First B’nei Menashe Military Casualty As Hundreds Called Up
(October 19) As hundreds of young B’nei Menashe reservists headed for their army units this week after receiving their mobilization orders, a first casualty among the community’s combat soldiers was reported. The wounded soldier was Natanel Touthang of Beit Shean, who was hit by shrapnel from a Hizbullah shell on Israel's border with Lebanon. He was evacuated to Rambam Hospital in Haifa and treated for hand and eye injuries that were reported to be light.
Although exact numbers are unavailable, some 300 B’nei Menashe reservists, most in combat units, are estimated to have been called up in the past two weeks. Well over a hundred more were already serving in the army when the Gaza crisis broke out. “Nothing could better demonstrate how much of a part of Israeli life we B’nei Menashe now are,” says Degel Menashe’s managing director Yitzhak Thangjom. “Considering that the total B’nei Menashe population of Israel is barely five thousand, we probably have a higher percentage of youngsters now in uniform than most other sectors of the population.”
For nearly all of them, being called up in a military emergency was a new experience. A typical case was that of D., an infantry soldier in the Golani Brigade who spoke to us from his cell phone shortly after reaching the army base he had been told to report to. “I had just finished my regular military service earlier this year and was married a few months ago,” he told our Newsletter. “Last Shabbat the army sent a courier to tell me to report for reserve duty immediately. I explained to him that my wife would be left alone and asked for a day to make arrangements for someone to be with her. When Shabbat was over that evening I called my mother, and as soon as she arrived early the next morning. I said a hurried goodbye and took the first bus for my base. I have no idea yet where I’ll be sent. I have a brother in the Tank Corps who’s been called up to. I’m proud to be defending our country.”
So are the hundreds of others. “I think that when this is over,” Thangjom says, “we B’nei Menashe will feel Israeli in a different and more profound way than we have felt until now. We’ll have put our lives on the line for this country as so many Israelis are doing and have done. In the fighting ahead, there will inevitably be more casualties among us. Some of us may be killed. If Israel will be, as many people are saying, a different country when this is ended, we B’nei Menashe will certainly be a different community.”
This holds true, Thangjom says, for the parents of B’nei Menashe soldiers no less than for the soldiers themselves. “My oldest son began his regular army service a few months ago,” we were told by Enosh Lhouvum, the head of one of the 120 B’nei Menashe families of Sderot that have been evacuated, along with all the town’s other residents, to hotels in various parts of Israel. “He was very enthusiastic about it, so excited that he couldn’t sleep in the nights beforehand. His hands, he said, were 'itching' to hold a gun that he could fight for Israel with. To tell the truth, I would have preferred that he stay in in his yeshivah, where his studies exempted him from the draft. I wanted him to go on studying Torah. But you know how it is in Israel. Children make their own choices.”
Lhouvum, who is also chairman of Sderot’s B’nei Menashe community council, spoke to us from the hotel on the Dead Sea where he and other community members he is in charge of are now being put up. “It’s nice to relax here after all we went through in Sderot,” he told us. “The government is paying for our entire hotel bill, although not for private expenditures. Apart from that we’re in the dark, though. We don’t know how long we’ll be here, or whether we’ll continue to get our pay from our workplaces. These are uncertain times. So many of our sons are in the army and we have no idea of where they are or how they will be deployed. My own son was almost finished with his basic training when the fighting broke out. Today, the ceremony celebrating the end of it was supposed to have been held. I don’t know what unit he’s been assigned to, although the last time I spoke with him, he told me it was a combat one. Part of me is very worried and part is very proud that he’s doing his duty. We’ll pray for his safe return and victory for Israel.”
As will we all!