Sukkot Celebrated by B’nei Menashe In Shadow of Death of Yoel Lhanghal
Updated: Dec 31, 2023
(October 20, 2022) While the October 6 murder of Yoel Lhanghal continued to cast a pall over the B’nei Menashe community, its dark mood was lightened by the week-long holiday of Sukkot. Apart from building and celebrating the holiday in the traditional family sukkah, the B’nei Menashe of Israel and India took part in two major festivities. One, a National Convention of Indian Jews, was sponsored jointly by the Indian embassy in Israel and the Israeli municipality of Petach Tikva. The other was held in Churachandpur, where the B’nei Menashe Council sponsored a festive communal meal to which all B’nei Menashe were invited.
The event in Petach Tikva, which was attended by some 2,000 guests, reinstituted an annual event, lapsed since the outbreak of the Covid epidemic, that had sought to bring together all Indian Jews and their descendants in Israel.
First held in 2013, the event has always been participated in by their four communities: the Cochin Jews of southern India, the Bene Israel of India’s west coast, the Baghdadi Jews of Mumbai (Bombay) and Kolkata (Calcutta) and the B'nei Menashe from Mizoram and Manipur.
A large number of B’nei Menashe, estimated at one to two hundred, turned out for the event, their participation in which took place, at the request of the Indian Embassy, under the auspices of Degel Menashe. They came from near and far, some by chartered bus and others in private vehicles, to take part in an evening that included welcoming remarks by Petach Tivka mayor Rami Greenberg and the Indian deputy ambassador Rajeev Bhodwade; classical Indian music and dance, including a performance by a B’nei Menashe troupe; Indian food, and exhibits representing the four participating communities.
A small B’nei Menashe stall featuring traditional handicraft, clothing, and photographs, was a particular attraction, and many of those visiting it expressed their disappointment that the items on display were not for sale.
Meanwhile, in Manipur, another old holiday tradition, in abeyance for nearly 20 years, was also revived – namely, an annual B’nei Menashe get-together for a festive meal to which the entire community was invited. Sponsored by the B’nei Menashe Council, this event, too, featured singing, music, and formal remarks, plus 200 kilograms of beef donated by BMC chairman Lalam Hangshing and the B'nei Menashe Council's Israel Chapter and cooked with rice in ten large pots.
In addressing the crowd, Lalam Hangshing recalled how his father, the late T. Aviel Hangshing, had taken part in hosting the first Israeli ambassador to India, Ephraim Dowek, thus commencing official contact between the B’nei Menashe and the government of Israel.
B’nei Menashe came from all over Manipur for the feast, some even sitting on the roof of a standing-room only bus chartered by the far-off communities of Kangpokpi and Phalbung. “It’s been a long time since we had anything like this,” said one of the Phalbung contingent, Ardon Kipgen. “The atmosphere was wonderful, as was the food. We absolutely must do this again next year.” None of the B’nei Menashe who flocked to Vengnuom Hall would have disagreed with him.
Yet despite the holiday celebrations, the murder of Yoel Lhanghal in the northern township of Kiryat Shmona continued to hang heavily over Israel’s B'nei Menashe. As the details of what actually happened remained unclear and subject to conflicting accounts, and the police, while releasing no official report, held back from pressing charges against the perpetrators, fears rose that no legal action would be taken and calls were made for justice to be carried out. A Facebook post, Chanchinbawm Thar suggested that: “In order to bring Yoel’s innocence to light, and his brutal murder at the hands of a gang of Israeli youths, who after killing him gave false reports to the police investigating the case that were then widely disseminated in the media, let the entire B’nei Menashe community come together to retain the best and most skillful lawyer to represent us.”
Since the only lawyers authorized to act against the killers would be state prosecutors at a trial, it is uncertain whether such an advocate could be of much help. Still, the feeling that something needed to be done, because the police and prosecutor’s office were not doing enough, was widespread as the week after Sukkot drew to a close.