Oral History Book To Be Launched
(July 28) Gefen Publishing House of Jerusalem has set September 15 as the official publication date of Lives of the Children of Manasia, a book of oral history interviews with elder members of the B’nei Menashe community in Israel. The event will be celebrated by a launching at the Indian Cultural Center in Tel Aviv, jointly sponsored by the Indian embassy and Degel Menashe, whose project the book is.
The twelve interviews in Lives of the Children of Manasia were conducted in the Kuki and Mizo languages by Yitzhak Thangjom and translated by him into English, after which they were edited by Hillel Halkin, who also wrote an introduction and afterword to them. In addition, the book contains a glossary explaining words, terms, and concepts unfamiliar to English readers, and a set of maps placing locations and events in their geographical context.
“This book’s publication culminates five years of work,” Halkin told our newsletter. “About half of it involved conducting the interviews and half the editorial and publishing processes. In the first stage, Yitzhak held many times the number of interviews that appear in the book. We chose for publication those that were the most interesting, both as personal narratives and as accounts of the genesis and development of the B’nei Menashe movement in northeast India. The interviews not published will go into an archives that will be made available to the public.
”This is an important book,” Halkin says, “first and foremost for the B’nei Menashe themselves. It tells their story as it has never been told before. This is a story that has been surrounded by myths and misinformation in regard to both the more distant and the more immediate past. Until now it has been told by others, often with an ax to grind, rather than by those who set it in motion and witnessed its seminal years. Many of the twelve interviewees in the book were among the founding fathers and mothers of Judaism in northeast India. Their involvement with it goes back in some cases to its inception in the early 1970s. All their memories of this and later periods would have gone to the grave with them if Degel Menashe had not made the effort to record them and issue them as a book.”
Halkin thinks that Lives of the Children of Manasia will also attract many readers in the general, non-B’nei Menashe community. “The interviewees’ stories are fascinating in themselves,” he says, “and tell us things about Judaism and its attractions that we need to know. The fact that thousands of people in a remote region of the world should want to live as Jews and struggle to do so, even though they had never seen a real Jew in their lives when they started on their path, is not something to be taken for granted. It’s a unique chapter in Jewish history. And if you add to this the fact that, as my afterword explains and as many of the interviews help to corroborate, there may be a kernel of historical truth in the claim that the Kuki-Mizo people, from which the B’nei Menashe hail, has a historical connection to the biblical tribe of Menashe, you get a truly remarkable story.”
Halkin hopes the book will soon be translated into Hebrew. “This would,” he says, “enable many young B’nei Menashe in Israel who do not read English to learn about their origins and history, let alone Israelis who are drawn to the subject. And perhaps we should think of Kuki and Mizo editions as well. I suspect that audience for this book may be larger than it might appear to be at first glance.”