Sderot’s Displaced B’nei Menashe “Eat and Sleep,” Weed and Pray
(November 9) “I must say I enjoyed working like this,” said Rivka Chong Guite to our Newsletter after weeding cabbage fields this week in the farming village of Zrachia in southwest Israel. “It’s been a long time since I did anything like it. All we’ve been doing in our hotel room these past weeks is eat and sleep. All our chores are performed by the hotel staff. When the time comes to go back to Sderot, we won't need a bus, because we'll all have gotten so fat that we’ll just roll all the way there! Seriously, though, the day at Zrachia made me feel nostalgic. We B’nei Menashe grew up doing farm work. We’ve always been close to the soil. It's in our blood.”
Rivka was one of twenty of Sderot’s displaced B’nei Menashe now staying at government expense in hotels in Jerusalem who traveled to Zrachia this week to help the village’s farmers. “Actually,” we were told by
Yitzhak Thangjom, the managing director of Degel Menashe, which provided the group with transportation, “we would have had many more volunteers if we could have afforded more than the single minibus we were able to rent. Sderot’s B’nei Menashe are now without work or a meaningful daily routine and are thirsting for something to do, especially if it aids the war effort.
“These are people who have worked hard all their lives and aren’t used to just sitting around,” said Thangjom, who joined the group. “And though they haven’t practiced it in Israel, farming comes naturally to them. Almost every one of their families had its own plot of land or rice field back in Manipur. I’m one of the exceptions, because I’m a city boy from Imphal, grew up in New Delhi, and at first I was indignant when I saw two older Bnei Menashe women laughing at how I was weeding the cabbages. ‘What’s so funny?’ I asked. “‘You look like you're plucking a chicken,’ they said and showed me how to do it.”
Zrachia’s Rafaeli family, in whose fields the volunteers worked, was appreciative. “These people really knew how to work. We’re grateful for their skill and dedication,,” said Doron Refaeli, who like many Israeli farmers has been hard hit by a war that has left him without hired labor. For their part, the volunteers felt they had gotten as
much as they had given. “Working the land,” said Yosef Demsat Haokip, “especially the land of Israel, is an honor. I haven’t done any farm work since my Aliyah from Manipur two years ago. It’s something we’re cut out for. We sweated a lot, but when we were done my body felt lighter and healthier.”
Another group of Sderot’s displaced B’nei Menashe left their Jerusalem hotel rooms this week for the Western Wall, where they recited Psalms and prayed for Israel’s victory over Hamas. “By now we’re all homesick and tired of being looked after by the government all the time,” said one of them, Dvora Tuboi. “We want to get back to a normal life. But then again, if it weren’t for this war, we wouldn’t have had the chance to spend so much time in Jerusalem, walking its streets and praying in its holy places. We’ve seen and done things we would otherwise never have had a chance to, like getting up in the morning, sending our children to the makeshift school they’re attending, and going to the Wall to pray for our country. We’ll do it again and again until the war is won.”
At the time of this article being published, it has been reliably learnt that another group of B'nei Menashe are planning to volunteer at a farm next week.