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Degel Menashe Presents Plan To Inter-Ministerial Committee

Degel Menashe's chairman, Hillel Halkin addresses the committee.

(February 1, 2024) At a January 29 session of an Inter-Ministerial Committee meeting in Jerusalem, Degel Menashe presented a seven-point plan for improving current procedures for the Aliyah of B’nei Menashe from India and for their integration in Israeli life. 

Despite some notable successes, this integration, it has been felt both in and outside of the B’nei Menashe community, has not been as successful as it might have been, and the Committee was created last autumn by the Deputy Director of Israel’s Ministry of Aliyah and Integration Moshe Pinnes for the purpose of facilitating the process more effectively.

This week’s meeting, the Committee’s third, was the first in which Degel Menashe and Shavei Israel, the two NGOs currently working with the B’nei Menashe communities of Israel and India, were invited to participate. Present also were representatives of the Ministries of Aliyah, Finance, Education, the Interior, Religion, Housing, Welfare, Health, Internal Security, and Rural Settlement, as well as of the Police Department and the Population Authority. 

The meeting was divided into morning and afternoon sessions, the first attended by the participating government agencies alone. The afternoon session was addressed by Edith Blaustein, Director General of Shavei  Israel; Hillel Halkin, Chairman of Degel Menashe; Orly Zuckerman of The Jewish Agency; Motti Yogev, a private consultant for B’nei Menashe affairs, and Sonya Manlun, a B’nei Menashe social worker from Kiryat Arba.

From the left, Orly Zuckerman of the Jewish Agency, Deputy Director of the Ministry of Aliya & Absorption, Moshe Pinnes, Hillel Halkin and Yitzhak Thangjom.

As presented by Halkin, the Degel Menashe plan included the following proposals:

  • Instituting an intensive pre-Aliyah educational program, staffed by Israeli volunteers,  that would prepare the 5,000 B’nei Menashe still in India for their future lives in Israel, with a special emphasis on the study of Hebrew and the acquisition of a better knowledge of Israeli society and culture, Such a program would address the problem of B’nei Menashe arriving in Israel without the linguistic and conceptual tools needed to adjust quickly. 

  • Revamping the Absorption Centers that are the first station of B’nei Menashe immigrants so that they put a greater stress on Hebrew, on the nature of Israeli life, and on the practical decisions that must be made upon embarking on it rather than concentrate almost entirely, as they have done until now, on the religious studies that prepare the immigrants for their formal conversion to Judaism.

  • Giving B’nei Menashe immigrants, upon leaving the Absorption Centers, freedom of choice concerning where to live. Until now, the Degel Menashe plan pointed out, immigrants have been arbitrarily sent to live in places selected for them by the authorities that are often far from family already living in Israel and from vocational and educational opportunities. Other immigrants to Israel are not told where to live; there is no justification for treating the B’nei Menashe differently. 

  • Upgrading and professionalizing the social work services provided to the B’nei Menashe communities in Israel. Until now, the Degel Menashe proposal said, these services have been provided by often poorly trained and motivated staff and have not met the many needs of those seeking to avail themselves of them

  • Establishing a comprehensive program of vocational testing, counseling, and training for B’nei Menashe immigrants that would enable them to make the best use of their talents so that they not end up stranded in the minimum-wage factory and service jobs in which most of them are stuck now. While generally lacking formal education, many B’nei Menashe immigrants come with manual and technical skills that could equip them, given the proper vocational courses, for a wide range of remunerative jobs. 

  • Instituting a nationwide program for assisting B’nei Menashe elementary and high school students in their studies, enabling them to obtain high school matriculation diplomas, and encouraging them to continue with a higher education. Although exact statistics are unavailable, the Degel Menashe paper said, the B’nei Menashe dropout rate from Israel’s educational system, with its attendant problems of juvenile delinquency and a lack of social mobility in adulthood, is high. B’nei Menashe youth must be encouraged to remain in school and succeed there if they are to have a hope for a better future.

  • The execution a professionally executed socio-economic survey of the B’nei Menashe community that would provide an accurate knowledge of its situation, problems, and needs. Until now, the Degel Menashe proposal pointed out, attempts to deal with these needs and problems have involved much guesswork,  and it is imperative to define them more exactly.  

Also present at the meeting were Degel Menashe’s  managing director Yitzhak Thangjom and his wife and Degel Menashe activist Jessica Simte, while attending for Shavei Israel were its Coordinator Tzvi Khaute and consultant Avi Mizrachi. At the session’s end, the two sides spoke with each other briefly and expressed the hope of improving the poor relations that have existed between their NGO’s in recent years. 

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