom, Kangleipak. Surely, a sophisticated civilization which claims to be 2000 years old (some even say, 3000 years) must have left a historical or perhaps an archaeological imprint or at the very least, a town or even a village. The Meiteis were present but only in the confines of the township in ghettoized neighborhood, permitted to live by the locals. There are simply no Meitei settlements outside of Lamka and Kanggui township. (In this respect, the Nagas have been much wiser by not allowing any Meitei settlements in their territories.) Narratives such illegal immigrants, poppy planters and even narco-terrorists have been heaped on the Kuki-Zo to deny them of their dignity and their land. It is a brazen attempt to to DEHUMANISE the Kuki-Zo community. However, a former police officer and an ethnic Meitei Hindu, Brinda Thounoujam has accused the chief minister of Manipur, N. Biren Singh of being the one responsible for all travails that has befallen Manipur today. She has even gone on to call him a druglord (link on full interview:


Chief minister N. Biren Singh, alleged architect of the conflict.

https://youtu.be/XLPuP42T9wM?si=f23Bj5538cq6ZHkL). Before the onslaught, the capital Imphal was home to the Kuki-Zo elites serving in several federal, local government posts. They were doctors, engineers, entrepreneurs, bankers, and ordinary workers in every avenue of employment. Following the conflict, thousands of sophisticated weapons and over half a million rounds of ammunitions were, literally, handed over to Meitei mobs by the state police force. In military terms, it is enough to arm a whole division of an army formation, enough for an invasion (https://www.google.com/amp/s/m.economictimes.com/news/india/no-peace-in-manipur-unless-6000-sophisticated-weapons-6-lakh-ammunition-recovered-gaurav-gogoi/amp_articleshow/102774973.cms ). The attackers led by Meitei fascist vigilante groups, the Arambai Tenggol and Meetei Leepun targeted Kuki-Zo homes in the capital Imphal supported by mobs and Meira Paibis (women vigilante groups). Kuki-Zo homes were systematically targeted with deadly precision while the homes of Nagas and Meiteis escaped totally unscathed. It would not be a stretch to imagine that such a scale of attack can only be carried out with meticulous planning, years leading to it. Not by a mob on a rampage acting on a spur of the moment.


There are several theories why this conflict began, depending on whom you ask. A Meitei will say it began at Lamka on the 3rd of May 2023 when a tribal student group went on demonstration to protest the Meitei demand to be put on the Scheduled Tribe list (the status accords certain privileges) which the Nagas and Kuki-Zo were given after India’s independence. (It may be noted that the Meiteis refused this status on the grounds that they are high-born Hindus belonging to the Brahmins and the Kshatriyas; priests, kings and warrior class/caste. It should be noted that tribal status is enshrined in the Constitution of India with conditions spelled out. Only the Indian parliament can expedite such matters.) Kukis say it is the burning of the gate commemorating the 100th year of Anglo-Kuki war by the Meitei miscreants. The truth lies somewhere but obviously obscured. Things get curious

Driven from their homes, displaced Kuki Zos take shelter in the forest.

when tags of illegality and drugs become suffused in the narratives overshadowing the core cause, the demand for Scheduled Tribe status by the Meiteis. Question arises, which is it? Let’s take a look: crude oil estimated to be about 5 trillion cubic feet were reportedly discovered under the grounds where the Kuki-Zos live  (https://www.vijayvaani.com/ArticleDisplay.aspx?aid=6544). Then, there is Moreh, a Kuki-Zo dominated town on the Myanmarese border. Under India’s ‘Look-East, Act-East’ policy, it is poised to be India’s gateway to southeast Asia. It will become one of India’s major trading points as developments come with India’s aspirations to tap southeast Asian markets. The Kuki-Zos have their ethnic kins, the Chins, across the border on the other side in Myanmar. Moreh is home to about 250 Bnei Menashe with its own synagogues. Another curious coincidence is that the armed Kuki groups had been under Suspension of Operation or SoO with the Indian government since 2007 demanding an autonomous administration under the Constitution of India. The agreement was to have been signed in early May 2023 but the conflict began on the 3rd of May 2023 derailing it. Coincidence? Regardless, it was ‘fake news’ which played a pivotal role in kindling the conflict. Please see this link: https://youtu.be/rYvblohqtlM?si=mgw4PMVjSqhzwio9.

A displaced B'nei Menashe boy at a relief camp.

How does the Bnei Menashe fit into this quagmire? They belong to the greater Kuki-Zo ethnic group as a whole and have had a full share in the misery that has unfolded. The Meitei will surely not spare a person because he is a B’nei Menashe. The three communities of the capital, Imphal, Kangchup and Sajal were uprooted overnight in the onslaught that saw their homes and synagogues razed to the ground. ((https://www.degelmenashe.org/post/mapping-the-troubles) Degel Menashe had acted swiftly to supply relief and provide shelters for the displaced. It provided essential items, opened up its school and rented a few premises to house some of the 650-odd displaced. They reached safer places often with just the clothes they were wearing and in poor health both physically and mentally. Some headed for the northern town of Kanggui but the majority came to Lamka, while some took shelter in camps provided by the Mizoram government. As of now most have been absorbed by families and relatives, as is the custom, leaving a little under 200 individuals who have nowhere to go. A couple of months into the conflict, the BMC’s chairman, Lalam Hangshing, offered to house them in a 200-acre property he owns, about a 10-minute drive south of Lamka township. There had been plans earlier for a similar proposition, interestingly the conflict had somehow accelerated the process. As such, Lamka is home to a majority of the B'nei Menashe’s 4 to 5,000 population. The first shelters were built by Succot and a few families moved into what became to be appropriately named Kibbutz Maoz Tzur or Rock of Ages. Food is scarce and jobs even scarcer. Education is almost non-existent. Only the younger children attend local schools, the older ones have not, since parents simply can’t afford it. Food and essential items are trucked in from Aizawl, through dusty, twisty narrow roads running through deep ravines and gorges, 350 kilometers long. A jeep typically takes about 13 to 14 hours to traverse these roads, trucks even longer. These have resulted in steep escalation in prices of commodities. Most, including the Bnei Menashe, are mainly surviving on handouts from various charitable organizations both local and Mizoram. Degel Menashe has been a part of this effort handing out relief materials up to this day, concentrating its efforts primarily on the Bnei Menashe and thus relieving the overall undertaking. Humanitarian organizations like Operation Exodus, AJC, Scattered Among the Nations and several individuals such as Sabra Minkus and Mimi Efroymson have poured in assistance for the much needed and appreciated relief works. (https://www.degelmenashe.org/post/operation-exodus-aid-distributed)


Finding a sanctuary at Ma'oz Tzur.

The establishment of Maoz Tzur is intended to help Bnei Menashe to pick up pieces of their shattered lives. So far 8 families have settled there in the last few months when the project began. There are 4 families on the waiting list till homes/shelters can be built for them. They represent the neediest of the lot. Then there are still several in need who have requested. Current estimates run to at least another 20- odd families. Besides the shelters and as per the residents' request, a synagogue is being built for them. It is hoped that it will be ready by Shavuot. It would be important to note here that these shelters are built of the most basic and economic materials consisting of locally available wood, bamboo and straw. Small scale farming has begun, helping supplement the relief to a certain extent. It is hoped and there are plans to undertake matters at an organizational level by establishing a cooperative union which will run and manage the kibbutz to a level that is sustainable for all residents. The land available is very large. There is enough space to include a poultry farm, animal husbandry, fishery besides the usual crops and vegetables. With enough funds, all these should become a reality. Setting up a Hebrew school is in the spanner, complete with additional subjects such as English, basic Mathematics, Sciences or even a vocational course to prepare the younger generation. In addition, they can be taught about Israel and what they could expect from Israel when they go there someday. Degel Menashe is raising funds for this project.


Meitei youths holding placards. Is it anti-Semitism?

After all that has been said and done, one thing remains clear: there is no hope of ever going back to the Imphal valley. Too much hatred, one need to only look at the various social medias propagated by the Meiteis. There is no one prepared to live with the Meiteis. Pramot Singh, leader of a Meitei pride group, Meetei Leepun has openly called out for wiping out Kuki-Zo in an interview (https://youtu.be/VDJnPewUhmU?si=JhnpvZyJ1T7jGnjA).  In late January this year, Arambai Tenggol summoned the state assembly members to issue a diktat. It is amply clear how much power they wield. Anarchy would be an understatement. A quick glance at the statistics tells a very telling story. Over 220 have lost their lives, of which over 180 plus belonging to the Kuki Zos, 60,000 displaced, again a vast majority, 40,000 plus are Kuki Zo victims. 200 villages burnt and destroyed, 7,000 houses gutted and about 360 churches and synagogues sharing the same fate. Abandoned Kuki Zo homes subjected to wanton looting. Any semblance of peace to return will not take years or even decades but generations. Inhuman atrocities were meted out, a seven-year-old Kuki boy, Tonsing Hangshing his mother and aunt were burnt to death in an ambulance by a Meitei mob in Imphal while seeking medical attention, three Kuki women were subjected to the most heinous humiliation, paraded naked by Meitei mob, while the state police looked on. One of them was gang raped. In another horrifying incident, David Thriek was decapitated, and his head staked on a fencing pole. The list goes on.


In a recent development, the premier Indian counter-terrorism enforcement agency, National Investigative Agency (NIA) concluded that there was a link between the weapons looted from Manipur state armory and terror attacks carried out against the Kuki Zo communities (https://www.google.com/amp/s/m.thewire.in/article/government/nia-manipur-looted-weapons-violence-against-kukis/amp ). These weapons fell into the hands of Meitei supremacist vigilante groups like the Arambai Tenggol besides several Meitei proscribed, secessionists undergrounds like PLA, KCP, UNLF, KYKL, PREPAK etc. who are seeking independence from the Indian Union. The NIA has even charged that they are getting active support from another secessionist underground outfit, Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivakh), NSCN(IM) against the Kuki Zos. The NSCN(IM) cadres are overwhelmingly made up of Nagas of Manipur. Their Supremo, Th. Muivah is a Tangkhul from Manipur who dreams of carving out parts of northern Manipur and forming ‘Greater Nagaland’ much to the chagrin of the Meiteis. Talk about strange bedfellows. They had also been involved in ethnic cleansing of the Kukis from ‘traditional Naga territories’ in the early 1990s. Whatever may reside in the deep recesses of their minds, the Kukis are victimized only because of their ethnicity and are seen as weak. The Kukis have never picked up arms against the Indian Union. As a matter of fact they formed the largest contingent of the Indian National Army led by Subhash Chandra Bose during World War 2. They started to arm themselves only on the early 1990s to stand up against NSCN(IM)'s pogroms. The NSCN(IM), in the meantime, has accused the Indian government of waging a war

Titular king of Manipur and MP, Sanajaoba Leishemba and Arambai Tenggol commander, Konungnganba Khuman, complicit in terror.

against them by using Myanmar-based Kukis as proxies. The Meiteis dream of regaining past glories of their former kingdom. The current member of the parliament’s lower house, the titular king of Manipur, Leishemba Sanajaoba is a proponent, hand-in-glove, with the chief minister, Biren Singh. Both of whom are patrons of Arambai Tenggol and Meetei Leepun, who need no introductions by now. The state police and para-military forces are openly backing these groups in their assault against Kuki Zo villages. The fact remains that despite the state machinery giving them unmitigated support in every possible way, they are yet to make a compelling progress in their agendas. This has led to a legitimate demand for a separate administration by the Kuki-Zos. There is, apparently, no other choice left when the state machinery that is supposed to protect comes to murder. That sentiment is clearly echoed by a former government servant: “It is not possible to live with murderers, rapists and thieves in the same neighborhood. The amount of hate spewed on us is a testament. The separation is complete; emotionally and geographically. What is left is only a political formalization.”


The fate of the B’nei Menashe is intertwined with their kindreds in an existential threat that they face. The need for the B’nei Menashe to be secure is sacrosanct, regardless of where they may be. A place where they can be safe from persecution, where they can learn and practice their beliefs, have a roof over their heads and not worry where their next meal is coming from. Maoz Tzur represents the best hope.


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