252 B’nei Menashe Arrive in Israel. Go Straight to Quarantine
Updated: Dec 18, 2020
(December 17) Two-hundred-and-fifty-two B’nei Menashe olim landed in Israel on Tuesday morning in a flight from New Delhi, the first such group in two-and-a-half years. As opposed to such groups in the past, the immigrants’ arrival was greeted without fanfare or media coverage, since the Corona pandemic required their immediate isolation. From the airport, they were bused to the Nordia Guesthouse, a currently unused hotel in a village near Netanya, in central Israel. They will remain there for three months, for the first two weeks of which they will be in quarantine.
The group was organized and brought to Israel by Shavei Israel, the Jerusalem-based organization in whose hands the government of Israel has placed B’nei Menashe immigration since 2004. Although the B’nei Menashe lead Jewishly observant lives in the North East Indian states of Manipur and Mizoram, in which half of them still reside, they are not halachically Jews and are not eligible for official immigrant status under Israel’s Law of Return prior to their conversion to Judaism. Once their quarantine is over, the new group will remain in the Guesthouse for another three months, studying for its conversion and attending intensive Hebrew courses. Once converted, it will be given housing in the Galilee city of Nof Ha-Galil, formerly Upper Nazareth.
The immigrants reportedly settled into their new surroundings quickly, the larger families allotted their own rooms, the smaller ones sharing quarters. The night of their arrival, a small celebration was held for them at the hotel, attended by Minister of Immigration Pnina Tamano- Shata, who addressed them and expressed her hope that they will soon be joined by the estimated 5,000 B’nei Menashe still in India. “As long as I’m minister,” she said, “wherever there are Jews, I will bring them home.”
The celebration also featured a performance by Israel’s Shalva Band and its popular B’nei Menashe vocalist Dina Samte, who herself came to Israel with her family as a young girl. The next day began the routine that will last through the quarantine: morning and evening prayers, communal breakfasts, lunches, and dinners in the hotel’s dining room, and lectures throughout the day given Shavei Israel staff about Israeli life and adjusting to it.
Before leaving for Israel, few of the immigrants had ever been outside of Mizoram or Manipur. “They still seem to be in a dream,” our Newsletter was told by a relative of one newly arrived family, who had already managed to speak with it over the phone. (Most of the immigrants were still in the process of acquiring Israeli SIM cards.) “They don’t yet have the words with which to talk about their experience. It will take them a few days to get oriented.”
The group’s journey to Israel had some discordant notes. One was the case, reported by our Newsletter last week, of 26-year-old Tiferet Renthlei of Aizawl, who was told by Shavei that she could not travel to Israel with her widowed mother and brother because she had missed a crucial Aliyah interview in 2016. (Tiferet had had to care for a sick sister, who subsequently died.) When Almog Moscowitz, a senior adviser at the Ministry of Immigration, read Tiferet’s story on our Degel Menashe Website, he contacted Shave officials and insisted that they add her to the group. Under pressure from the ministry, they agreed – only for Tiferet to undergo the painful experience related below by her aunt, Lea Renthlei.
Painful, too, was the story of the Lhangal family from Churachandpur, whose seven members – the parents, Yoel and Leah, and their five daughters -- flew from Imphal to New Delhi with the group of olim from Manipur. Tested for Corona by the Indian health authorities before being allowed to board the flight to Israel, three of the Lhangals’ daughters, Ruth, Dina, and Avigayil, were informed that their results had come back positive and that they could not fly. Their story, too, appears below.