B’nei Menashe Celebrated Purim In A Difficult Times
(March10) The B’nei Menashe of Israel, Manipur, and Mizoram observed Purim this week in an atmosphere unconducive to the holiday’s usual revelry. In Israel, a national crisis hung over a divided country. In Manipur and Mizoram, the mood was one of division too, in which a community split between supporters of the B’nei Menashe Council and those of Shavei Israel celebrated the holiday separately.
Yet celebrate nonetheless they did. In Manipur, close to 500 B’nei Menashe gathered in Churachandpur for a B’nei Menashe Council-sponsored meal at which, reviving an old custom that had fallen into abeyance, a cow was slaughtered for the occasion. Observed in this way until the end of the 1990s, such Purims were reminiscent of the old Kuki holiday of Hun, in which communal convocations to discuss the past year and plan the new one were held in the period between the winter burn-off of harvested fields and spring sowing. For the B’nei Menashe, this became an annual time to come from all over in order to meet, mix, and take stock, as they did this week in Churachandpur. A similar though less well-attended event was held by Shavei Israel.
The highlight of the Churachandpur celebration, held outdoors at the city’s Khokon Arena, was a Megillah reading performed by Chaim Yaish, an Israeli of Yemenite descent married to Zmirah Khongsai, whose B’nei Menashe family immigrated to Israel in the early 2000s. Yaish read the story of Mordecai, Esther, and Haman from an old parchment scroll, a family heirloom that he had brought with him from Israel for the occasion.
In Mizoram’s capital of Aizawl, parallel celebrations were held by the B’nei Menashe Council and Shavei Israel too, although in this case it was Shavei that drew the larger crowd. On the night of Purim, the BMC group read the Megillah at the city’s Shlom Tzion synagogue, while the next day it repaired to an Aizawl resort for the traditional se’udah, the Purim meal, in the form of a picnic lunch.
In Israel no large Purim celebrations were held. Families and friends got together informally in small groups. Only the children in their costumes seemed unaware that this was not the best of times for Purim fun.