Sixty Names That Can’t Be Named

(May 6) “I, [name withheld], a Bnei Menashe widow from Mizoram (India), humbly present before you a petition of grave importance,” began the email that Degel Menashe received this week with the request that it be forwarded to Isaac Herzog, Chairman of The Jewish Agency. The petition was signed by sixty members of Mizoram’s B’nei Menashe community. Along with it came the following additional request from its sender:


“Please do not hesitate to upload our petition onto your Website. However, I ask you not to include the names of the people who signed it. I realize this is a strange request to make for a public petition. As you may be aware, though, the signatories of our petition have already been subject to threats and intimidation for expressing their opinions. Although they were aware that their action would incur the wrath of Shavei Israel, they are determined to stand by this petition come what may. Still, I fear for their well-being if the publication of their names were to cause Shavei Israel to retaliate.”


She herself, the petition’s sender wrote, was not afraid to make her name known. “My family,” she declared,” has faithfully practiced Judaism in Mizoram for several decades. We were adherents of Judaism before Shavei Israel began overseeing the Aliyah of the Bnei Menashe. Now, we have lost all trust in it. Although I don’t want needlessly to put anyone beside me in a tight spot, I personally am ready to expose myself and my family to Shavei’s censure and opprobrium. I take courage from the example of our female forbearers, Miriam, Deborah, Esther, and Judith, who stood up for their people when all others had lost heart. If my family and I are to be made scapegoats and denied Aliyah for fighting for our fellow Bnei Menashe, we gladly welcome the privilege.”


Nevertheless, Degel Menashe has decided not to leave the petition’s sender exposed and has chosen to conceal her identity along with that of the other signatories, whose names will remain, for the time being, with us and The Jewish Agency. The statement they are affixed to accuses Shavei Israel of responsibility for the slow pace of B’nei Menashe Aliyah and for its underrepresentation in the Mizoram community. (See our Editorial, “Be Quiet and Obey,” on this page.) The members of this community, it states, “have been dismayed to discover that their path to Aliyah is being hindered by the very same Shavei Israel representatives who are supposed to lead them on it” and “have been driven to the brink of despair.”


“In light of the steep rise in those infected with a more communicable and deadlier strain of Covid-19,” the petition goes on, “the outlook for our brethren from the Bnei Menashe community in Mizoram is growing ever bleaker. Here in Mizoram we are three weeks into a strict lockdown that sees no signs of being lifted any time soon. The incidence of the virus has been much higher than it was a year ago and has more severely affected our community, several members of which are now in quarantine. Already hard-pressed to find gainful employment in a Christian country, we are now in dire straits and closer to the edge of disaster.”


The petition concludes with an appeal to Isaac Herzog:


“According to a recent community-wide census, there are currently about 1,000 Bnei Menashe in Mizoram. However, due to the unrelenting stance taken by Shavei Israel toward any dissent or criticism of the organization, most of us have been brow-beaten into compliance with it. Although we may have privately expressed our bitterness and disillusionment with Shavei, we have feared to give this public expression lest we jeopardize our chances for Aliyah. Now, however, I fervently beseech you to rise up and champion the cause of our vulnerable brethren in Mizoram who daily await with impatience the fulfillment of the biblical promise that they will return to the blessed and beautiful land of their forefathers Joseph and Menashe.”


Yours sincerely,

[Name withheld],

on behalf of the Bnei Menashe Community,

Aizawl, Mizoram,

India.”


Degel Menashe has forwarded this petition to The Jewish Agency.