Oral History Book Launched At Indian Cultural Center
(September 15) At a celebration in its honor held at the Indian Embassy’s cultural center in Tel Aviv on Thursday evening, the newly published “Lives of the Children of Manasia,” a book resulting from Degel Menashe’s Oral History Project, had its official debut. Among those attending the event were the book’s editors Hillel Halkin and Isaac Thangjom; four of its twelve interviewees; its publisher Ilan Greenfield, and senior staff of the Indian embassy. Also present were Sabra Minkus, former president of the Jewish Federation of New Mexico and a long-time supporter of Degel Menashe and its Oral History Project, and Mimi Efroymson, the donor behind Degel Menashe’s Academic and Vocational Scholarship Program. Chairing the proceedings was Ronia Lunkhel, herself a scholarship recipient.
The evening began with a reception and food featuring Indian dishes, followed by a welcome by Mr. Pawan K Pal , the embassy’s Secretary, Public Diplomacy, and remarks by Hillel Halkin. “'Lives of the Children of Manasia,’” Halkin said, “is an important book. In it, twelve elders of the B’nei Menashe community in Israel, several of whom belonged to its founding generation in northeast India, have narrated their life stories. This is the first time that the history of the B’nei Menashe, and of the Judaizing movement that led to their emergence, has really been told. Until now this history has been surrounded by myths and misconceptions. Now, in the words of those who lived it and made it, we have for the first time a full and reliable account of it. Or rather, we have twelve different accounts, each fascinating in its own right, that complement one another and together paint a comprehensive picture. Anybody, now or the future, wanting to know about the B’nei Menashe will have to start with ‘Lives of the Children of Manasia.’ It will be an indispensable volume.”
The interviews in the book, Halkin related, which were edited by him after being conducted by Isaac Thangjom, who also translated them from the northeast Indian languages of Kuki and Mizo ainto English, “took place in the nick of time. Had I and Isaac waited with this project just a year or two longer, it would not have been possible. Of our twelve interviewees, whose accounts were chosen for their scope and interest from among dozens that Isaac recorded, two have since passed away and several others were unable to be with us tonight because of failing health. If we hadn’t reached them when we did, their memories, and with them, the real story of how the B’nei Menashe movement was born and grew in its early years, would have been lost forever. We owe each of them our deepest thanks for participating in our project. “
Four of the participants – Miriam Gangte of Bet-El, Mangsat Kipgen of Kiryat Arba, Ruth Binyamin of Nitzan, and Elitsur Haokip of Migdal Ha-Emerk -- were then invited to receive their copies of the book; a fifth book was given to Lalam Hangshing, chairman of northeast India’s B’nei Menashe Council and currently on a visit to Israel, whose father, T. Aviel Hangshing, the book’s oldest interviewee, died a year ago at the age of 96. Books also went to Mimi Efroymson and Sabra Minkus, who spoke about her long involvement with the B’nei Menashe and of how it began, and to Ilan Greenfield. “We at Gefen Publishers in Jerusalem,” Greenfield said, “want to publish books that are good for the Jewish people. That’s one reason we chose ‘Lives of the Children of Manasia.’ It will help make the B’nei Menashe story the part of Jewish history that it deserves to be. We’re proud to have published it.”
A highlight of the evening was Degel Menashe’s presentation to Sabra Minkus and Mimi Efrymson of a gift commissioned from Yosef Ngaite, a B’nei Menashe woodworker who lives in Kiryat Arba. Each of the two received a unique mezuzah and a specially crafted Hanukkah menorah.
The event was brought to a formal close by Mr. Snehit Borgam, the Indian embassy’s Director of the Cultural Center, who talked about its desire to make the story of India’s Jews better known. Afterwards, the guests lingered for a long time. “It’s always a sign of a successful evening,” one of them was heard to say, “when no one wants to go home at the end of it.”