Degel Menashe Head Participates in Haifa Seminar
(June 8) At a half-day seminar held at Haifa University on June 1 on the history of the Jews of India, the story of the B’nei Menashe was presented by Degel Menashe’s managing director Yitzhak Thangjom. In a talk entitled “A Community in Transit from India to Israel,” Thangjom sketched the history of the B’nei Menashe, their current situation, and the challenges facing them in both India’s two states of Manipur and Mizoram and in Israel. “To the best of my knowledge,” he told our Newsletter, “this is the first time an Israeli university had held such an event. It was intended as an initial step toward integrating the experience of Indian Jewry into mainstream Jewish history. I’m glad to note that the B’nei Menashe is now considered an integral part of that story, both by the Indian Jewish community in Israel and by the Israeli academy.”
Other speakers at the Seminar included Oshrit Birvadker, a senior fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security and a student of India-Israel relations; Professor Rotem Kowner, a historian at Haifa’s Department of East Asian Studies; Noga Cochavi, Head of the Ministry of Education’s Educational Jewish People’s Program; Haifa University doctoral student Suraj Rajan Kadanthodu; Israeli writer and Indian Jewish activist Ilana Shazor; and Avner Isaac, Chairman of the Indian Jewish Heritage Center. An audience of over one hundred, a large crowd for such an event, attended.
The day ended with a Malida or thanksgiving ceremony, a tradition of India’s Bene Israel community featuring a special dish of sweetened rice garnished with coconut flakes, nuts, and spices and served on a large platter with fruits of the season.
“It was a touching and proud moment for all of us,” said Thangjom. “At long last the history of India’s Jewish communities is being given the academic attention it deserves. It’s been long overdue, but better later than never.”