Degel Menashe Provides New Food Relief in Mizoram
(July 22) With the drastic worsening this month of the Covid 19 situation in Mizoram, as in the rest of Northeast India, Degel Menashe reached out to the state’s B’nei Menashe community for the second time in a year with emergency aid. Twenty-seven households totaling 109 individuals, an estimated ten percent of Mizoram’s B’nei Menashe population, received an initial amount ranging from 500 to 700 rupees (close to ten dollars) per family member for the purchase of food.
Although such sums may seem small by Western standards, they go a long way in India, where two days’ worth of rice, the staple that provides much of the average person’s diet, cost well under a dollar.
The aid campaign was administered by Elisheva Khiangte, a long-standing member of the B”nei Menashe community of Aizawl, the state capital.
Of the 27 families, 18 were from Aizawl while the others were from outlying towns and villages. As with previous Degel Menashe relief operations, this one, too, was fiercely opposed by Shavei Israel, the Jerusalem-based organization entrusted by the Israeli government with the B’nei Menashe’s Aliyah to Israel, on the grounds that it infringed on Shavei’s control of the B’nei Menashe community. Many needy B’nei Menashe families, their breadwinners put out of work by the pandemic, declined to accept the proffered aid because of Shavei’s threats. Asking to remain anonymous, one of Aizawl’s B’nei Menashe told our Newsletter:
“When Shavei representatives in Mizoram learned of the aid, they were furious. A year ago, when Degel Menashe also stepped in with food for hungry B’nei Menashe families, community leader Jeremiah Hnamte was forced by Shavei to public apologize at a Shabbat service for helping to distribute it, and Shavei was confident that no one would dare defy it again. I personally know of one case in which a person involved in the current aid effort received a telephone message to back off or risk placing his future Aliyah in jeopardy. It was given him by a friend who felt uncomfortable about relaying it but had been ordered by Shavei officials to do so. Four households that I know of that had initially agreed to accept aid from Degel Menashe changed their minds under pressure from Shavei.”
Shavei Israel itself, while succeeding in blocking aid to many families, has provided them with none of its own. “A few weeks ago,” the same source told our Newsletter, “Shavei posted a notice in Aizawl that it would soon be sending assistance. Yet nothing arrived and there have been no further updates. Everyone knows that Shavei is hard-pressed for funds, but whether this is the reason for its utter failure to help so far, I can’t say.”
The B’nei Menashe families in Mizoram who were willing to stand up to Shavei are now in a better position to pay for other necessities that competed with food, such as rent and non-Covid-related medical expenses. “I know we’re mourning for the Temple,” a woman wrote from the town of Birkawthlir on the day before the fast of Tisha b’Av, “but I was overjoyed when I received food aid from Degel Menashe. Our lives have been very difficult these past three months. I hope God will forgive me for finally smiling happily after so long a time.”
And Elisheva Khiangte sent Degel Menashe a message saying:
“From the Holy Land you are the only ones who sent the poor families of the B'nei Menashe community of Mizoram money to buy food and medicines with. God bless you!”