B'NEI MENASHE'S OLDEST ELDER PASSES AWAY

Aviel (Tongkhohao) Hangshing, the oldest member of the B'nei Menashe community, and among its most respected, passed away in Israel, in the town of Kiryat Arba, on Saturday evening at 11 pm. His well-attended funeral, presided over by Rabbi Shimon Gangte, was held the next day . He is survived by his four children, all living in India. His eldest son Lalam Hangshing is the chairman of the B'nei Menashe Council of India.


Aviel Hangshing was born in Kangpokpi, in northern Manipur, in 1925. His father, Seilal Hangshing, was one of the first Kukis to receive a western education and taught at the Kangpokpi Mission School. At the outbreak of World War II, Aviel worked as a guide for British surveyors building military roads in preparation for a Japanese invasion of the Indian northeast and then joined his family in fleeing to Imphal when heavy fighting broke out. At the war's end, he enrolled in Imphal's Johnstone Higher Secondary School. After graduating, he went on to study Philosophy at Guwahati's Bishop Cotton College.

Hangshing in his early 20s.

Unable to find a suitable job in Manipur after obtaining his B. A. degree, Aviel and his newly- wed wife, Boisi Gangte, moved to New Delhi. There, Aviel found work as an Upper Division Clerk at the Indian Defense Ministry and served there for the following five years, during which he was promoted to Section Officer. In the late 1950s he and his family, which now included three children, moved back to Imphal, where he was given the post of a departmental Undersecretary. In the early 1970s, he joined the elite Indian Administrative Service and remained with it until his retirement as a Commissioner to the Government of Manipur in 1988.


Aviel Hangshing was one of the pioneers of the Judaizing movement in northeast India. A practicing Christian, he became attracted in the early 1970s to various Christian denominations that emphasized Christinaity’s Jewish roots. In 1981, he traveled to Israel with his wife and met with Rabbi Eliyahu Avichayil, who would soon bring Orthodox Judaism to Mizoram and Manipur. The contact with Rabbi Avichayil was one of several factors that led Aviel to abandon Christianity entirely and embrace Judaism without reservation. By the mid-1980s, he was a leader of the B'nei Menashe congregations of both Kangpokpi and Imphal. Relatively well-off, he donated money and services to the community and sponsored many of its festivals.

Aviel and his wife during their years in Imphal.

Throughout the 1990s, Aviel worked closely with Rabbi Avichayil and the B'nei Menashe Council in organizing and advancing Jewish life in Manipur. This continued until the split between Rabbi Avichayil and his organization, Amishav, and the newcomer Michael Freund's Shavei Israel, which divided the community in two. Aviel sided staunchly with Rabbi Avichayil and lost his position of leadership when Shavei Israel triumphed over Amishav in 2004.


Because of his association with Amishav, Aviel was denied Aliyah by Shavei for ten years. In 2014, he finally came to Israel, where he lived in the northern city of Acre until moving to Kiryat Arba in 2017. A venerable figure in B;nei Menashe life, he is fondly remembered for his many generous contribution to it.