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Planting Season Begins at Ma'oz Tsur

Cabbages begin to sprout at Ma'oz Tsur.

It’s springtime in Ma’oz Tsur and the new settlement’s first planting season. The fields have been cleared, the earth has been turned, and the first seeds are ready to be sown. Soon the green leaves of beans, peas, cabbages, taro root, cauliflower, onion chillies, pumpkins, and still other vegetables will start to sprout. 

Since its founding by Degel Menashe last autumn as a refuge for B’nei Menashe driven from their homes by Manipur’s ethnic violence, Ma’oz Tsur has grown impressively. Organized as an agricultural cooperative and situated on 200 acres of empty land outside of Lamka (the former Churachandpur) donated by B’nei Menashe Council chairman, Lalam Hangshing, the site is now occupied by ten B’nei Menashe families numbering 60 individuals, all of whom have helped build their traditionally constructed bamboo-and-thatch homes, Four more families are currently on a waiting list and more have expressed interest in joining as soon as this becomes feasible.

Residents prepare soil for planting.

Ma’oz Tsur has been a lifesaver for the homeless families who have pioneered it. “We literally escaped from the village of Sajal last May with only the clothes on our backs,” says one of the settlement’s first residents, Sarah Kimneo Haokip, a 33-year-old widow and mother of four children whose husband died three years ago.  “After trekking through the jungle, we lived for months as refugees in an army camp before being offered a chance to build a home in Ma’oz Tsur. Degel Menashe has given us shelter and security, but this isn’t just a place to live. It represents hope for me and my children. We’ll not only live new lives here, we’ll live better ones than before.’

Yamthong Yitzhak Touthang, 54, tells us a similar story. “My family is from the Chandel district in southeast Manipur,” he relates. “I was a grade school teacher there. When the fighting started, I fled with my wife and eight children to our eldest daughter, who lives in Lamka. We stayed with her in very crowded conditions until we were able to join Ma’oz Tsur and begin our lives all over again. We’ve been given half an acre to farm, which we can expand in the future, and we’ve cleared it and are ready to plant just in time for the early rains that come in April.”. 

Saplings ready for planting.

All that is holding back Ma’oz Tsur’s further development, according to Yitzhak Thangjom, Degel Menashe’s managing director, is a lack of funds with which to purchase building materials for more homes. “The labor isn’t a problem,” he says. “We provide nearly all of it ourselves. We’ve brought in electricity from a nearby village. We’ve provided the residents with food and clothing while getting them back on their feet with support from such organizations as the American Jewish Committee, Operation Exodus, and Scattered Among The Nations, as well as from private donors like our generous backers from New Mexico, Sabra Minkus and Mimi Efroymson. Moreover, we’re now completing a fund-raising drive for a synagogue that has been spearheaded by the B’nei Menashe Council, Israel Chapter, and rabbi Shimon Gangte. The synagogue will be built of bamboo like Ma’oz Tsur’s homes but will have a tin roof, and when it’s finished Ma’oz Tsur will be a true Jewish community.” 

A brook at Ma'oz Tsur.

Funds are also needed to assure Ma’oz Tsur of a steady supply of water, which at the moment has to be trucked in. “During most of the year,” Thangjom told our Newsletter. “Manipur has abundant water from its annual monsoon rains, and there are three small streams running through Ma’oz Tsur’s property. In February and March, the driest months of the year, these dwindle to rivulets, but two of them continue to flow. If we had the money, we could build small dams and pipe the water to the houses and fields. Perhaps we could even start a fishery – we’ve already had a survey team draw up plans. The idea is for the settlement to grow enough food to be self-sufficient and sell the surplus in local markets.”

Water is indeed a problem. Sarah Lamsi Baite, 47, was one of the first to farm Ma’oz Tsur’s land and already grew a successful crop of peas and beans last autumn. “It was so big that I had to get help to harvest it,” she says. “But when I planted another crop, most of it withered and died during the winter dry season. We need to be able to irrigate, and we need experts to advise us on what to grow and when.”

Chaim Chochon Haolai, 30, agrees. “Ma’oz Tsur is a beautiful place,” he says. “It has enormous potential for the B’nei Menashe community. But we have to make full use of the land and not let it lie fallow in the winter. Although our streams are down to a trickle right now, they’re still flowing. We can harness them. We can even build a fish pond. It’s not a big investment, but we all arrived here with nothing and can’t manage it on our own. Every little bit of help helps.”

A traditionally inspired dwelling recently added at Ma'oz Tsur.



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