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Degel Menashe Board Looks Back and Ahead

(August 5) Degel Menashe’s board of directors convened at the end of July for its semi-annual meeting, which was held by Zoom. In attendance were board chairman Hillel Halkin, Degel Menashe’s executive director Yitzhak Thangjom, and board members Sabra Minkus, Reuven Gal, Bat-El Rently, and Elkhanan Fanai.

Hillel Halkin

The meeting was opened by the board’s chairman, who spoke of his satisfaction with Degel Menashe’s accomplishments in its year-and-a-half of existence. “We have proven,” Halkin said, “that we are capable of carrying on a wide range of activities for the B’nei Menashe community.” With the continued help of the Jewish Federation of New Mexico and a large grant recently received from a charitable source that prefers to remain anonymous, Degel Menashe, Halkin stated, is now in a financial position to carry on with these activities and add to them.

Halkin also spoke about Degel Menashe’s campaign to break the monopoly on B’nei Menashe Aliyah granted until now to Shavei Israel and to put an end to the abuses this has led to. “Our intensive lobbying with the Ministry of Immigration and the Jewish Agency,” he said, “has resulted in the Agency’s entering into an agreement with Shavei whereby the two organizations will share joint responsibility for the Aliyah of the B’nei Menashe in the future. This is not all we had hoped for, which was to have the matter taken out of Shavei’s hands entirely. Yet if the Agency keeps its promise to monitor Shavei’s administration of Aliyah and ensure that it is fair and transparent from now on, we can consider it a victory. Our job will be to be the watchdog that barks when promises aren’t kept.”

Executive director Thangjom then gave a rundown of some of Degel Menashe’s activities in 2020-21.

Some of the major ones were:

Yitzhak Thangjom
  • Four rounds of food relief to Covid-19-affected B’nei Menashe in Manipur and Mizoram. All in all, some 50 tons of rice, oil, pulses, and other essentials were distributed to nearly 1,000 needy families.

  • A scholarship program for young B’nei Menashe in Israel who wish to pursue professional studies in an academic framework. To date, 19 grants totaling IS 80,000 have been awarded.

  • A leadership training project under the direction of Dr. Reuven Gal, a prominent psychologist and Degel Menashe board member. Designed to prepare young B’nei Menashe for leadership roles in their community, the project kicked off with a workshop last spring and is slated to continue in collaboration with the Israeli Institute for Quality Leadership.

  • An oral history project involving the interviewing and recording of the personal stories of dozens of elderly members of the B’nei Menashe community in Israel. Twelve of these interviews are soon to appear in a book called Lives of the Children of Manasia, put out by the Gefen Publishing House of Jerusalem.

  • Hebrew education in India. In partnership with the B’nei Menache Council of Manipur, Degel Menashe opened a Hebrew school in Manipur’s second largest city of Churachandpur last May that had to be temporarily shut down because of Covid-19. It will be re-opened as soon the ending of the Covid lockdown permits. A similar school in Mizoram’s capital of Aizawl is also planned. Degel Menashe has been conducting talks with the Mumbai branch of ORT, the global Jewish education network, in regard to a possible partnership in both schools.

  • Ties with the Indian embassy in Israel. Degel Menashe has developed an excellent relationship with the embassy and its top officials. The embassy has asked Degel Menashe to represent the B’nei Menashe in the planning of a year-long celebration of the 75th anniversary of India and Israel’s independence and of the close relations between the two countries. In addition, the embassy has offered Degel Menashe use of its new Indian Cultural Centre in Tel Aviv for the holding of B’nei Menashe cultural events.

  • The Degel Menashe Website. Updated weekly to keep readers abreast of developments in the B’nei Menashe communities of India and Israel, our Website has over 1,000 regular subscribers and many more occasional visitors.

In the discussion that followed, board member Elkhanan Fanai suggested that Degel Menashe sponsor an annual B’nei Menashe sports and cultural heritage festival in Israel that would bring the scattered community together once a year and strengthen its identity and pride in itself. The idea met with unanimous approval and Elkhanan and Bat-El Rently were appointed to a committee that would further the idea.

Elkhanan Fanai
Bat-El Rently

At the meeting’s end, Hillel Halkin announced his decision to step down as board chairman at the end of this calendar year. Although, Halkin said, he would continue to be an active board member, he wished to cut back on his organizational commitments and make way for a younger leadership drawn from the B’nei Menashe community. Halkin recommended that Yitzhak Thangjom be chosen as his successor. “I’m confident,” he said, “that I’ll be passing on to him an organization in good shape that will continue to grow and expand in the years ahead.”


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