New, Expanded Avichail School Opens in Churachandpur
Updated: Jul 18
(July 14) After a tentative start repeatedly interrupted by Covid closures, problems of location, and the disruptive efforts of Shavei Israel, Churachandpur’s Rabbi Eliyahu Avichail Memorial Hebrew School reopened at a new site this week with an enlarged staff and a greatly increased enrollment. One-hundred-and-twelve children, adolescents, and adults have registered for classes, several times the size of the previous student body.
The school’s premises are in a newly constructed and still unfinished building in the Phaijang neighborhood. This is a brisk ten-minute walk from the school’s previous location in Beit Shalom Synagogue, the city’s largest place of Jewish worship, near which much of the local B’nei Menashe community lives.
Each of the structure’s three 15-by-15-foot classrooms is equipped with ten long wooden desks, each seating four students. Roofed and walled with corrugated tin sheets, the rooms still lack ceilings, flooring, and electricity, but so great was the enthusiasm generated by news of the school’s reopening that it was decided not to wait for their completion.
Funded by the B’nei Menashe Council with the help of a grant from Degel Menashe, the Avichail School hopes to develop a full-scale program offering all-day education to the young, and night-school classes for adults, in a wide range of subjects. In its present running-in stage, explains its principal, Rivka Chongboi Dimngel, its curriculum will consist mainly of religious studies in Bible and Jewish observance, supplemented by courses in spoken English and mathematics. The Jewish side of the curriculum will be taught by two knowledgeable members of the community, Shimon Thomsong and Gideon Lhouvum, while Dimngel herself, who holds a B.A. degree in Sociology, will be the English instructor and math will be the province of Ohaliav Haokip, who is currently completing his requirements for MCA, Masters of Computer Applications.
The students, Dimngel says, will be divided into three age groups, children, adolescents, and adults each of which will meet separately and sometimes together .
The aim, Dimgnel told our Newsletter, is to build a curriculum that will, on its non-Jewish side, conform to that of the Manipur school system. “Many of our younger students,” she points out, “have dropped out of this system due to economic or other difficulties, and we hope to provide them, free of cost, with the education they have been missing. We’ll go through a trial-and-error period. We’ll keep trying to improve and adjust to challenges as they arise, improvising as we go along. We’re still in need of equipment, such as computers, projectors, and a power back-up system, because electric failures are common in Manipur. And we hope to reach out in the future to B’nei Menashe communities elsewhere in Manipur, too. We intend to serve the community to the best of our ability with the tools we have at our disposal.''
The Avichail School’s formal inauguration took place on July 4, when a crowd of close to 100 people gathered to witness Shimon Thomsong affix a mezuzah to the new building’s doorpost. Donated by Machir Sitlhou in the name of the B’nei Menashe Youth Organization, it was crafted by Yonah Mangboi Lhouvum. Other community members chipped in with benches, walls fans, whiteboards, and a cash contribution raised by the newly formed B’nei Menashe Mothers’ Association.
The two-hour ceremony was launched with an opening prayer by the former vice-chairman of Beit Shalom, Rafael Hangshing. “We are blessed,” he said, “to be present at such a landmark event for our community. Let us thank God for this initiative and for the children it will serve, who are our future.” The B’nei Menashe Council was represented by its own vice-chairman, Nechemiah Haokip, who expressed his joy and excitement. “This is the first school of its kind ever to be established in our community,” he told the audience. “Let us hope it will provide us with the Jewish education we have been woefully lacking until now. Something like this should have happened long ago.”