A Saga of Three Sisters --And Of Who Helped Them Reach Israel
(January 7) When on Monday, December 14, seven members of the Lhanghal family boarded a bus that was to take them, together with 245 other B’nei Menashe immigrants to Israel, from their hotel in New Delhi to Indira Ghandi International Airport, they were looking forward to a swift flight to a country they had dreamed of all their lives. Things turned out differently.
As the bus was about to leave for the airport, according to Dan Lhanghal, the family’s only son, his three sisters, Ruth, 28, Dina, 21, and Avigayil, 15 were abruptly told to get off the vehicle by Meital Singson, former Manipur administrator of Shavei Israel, the Jerusalem-based organization in charge of B’nei Menashe Aliyah. Singson, who was part of the group of 252 and its supervisor, informed the three that they had tested positive for Covid-19. “They were literally snatched from the bus in front of everyone, including my frightened 74-year-old father, my 65-year-old mother, and my two other sisters Mary and Lily,” according to Dan. “They weren’t even given time to unload their baggage, which eventually reached Israel without them.” The puzzling thing, Dan says, was that the three had already been tested for Corona in their hometown of Churachandpur and come out negative. Since then, they had been only in the company of the other 245 B’nei Menashe, so how could they alone now be positive?
Dan, 28, had accompanied his family to New Delhi in order to say goodbye to it at the airport. He himself was not going with it because Shavei had refused to put his wife on its Aliyah list. Now, told by Meital Singson to take his three sisters back to Manipur and wait to hear from Shavei, he was angry and bewildered. Why weren’t the three told of the results before boarding the bus? Why did Shavei have to humiliate them in front of everyone? Moreover, if it knew they had tested positive, why did it allow them to board the bus in the first place? And if the test results only arrived after the bus had been boarded, how could Shavei have permitted the group to depart for the airport without them, in defiance of Indian travel regulations?
Putting such thoughts aside, Dan instructed Ruth, Dina, and Avigayil to wait, rode the bus to the airport with his tearful parents and other two sisters, parted from them there, and returned to the hotel. What was he to do now? “I would have expected the group’s leaders to make arrangements for my three sisters, who were their responsibility,” he was to write in a letter to Israel’s Ministry of Immigration and Absorption. “But nothing could have been further from the truth.” The bus simply left the three Lhanghal girls on the sidewalk and drove off. Meital Singson’s only advice, Dan told our Newsletter, was to “go back to Manipur and wait to hear from her. She said she would get in touch with us when she reached Israel. She never did. No one from Shavei made any attempt to contact us.”
Dan balked. He decided he wasn’t going back to Manipur with his sisters. “We Lhanghals had been part of the Bnei Menashe community since 1980,” he relates. “We had been waiting to go to Israel all these years. I thought: How can my three sisters bear the shame and disappointment of returning to Churachandpur? I’ll stay with them here in Delhi until all this is sorted out.” The first priority was to have the three retested to make sure the positives were accurate.
Dan spoke to Malka Moses, Shavei Israel’s travel agent who had come from Bombay to see the group off, was given 2,400 rupees [about $35] by her to pay for a new round of tests, and checked back into the hotel with his sisters. It was now already evening. Not having enough money to pay the hotel bill for long, he sent a WhatsAp message to Tsvi Khaute, Shavei Israel’s Coordinator and second-in- command in Jerusalem. The exchange between them went like this.
Dan: Hello, Pu [a title of respect], how are you? This is Don Lhanghal.
Khaute: Dan, Happy Hanukkah. It is such a pity that our sisters were not able to come to the Holy Land. The most important thing is to get well. We will try to get you to Israel as soon as possible. As soon as they are well, we’ll arrange for tickets.
Dan: Thank you, Pu. Tomorrow we’re going for new tests and we’ll need some money.
Khaute: I send you good luck. May HaShem [God] give you health.”
Dan realized he was being given the brush-off and could expect no help from Shavei. Moreover, the hotel staff, having learned that the three sisters were suspected of Corona, was unwelcoming. “We felt we were not wanted there anymore,” Dan later wrote the Ministry of Immigration. “The staff was reluctant to serve us food and charged us for everything, even water.” The next morning they were told to move out because, if the police heard about them, the hotel might have to shut down.
On the morning of December 15th , Dan took his sisters to look for somewhere to stay. They found a room to rent in a poor neighborhood in south Delhi for which they had to pay in advance and spent 10,000 more rupees buying pots, pans, and other utensils to cook with. “My money was running out,” Dan says. “I kept thinking, what would have happened to my sisters had I not been there? Their English is weak and they don’t speak a word of Hindi. Delhi was like a foreign country for them. Getting around wasn’t easy.”
When they had settled into their room, Dan took his sisters to a lab for new tests. Meanwhile, back in Israel, Jessica Thangjom, the wife of Degel Menashe project manager Yitzhak Thangjom, heard of the Lhanghals’ plight, called Dan on his cell phone, and spoke to him. On Wednesday morning, December 16, Yitzhak contacted Almog Moscowitz, Senior Advisor of Minister of Immigration Pnina Tamano-Shata, and told him the story. Moscowitz requested that Dan write him immediately with the details and called Shavei Israel’s Jerusalem office. Assured by it that the Lhanghals were being looked after by the organization, he called Yitzhak back. “I’ve been told,” he said, “that the sisters are being housed by someone called Dan and that Shavei is seeing to their lodgings and food.”
“I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry,” Yitzhak Thangjom told our Newsletter. “When I informed Almog who Dan was and that Shavei hadn’t lifted a finger to help him, he said: ‘What? Dan is their brother?’ He couldn’t believe it.”
Moscowitz called Shavei again and this time the organization agreed to get in touch with Malka Moses, who had returned to Bombay, and have her forward Dan money. “On December 17 th ,” he relates, “I received 12,000 rupees from her, which didn’t come close to covering our expenses. Meanwhile, on the 16th , the new test results came back and were negative. I informed Malka of this, hoping she would immediately book my sisters on a flight to Israel, but she insisted they be tested a third time, in a different lab. And so on December 17 I took them for a third test.”
The December 17 tests came back negative, too, and the Lhanghal sisters were cleared for a flight to Israel. However, they were told that they would have to wait in New Delhi for the arrival from Mizoram of two more B’nei Menashe women, Tiferet Rentlei and Malka Zote, who had also been denied Aliyah by Shavei and had the decision reversed due to the Ministry of Immigration’s intervention :“(For Malka’s story, read Shmuel Boitlung’s letter on our letter page. Tiferet’s story was told by our Newsletter two weeks ago”). After they arrived in Delhi, the five spent two weeks together at a new hotel, this time paid for by the Ministry, while arrangements for their flight were being made.
“We’re all in good cheer,” Ruth Lhanghal wrote our Newsletter on a Facebook post from Delhi on the eve of her departure for Israel. “We’ve had so much fun trying to learn and improve our Mizo. We’ve spent two very enjoyable Shabbats together reading and discussing the Parashat Hashavua [weekly Torah reading]. On some days we toured Delhi but we mostly stayed in the hotel reading the Bible. Now, as we are leaving for Israel today, it all feels like a dream. As I look back, it was very lucky that my brother came to see us off in Delhi. If it had not been for him, I have no idea how we could have faced the situation. Which leads me to believe that HaShem arranges everything.”
On January 3, the three Lhanghal sisters, Tiferet Rentlei, and Malka Zote landed in Israel and were taken at once to the Nordiya Absorption Center near Netanya, where they joined the group that had left New Delhi in mid-December. And that same day Eliezer Baite, a member of Shavei Israel’s Advisory Board, posted a Facebook message, accompanied by a photograph of the five women preparing to depart from Indira Ghandi International Airport, with the text:
“With the efforts of Shavei and the compassion of HaShem, our three sisters who were left
behind in Delhi because of Covid will arrive in the Holy Land. Let us remember them in our prayers so
that they may arrive safely.”
About the compassion of Providence, one is tempted in this case to agree. About the efforts of Shavei Israel, less so.