Let Our People Come: A Degel Menashe Editorial
Degel Menashe wishes all its readers, and the entire B’nei Menashe community, a happy Passover!
In every generation, says the Haggadah, Jews should think of themselves as if they had personally lived through the exodus from Egypt. To Jews in different places, this means different things. To those who live in Israel, it means one thing. To those who live elsewhere because they not want to live in Israel, it means something else. To those who live elsewhere and do want to live in Israel but cannot, it means still something else – and while this group once constituted a large part of the world’s Jewish population before the establishment of the state of Israel, and was still a sizable one until the opening of the gates of the Soviet Union, today it is a very small one. In fact, the B’nei Menashe of Mizoram and Manipur are practically its only members.
The Exodus, for the B’nei Menashe still in India, is not a historical or even a recent memory. It is a contemporary dream. No others Jews in today’s world read the Haggadah as they do. No other Jews feel that they are still living the Haggadah’s story, that they are still in Egypt and in the House of Bondage.
And yet they are not being held in bondage by the government of India. The government has put no obstacle in the way of the B’nei Menashe’s making Aliyah. The obstacle is entirely the doing of the State of Israel. It alone has forced the B’nei Menashe to undertake their exodus in dribs and drabs, a few hundred at a time, with many years often separating between one time and the next. It alone continues to tell them, “You will have to wait. We cannot let you all, or even most of you, into the Promised Land any time soon. Be patient.”
And yet how many B’;nei Menashe still in India are there? Perhaps 5,000. Why can’t they all be let into Israel at one time? What makes it impossible for the State of Israel to accommodate now, immediately, 5,000 devoted Jews who want nothing more than to live in it?
In recent weeks we have heard a great deal about the plight of Ukrainian Jews fleeing from the war in their country. Our hearts go out to them: they have truly lived through a horrendous experience. Israel has declared that it is ready to take in thousands of them – 10,000, 20,000, 50,000, 100,000 – and it is right and proper to do so. To be a refuge for Jews whose lives have become intolerable in their native countries is one of the things that Israel was created for.
But let also be honest. These are not Jews who dreamed for decades of coming to Israel but were unable to. They could have come at any time since the Soviet Union opened its gates and they chose not to. Why can Israel take in tens of thousands of them at one time but not 5,000 B’nei Menashe?
And this question is compounded by the fact that, unlike the B’nei Menashe of India, very few of the Ukrainian refugees are Jewishly observant. Is this a reason not to welcome them to Israel? Of course not. But it is most certainly a reason to ask: why them and not the B’nei Menashe?
In some measure, the B’nei Menashe themselves share part of the blame for this. Because they are not yet halachically converted and cannot be in India, they have accepted the fact that Aliyah is not their right, as it is the right of all other Jews in the world, but rather a favor granted them by the state of Israel. They have not complained when the state of Israel has taken 30 years, the time that has elapsed since the first groups of them began coming here, to admit half of them while keeping the other half out. They have behaved as if this were understandable and justifiable.
It is neither. It is discriminatory and unfair. And it is a time to put an end to it. The B’nei Menashe of India must tell the government of Israel: “We are not inferior to the Jews of Ukraine or of anywhere else in the world. We want our exodus now! We want to be in Jerusalem next year, as it says in the Haggadah, not ten or twenty years from now!”
Degel Menashe calls on the government of Israel to change its policy. Let all of India’s remaining 5,000 B’nei Menashe immigrate to Israel now. There can be no legitimate reason shut the gates to them. Let our people come!