New Hebrew Schools Open in Mizoram, Manipur

(November 12) The month of October saw the opening of new Hebrew schools, the first of their kind in years, in Aizawl, the capital of Mizoram, and Churachandpur, the second largest city in Manipur, the two large B’nei Menashe centers in northeast India. Both schools are being supported financially by Degel Menashe, with the help of the Jewish Federation of New Mexico.


Classes in the Aizawl school began the first week of October, we were told by Asaf Renthlei, the school’s director and at the moment single teacher. Since then, they have met every Sunday from 10 am to 2 pm. Plans to expand them to weekday evenings, Renthlei hopes, will soon be implemented.


So far, Renthlei reports, the Aizawl school has 15 students, all adults. “Its four Sunday hours are divided into four sessions,” he explained. “The first deals with the basics of Judaism and Torah, with a special emphasis on the weekly Torah portion. The second is devoted to Hebrew, beginning with acquiring a command of the Hebrew alphabet and the ability to read Hebrew words, so that they can be followed in the prayer book, plus a knowledge of basic Hebrew vocabulary. In the third hour, we discuss Shabbat, the Jewish holidays, and other practices of Judaism, while in the last we talk about the differences between Judaism and Christianity. “


This division, Renthlei emphasizes, is not a rigid one. “When questions come up in any of the four sessions, we’ll often pursue them even if they’re not strictly related to that session’s subject. I feel it’s important to satisfy the students’ thirst for knowledge, and to let it take us wherever it does.”


In Manipur’s Rav Eliyahu Avichail (z'l) School, named for the revered rabbi who bought traditional Judaism to northeast India in the 1980s and90s classes began in October’s second week. Nearly 30 students, ranging from eight-year-olds to adults, meet every Monday through Thursday from 6 to 8 pm, and on Sunday from 10 to 1:30, at Churachandpur’s Beit Shalom synagogue. Their two instructors, Gideon Lhouvum and Simeon Touthang, teach on alternate days. Here, too, the emphasis is on basic Hebrew and the fundamentals of Judaism, although plans are afoot to expand the curriculum to include secular subjects as well, such as English, arithmetic, and the sciences. As more students join, separate classes will be formed for the different age groups, but at the moment, a “little red schoolhouse” arrangement prevails in which all ages mingle and study together.