It Was All in the Cards For the B’nei Menashe of Tiberias
Updated: Sep 5, 2021
(September 3) It began with a simple phone call from Tiberias. “This is Yoel Lupheng,” the caller said. “I’m calling for all of us B’nei Menashe in this city. The holidays are coming up and we haven’t forgotten the help you gave us at this time a year ago. We could really use it this year, too. Will you be coming again?”
I honestly didn't know what to say. What with a scholarship program for young B’nei Menashe in Israel, food relief in Mizoram and Manipur, another educational program in the offing, and still more things, Degel Menashe’s budget was stretched tight. I turned to my wife Jessica who serves on the board of KeepOlim, a non-profit organization that seeks to assist new immigrants in Israel, and asked if anything could be done on such short notice.
Jessica went to work immediately and phoned Liami Lawrence, the CEO of KeepOlim. As luck would have it, Liami wasn’t in Israel. For the first time in two years he had left it to visit his mother in Florida, whom he had been kept from seeing by the Covid pandemic.
Anyone who knows Liami, though, knows that a small distance of 10,000 miles is nothing to faze him. In no time he was on the phone with his colleague Tzvika Graiver, a lawyer and co-founder of KeepOlim, and by the end of the day he had gotten back to Jessica with the news that KeepOlim would come up with the funds.
We contacted Yoel and asked him to draw up a list of B’nei Menashe families in Tiberias who were in need of assistance. Then we set about figuring out how much we should give each needy family. Next we told Tzvika how much this was. He handed me a check and told me to bring it to an agent who issues voucher cards on behalf of the Rami Levi supermarket chain. The agent said the cards would be ready the next day.
But the next day, the voucher cards weren’t ready. It was August 30 and Rosh Hashana was now only a week away. The agent solemnly promised that they would be ready on the 31st. Jessica informed her job that she would be taking the day off and we made plans to travel to Tiberias from our home in Ramla for a ceremony.
On the 31st, I phoned the agent. Still no voucher cards! Jessica couldn’t change the day. I called the agent again and said I must have the cards by evening. “Come before we close at seven,” I was told. I did – and the vouchers were ready!
The next day Jessica and I drove up to Tiberias, where we headed for the Kehillat Menashe synagogue and arrived just in time for the Mincha prayer with its month-of-Elul slichot. The B’nei Menashe community of Tiberias was waiting for us there, as were Susan Cohen and her husband Neville.
Susan, herself a recent immigrant from England, is a board member of KeepOlim and director of its Mental Health Program. A psychologist by profession, she has volunteered countless hours of her time to help olim with their problems, especially lone immigrant soldiers.
After a few words from Jessica and Susan, the voucher cards, each worth IS300, were presented to 39 families in a package that included pastries that Susan had bought.
“We’re deeply grateful for your responding on such short notice,” Yoel Lupheng said in the name of the community. “Though most of us have been in Israel for three or four years, we’re still basically new immigrants and are struggling to make ends meet. Often, we’re made to feel that nobody really cares about us. It means a great deal to know that you do.”
His words were echoed by others. “The holidays are a time of joy,” said Shmuel Lhanghal, “but they also mean extra expenses for food, gifts for children, and so on. Most of us work at low-paying jobs because we don’t have the Hebrew language skills for better ones. We take whatever is offered us. At a time like this, any help we can get comes in handy!”
And Aharon Chongloi, the synagogue’s spiritual leader, added:
“This is the second time you’ve come to us bearing gifts. We ‘re a small community trying our keep our heads above water. I can only say thank you to KeepOlim and Degel Menashe for pitching in.”