top of page

Recently, Degel Menashe undertook its third round of food relief for the B’nei Menashe affected by the

Covid-19 pandemic in Manipur and Mizoram. Round 3 was supported by the same American Jewish organizations that gave generously to make the first two rounds possible: the Jewish Federation of Long Beach, the Jewish Federation of New Mexico, and Scattered Among the Nations.

The first two rounds went off with hardly a hitch. In each of them, over 40 tons of rice were distributed to more than 600 families. Appreciative thank-yous, some of which can be read in the “Letters” section of this Website, came from many congregations, including northeast India’s largest, Beith Shalom of Churachandpur. Many families slept better at night because they no longer needed to worry about going hungry.

Then, three weeks ago, came a rude awakening. Just as final preparations were being made for the third round, word reached Degel Menashe’s Relief Committee on Covid-19 that Beith Shalom, which had agreed to serve as a food distribution center in Rounds 1 and 2, was now refusing to do so.

Why was this decision taken? Beith Shalom has long been a bastion of Shavei Israel, and Meital Singson, Shavei’s community organizer in Churachandpur, having earlier declared her support for the relief program, now said that she had not received “permission” from Shavei’s chairman Michael Freund to let Beith Shalom participate a third time. Degel Menashe’s chairman-of-the-board Hillel Halkin immediately called Freund and was told by him that the reversal was caused by his having learned that mask wearing and social distancing were not properly observed at Beith Shalom in Rounds 1 and 2.. In a follow-up email, Freund wrote Halkin:

“Meital informed me that she has been questioned by officers from the Special

Investigation Branch and was told in no uncertain terms that opening the center at

this time would be a violation of the restrictions. They also told her that they were

aware of the previous distributions, claimed to have photographs of them, and sternly

warned her against any public gatherings.”

Quite apart from the fact that Shavei Israel does not own Beith Shalom’s premises, in which it merely rents a few rooms, this was absurd for two reasons. In the first place, there is no such thing in India as a “Special Investigation Branch.” There is a body called the Subsidiary Intelligence Bureau and known as the SIB, but it is a counter-intelligence organization dealing with matters of national security, and health regulations do not fall within its jurisdiction.

Secondly, on August 20, just as all this was taking place, Shavei Israel posted photographs of Freund and his chief assistant Tsvi Khaute meeting with Immigration Minister Penina Tamano-Shata in which they alone, of all those present, were not wearing masks. Nor was Khaute distancing himself from the minister, who fell ill several days later with Corona.

Michael Freund and Tsvi Khaute with Penina Tamano-Shata.

The hypocrisy of this was staggering. Shavei Israel was obstructing food relief in Manipur under the pretense of defending Corona guidelines while its leaders were openly flouting them in Israel!

Nor was this all. At the same time that this was happening, a concerted effort was being made by Shavei Israel and its representatives in Manipur to oust members of the Relief Committee from their congregations. In Churachandpur’s Shavei-controlled Congregation Ohel Menashe, Relief Committee member Yosef Changloi was summarily informed of his expulsion. In Beith Shalom, Ohaliav Haokip, secretary of the Relief Committee, along with three other members, was faced with an expulsion vote too, although to the credit of the synagogue’s executive, the motion failed to pass. Other relief workers received threats, too, and the B’nei Menashe of Manipur were warned to accept no further aid.

The results of Round 3, in which the number of relief recipients was nearly halved, testified to the partial success of Shavei Israel’s efforts. Several large B’nei Menashe communities told their members to stay away from the food distribution, while in other places the response was limited. In a word, a large number of B’nei Menashe families were denied needed food by an organization that claims to represent them and to have their interests at heart!

A particularly galling aspect of this is that many of these families have been reduced to poverty not only by Corona but by Shavei’s own policies. It was Shavei that told them to sell their homes, lands, and rice fields in their native villages and come to Churachandpur because their Aliyah to Israel was imminent – and now, years later, with Aliyah still an unfulfilled hope, they have been turned into day laborers burdened with rental and food bills, their jobs lost to the pandemic, their children unable to attend school for lack of money to pay tuition fees.

Shavei Israel has accused Degel Menashe of “political motives” in undertaking its food relief campaign. This is laughable. Who, one must ask, is being political: Degel Menashe for seeking to come to the aid of hungry families, or Shavei Israel for seeking to block that aid because it considers the B’nei Menashe community to be its private property on which no one is allowed to trespass?. One is reminded of the story about King Solomon and the two mothers: the false mother, you will recall, was the one who would rather the child were cut in half than lose her proprietary rights over it.

An innocent outside observer might wonder what gives Shavei Israel the power to make its followers spurn badly needed food relief when it is offered them by their own brethren. We inside observers know the answer: it is Aliyah. As long as Shavei Israel continues to have a monopoly over the B’nei Menashe’s Aliyah – as long as it and it alone draws up the Aliyah lists – as long as it, unchallenged, can put whomever it wants on them and keep whomever it wants off of them – it will go on being feared and, by many, obeyed out of fear. Aliyah is the key. It cannot be entrusted just to Shavei.

Yitzhak Thangjom

Degel Menashe Project Manager

(August 27) The third round of Degel Menashe’s food relief operation in Manipur, conducted with the generous help of the Jewish Federation of Long Beach, California and Scattered Among the Nations of San Francisco, ended on Wednesday, August 26. The operation concluded with 12.5 metric tons of rice being divided among 378 households. This was an almost 50 percent reduction from the number of households reached in Round 2.

Ohaliav Haokip.

The reason for the decrease, according to Ohaliav Haokip, secretary of the B’nei Menashe Relief Committee on Covid-19, was a “fear psychosis” spread by representatives of Shavei Israel, which has called for a boycott of Degel Menashe and all its activities . Haokip singled out Meital Singson, Shavei’s community organizer in Manipur, and Elon Lunjang Haokip of the Shavei-dominated Ohel Menashe congregation, as the two main instigators. Several B’nei Menashe communities that participated in Round 2, Haokip said, such as those of Imphal, Monglianphai, Zohar, and the Ohel Menashe congregation of Buojol, refused to take part in Round 3 because of threats from these two figures and others.

Even in congregations that did not expressly forbid accepting aid, Haokip added, many individuals were reluctant to take it. In the large Beith Shalom congregation of Churachandpur’s Vengnom neighborhood, for example, only 61 households participated, as opposed to 150 in Round 2.

Yet in other places, where Shavei’s influence was not as great, the numbers stayed at previous levels. In Phailen, Lhangnom, Matiyang, Mawlkoi, and still other congregations, there was no drop. This shows, Haokip said, that food relief was not turned down because there was no need for it. “The economic situation in Manipur is still grim,” he told our Newsletter. “It’s safe to say that the percentage of needy people in Vengnom is no less than in Matiyang or Mawlkoi. The only explanation of what happened in Vengnom and elsewhere is fear. Many people who have been badly affected by the Covid-19 epidemic and would have liked to receive aid didn’t dare ask for it.”

Beith Shalom has been the focal point of Shavei Israel’s efforts to impede the Relief Committee’s operations. As reported by our Newsletter last week (see “Drama, tension, precede food distribution in Manipur” on this page), the Vengnom synagogue denied the committee the facilities it had previously granted it for the relief effort and came close to expelling four of its members for having taken part in Rounds 1 and 2. Moreover, the chief of Vengnom village, S.Tatkhogin, whose wife is said to be a confidante of Meital Singson’s, expressly forbad the distribution of rice in Vengnom, forcing those who wanted it to collect it elsewhere.

S. Tatkhogin’s letter. Its last sentence translates as, “It is hereby decreed that no organization or congregation will be allowed to distribute [rice] without the permission of the "village authority".

Nechemiah Lhouvum

Another Round 2 relief worker, Yosef Chongloi, was expelled in early August from Churachandpur’s Shavei-dominated Ohel Menashe congregation for his role in distributing food. (See “B’nei Menashe congregant expelled from synagogue” on this page.) Still another, Nechemiah Paokim Lhouvum, reported being blacklisted by Shavei for being a member of the Relief Committee and being told that he and his family would be banned forever from Shavei’s Aliyah lists. (Lhouvum’s letter to Israel’s Minister of Immigration Penina Tamano-Shata also appears on this page.) Yet a third relief worker, who has asked to remain anonymous for fear of Shavei retaliation, told our Newsletter that he was warned never again to have anything to do with Degel Menashe if he did not want to be ejected from his congregation and permanently lose his chance for Aliyah.

Such requests for anonymity were not unusual. One rice recipient told the relief workers,

“Degel Menashe has provided us with food not once but three times, while Shavei not only did nothing to help but tried to sabotage the Relief Committee’s distribution. We all know this. It’s only our fear of never making Aliyah that keeps us from speaking out.”

Others, "like Nechemiah Lhouvum" refused to be silenced by threats of blacklists. Some were already on them. Menashe Kipgen, writing on behalf of the Petach Tikvah congregation of Churachandpur’s Lhongchin village, declared:

“We, the community of Petach-Tikvah, have been left alone and uncared-for by Shavei Israel for the past 15-20 years, even though we were among the first in Manipur to practice Judaism. Now, Degel Menashe's act of generosity has given us a beacon of light. May you prosper in all your endeavors!”

Despite the smaller number of relief recipients, the total volume of rice distributed in Round 3, Ohaliav Haokip informed our Newsletter, remained the same, since larger allotments were given to many families. As opposed to Round 1, he explained, in which all families received the same amount of aid, and Round 2, in which aid was apportioned by family size, Round 3 took need into account. Households were given between 20 and 50 kilos of rice according to the severity of their situation, with per person allotments ranging from 7 to 10 kilos.

Degel Menashe food relief operation underway

Yosef Chongloi in his office.

Since Beith Shalom could not be used as a distribution center, the headquarters of the relief operation were moved to the offices of Yosef Chongloi’s Losei Finance and Investment Company in Churachandpur. One-hundred-and-fifty 50-kilo bags of rice were picked up there by recipients. Another 50 bags were issued by a voucher system that allowed recipients to obtain them from merchants, while 50 more were brought by relief workers directly to the homes of those unable to avail themselves of the first two methods.

Meanwhile, as this week drew to a close, relief distribution began in the smaller B’nei Menashe community of Mizoram, where no efforts to obstruct the operation were reported. If all goes well, said Jeremiah Hnamte, chairman of the relief committee in Aizawl, Mizoram’s capital, distribution in the state should be finished next week. The easing of the local Corona lockdown, whose strict enforcement made food distribution difficult in Rounds 1 and 2, should facilitate matters, Hnamte said.

Nechemiah Paokam Lhouvum, a member of the B’nei Menashe Relief Committee on Covid-19, sat down in Manipur this week and wrote the following letter to Israel’s minister of immigration and absorption, Penina Tamano-Shata. It was written in English and speaks for itself, and no changes have been made in its language. The Jonathan mentioned in the second paragraph is Jonathan Touthang.

Nechemiah Lhouvum


bottom of page