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Old, Ill, and Abandoned: Shavei Israel, The Ministry of Immigration, and Hanna Singson

Updated: Dec 31, 2023

(August 18, 2022) A mask over her mouth, her body crisscrossed by IVs as though linked to multiple lifelines, 74-year-old Hanna Singson lies in a bed in the internal medicine ward of Ashkelon’s Barzilai Hospital . Only one visitor is allowed to see her at a time. She has been diagnosed with pancytopoenia, a bone-marrow condition in which there is a lower-than-normal number of red and white blood cells and platelets in the blood. The only child who remained unmarried, her daughter Dina Chinthem Singson, lives in Manipur. “I am very lonely and miss my daughter very much,” Hannah tells Jessica Thangjom, the visitor now in her room. “You don’t know what loneliness is until it happens to you.”

Hannah came to in Israel in October 2021 with the latest group of B’nei Menashe immigrants from Manipur and was like them given housing in Nof Hagalil, the former city of Upper Nazareth.. (See Demsat Haokip’s three-part story, of which Part III, “In Nof Hagalil,” appears in today’s Newsletter.) Her daughter Dina remained behind in India after Shavei Israel refused to let her join her aged mother. As explained in a letter Dina wrote to the Ministry of Immigration/Jewish Agency fact-finding mission that visited Manipur last June, she was working in Chennai, far from Manipur, at the time of the 2014 Aliyah interviews conducted by Shavei that led to her parents’ inclusion in the 2021 list, and she could not make it back quickly enough to sit for them.

Dina’s repeated requests to Shavei to be interviewed at a later date, which grew more urgent after her father

Hannah and Dina Singson in Manipur.

died in 2015, were turned down, and last October her mother departed for Israel by herself. Infuriatingly, as Dina wrote the Ministry/Agency delegation, “there were others who did not clear the interview but were allowed to make Aliyah. And now that my mother is in Israel, the people in charge of her well-being aren’t able to give her the proper care and attention. Knowing this weighs heavily on me and I feel miserable about it all the time.”

Dina was understating things. It wasn’t that Shavei Israel’s staff in Nof Hagalil was “unable” to assist Hannah when she took up residence there after several months in a Shavei-run Absorption Center in northern Israel. It was that it had no interest in helping her. “As long as I was in the Absorption Center,” Hannah told Jessica Thangjom, eager to talk despite her physical weakness, “there were people around me all the time. But in Nof Hagalil, Shavei placed me in a one-room apartment with a kitchenette and a bathroom in a big building in which I didn’t know a soul. It was on the bottom floor, two floors below ground level, and it was dark and dirty. I had to pay the landlord 2,000 shekels a month, which included water, electricity, and taxes, and he demanded checks for a year in advance. Even before I took sick, I was stiff from old age. It was hard to manage all the cooking, laundry, cleaning, and shopping on my own. Making meals was too much for me, and I ate mainly canned and ready-made food.

“Right from the start,” Hannah related, “I felt neglected. Whenever I asked for help from Shavei, I was ignored. Even if I was able to get through to someone, all I was ever told was that I should be patient. No one from Shavei bothered to visit me even once during the half-year I was in Nof Hagalil. I wasn’t feeling well. I kept asking for assistance and didn’t get it. Finally, Shlomo Telngoh Haokip, the Shavei representative in charge of the new immigrants in Nof Hagalil] agreed to take me to a doctor at the health plan I was registered in. He told

Shlomo Telngoh Haokip.

me to meet him there at 10 a.m. I arrived on time and waited for him till noon. He never showed up, never got in touch to apologize, and never answered his phone when I tried contacting him. He and others from Shavei are supposed to be helping newcomers like myself, but they don’t lift a finger to do anything. They’re paid for jobs they don’t perform.”

Back in Manipur, Dina, increasingly desperate about her mother’s deteriorating state, contacted Degel Menashe. Jessica and her husband Yitzhak, Degel Menashe’s managing director, traveled to Nof Hagalil, met Hannah, and were quickly convinced that she had to be moved. “She was depressed and exhausted,” Jessica told our Newsletter. “We found a kind B’nei Menashe couple in Sderot, Rivka and Zvulun Guite, who had an extra room and were happy to take her in. In July we drove up to Nof Hagalil and moved her to Sderot. It took a long time to convince the landlord to

Jessica Thangjom.

return the checks she had given him. We explained to him that she needed someone to look after her and would die of neglect and loneliness if she stayed in Nof Hagalil. He was more concerned about his rent than he was about Hannah, but when we told him that he would be held responsible if anything happened to her, he agreed.”

Hannah arrived in Sderot in poor condition. The Guites arranged for her to see a doctor as soon as possible. Tests were done and it was decided to hospitalize her. Back in Manipur, meanwhile, Dina now finds herself in a state of de facto expulsion from the pro-Shavei Israel synagogue in the Churachandpur neighborhood of Boljol to which she and her mother belonged -- her punishment for continuing to campaign for her Aliyah and to criticize Shavei for its neglect of Hannah. “I apologize for such a lengthy note,” she wrote the Ministry/Agency mission, “but this is the briefest testimony I can give to the burden of grief that I carry.” She received no reply.



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