B’nei Menashe Congregant Expelled From Synagogue, Home,For Aiding Degel Menashe Food Relief
(August 5) As Degel Menashe gears up for a third round of its Covid-19 food relief program in Northeast India, others are working to obstruct it. They gained a victory this week in a village on the outskirts of Churachandpur, where Yosef Chongloi, a member of Ohel Menashe, a B’nei Menashe congregation, was expelled from it for a double “crime.” His first infraction, he was told, was playing an active role in Round 2 of the relief operation, carried out in early June. His second was refusing to apologize for this publicly and to sever all ties with Degel Menashe.
Chongloi, 31, a businessman, father of two children, and chief executive officer of the Loisei Investment and Finance Company, has been living in the village for the past three-and-a- half years. Behind his expulsion, he told our Newsletter, lay Ohel Menashe’s fear of antagonizing Shavei Israel, the NGO that has dominated B’nei Menashe life since 2003 and that controls all B’nei Menashe immigration from India to Israel.
“Since Ohel Menashe did not oppose Round 1 of the food relief drive,” Chongloi said, “I had no hesitation about taking part in Round 2.” His participation included transporting sacks of rice to B’nei Menashe communities and serving as a liaison between Degel Menashe’s Covid-19 Emergency Relief Committee and the Manipuri media. “But afterwards,” he related, “members of the congregation, many of them my relatives, came to me and told me they feared that they would be stricken by Shavei from its Aliyah lists if I didn’t renounce all my connections with Degel Menashe.”
An additional point against him, Chongloi said, was his having hired Ohaliav Haokip, a Degel Menashe representative in Manipur, as a website designer for his company. Apart from abstaining from further food relief efforts, he was also ordered by the Ohel Menashe congregation to dismiss Ohaliav and have nothing more to do with him. “An uncle of mine,” Chongloi reported, “approached me and begged me to agree. He said he had been waiting for Aliyah for 30 years and would lose all chance of ever making it if I didn’t. I told him that Ohaliav was my employee and that I depended on him for technical help, but it made no impression.”
On July 29, the eve of the fast of Tisha b’Av, Chongloi was summoned to a meeting of the congregation. “I was warned that if I ignored its ultimatum, I would be kicked out,” he said. “My answer was that I wasn’t going to fire Ohaliav or knuckle under. Three days later, on August 1, I received notice of a second meeting scheduled for August 2 at which I was told to appear. I did and even brought with me a large pot of tea, a traditional conciliatory gesture in our culture. It didn’t help. I wasn’t permitted to say a single word, and when my father and mother rose to make a plea on my behalf, they might as well have been talking to the wall.” The meeting voted to expel him.
The Ohel Menashe congregation then issued an official announcement over the B’nei Menashe social media. Its English translation reads in full:
“On Sunday, August 2, at 8 am, the Ohel Menashe Congregation summoned Mr. Seiminthang (Yosef) Chongloi to a meeting called to discuss his case.
“Ohel Menashe has been working under the administration of the B’nei Menache Council [a Shavei Israel-appointed advisory group] and the Shavei Israel organization. The fact has come to our attention that he [Chongloi] has been actively working for another organization. Although members of our congregation repeatedly sought to get him to mend his ways, he has persisted.
“Accordingly the congregation has decided to cancel Mr. Chongloi and his family’s membership.”
A copy of the announcement, signed by congregation chairman Shlomo Kipgen, was sent to Shavei Israel but not to Chongloi, who learned of it from the social media . Since Kipgen is also the head of the village council, he has the right according to Manipuri law to demand that Chongloi leave the village. This the latter is now in the process of doing.
The congregation, whose 21 families received three-quarters of a ton of free rice from Degel Menashe in the first two rounds of the food relief operation, has thus almost literally bit the hand that fed it. Moreover, it is now asking some of these families to go hungry, since they are being told not to accept aid from Round 3, even though they are no less in need of it than are other B’nei Menashe in Manipur and Mizoram.
For his part, asked whether he would help out again in Round 3, Chongloi answered, “Of course. Although living in Israel is my dream, I won’t let fear of Shavei Israel deter me.”
Chongloi does not believe that Shavei actually ordered his expulsion from Ohel Menashe. He does, however, hold responsible a “fear psychosis” created by Shavei’s use of its monopoly on Aliyah to intimidate the B’nei Menashe community.
Shavei Israel itself denies any involvement in Ohel Menashe’s actions. “We don’t interfere in such matters,” Meital Singson, Shavei’s Manipur coordinator, told Ohaliav Haokip. “We let every community make its own decisions.”