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Why B’nei Menashe Have Flocked to Sderot

Updated: Dec 15, 2023

(August 27, 2023) Last week’s article about Sderot, the town in Israel’s northwestern Negev to which B’nei Menashe have been flocking of their own accord, ended midway through an account by B’nei Menashe immigrant Yaacov Tuboi. In it he told how, soon after his arrival in Israel from Manipur at the age of 62 in late 2014, he grew dissatisfied with life in the Galilee city of Tzfat [Safed] to which his family had been sent by the government. “And so,” his account continues, “right before the Passover holiday of 2015, I decided to have a look at some other B’nei Menashe communities. I thought Kiryat Arba, which was the oldest such community in Israel, would be a good place to start, and my wife and I went to visit a relative there.

“Kiryat Arba had something unusual, its own B’nei Menashe rabbi, Rabbi Shimon Gangte, who gave lessons in Judaism in my native language of Kuki. I found this exciting. But to my disappointment, the town’s B’nei Menashe, despite all their years of living there, still did not have a synagogue of their own. When someone told us that such a synagogue had been founded in Sderot, which was just an hour’s drive away, I asked my relative to take me there.

“Although I didn’t meet the synagogue’s founder David Lhungdim that day,” Tuboi went on, “I took an immediate liking to Sderot. There were only seven or eight B’nei Menashe families there, but the synagogue, Congregation Alfei Menashe, met regularly, and there were plenty of good job opportunities and a friendly municipality, neither of which Tzfat had.

Yaacov Tuboi

Once my wife and I were back in Tzfat, Sderot was never far from our minds. We talked about it with friends who were unhappy with life in Tzfat just as we were. We tried to keep these discussions secret, because we were afraid how Shavei Israel, which ran the B’nei Menashe community high-handedly, might react. Word somehowleaked out, though, and Shavei’s supporters in Tzfat began accusing us of spreading dissension. That was the last straw. I told my family we were leaving for Sderot and we started planning for it.”

The first to make the move, in January 2016, were Tuboi’s eldest daughter and her husband, Ezra Mate. “My wife and I followed them the next month,” Tuboi told us. “We were happy in Sderot from the start. I had what I had always wanted: a B’nei Menashe synagogue and a rabbi with whom I could study Judaism in my own language. I felt that my spiritual quest was fulfilled.” Tuboi quickly found a job working in a greenhouse. “Rabbi Lhungdim helped my whole family to get settled. He found us work, schools for the children, and a house that was a walking distance from the synagogue. Our friends from Tzfat heard how well we were doing under his guidance and gradually joined us. By that summer 15 more families from Tzfat had joined us.”

The Tubois and Ezra Mate were the trailblazers. First to follow them from Tzfat was Khetzron Paolam Haokip, 63, and his family..

Khetzron Haokip

“We have a Kuki saying,” Haokip told us, “that the welfare of a village depends entirely on its chief. That was our problem in Tzfat: the administration of our community was not good. Though we were all newcomers with no knowledge of Hebrew, the help it gave us was inadequate, and when we complained, the answer was always: ‘That’s the way it is.” There were no solutions for any of our problems. As soon as we heard that Yaacov Tuboi and his family had moved to Sderot, we decided to join them. Whereas in Tzfat there was little work available, in Sderot there were many openings, and right-off I found a job that paid well in an electronics factory. Both my daughters now work there too (I myself now work at the municipality), my oldest son is studying at the local kollel [religious study cooperative], and the 17-year-old who comes after him will either go to the army or enroll in Sderot’s yeshiva. We came to Israel for one reason– Judaism -- and Sderot in a good place for B’nei Menashe to practice and pursue it.”

Within a short space of time, four more families had left Tzfat for Sderot. One of them was headed by Tzion Lienpu Haopkip, 47, a father of three boys and two girls. “As with others in Tzfat at the time,” he told our Newsletter. “I was unhappy with the way things were being run. No one in charge of our affairs was near doing their job; no one responded to requests for help. Whenever we demanded better service from Shavei Israel, we were accused of being subversives and threatened with punishment. I could see that Tzfat would not be a good place in which to bring up my children. There were many other families that wanted out like mine.

“I was well-informed about Sderot. I also knew Rabbi David Lhungdim from Manipur, and had confidence in him and his devotion to Judaism. One cold winter morning after Ezra Mate and Yaacov Tuboi moved there my family and three others hired a truck, loaded all out worldly possessions on to it, and headed for Sderot. We never looked back.” B’nei Menashe began arriving in Sderot from other places, too. “By the end of 2017, we already had 40 families,” Rabbi Lhungdim told us. . More followed suit, trickling in one by one. Today, we have 120 to 130 families. Already in 2017 our synagogue developed a Bet-Midrash, a school for Torah study, and earlier this year we converted it into a proper Yeshiva with a daytime and nighttime Kollel.

Rabbi David Lhungdim

We also have our own NGO, Shivtei Menashe, which functions to promote our community’s interests. All our children study Torah and follow the Jewish way: that’s our commitment. But though some consider us Haredim, we’re not trying to impose a Haredi style of life. Some of our young people will remain Torah students all their lives while the rest will go to the army and find employment when they finish their service. They’ll serve the nation.”

Because Sderot’s B’nei Menashe have learned to rely on themselves to solve their problems rather than on Shavei Israel or government agencies, they have developed a tightly knit community in which mutual help prevails. One of the latest new B’nei Menashe arrivals in Sderot, 44-year-old Dina Singson, attests to this. “I came to Israel a year ago,” she told our Newsletter, “after my mother, who was living in Nof ha-Galil, fell seriously ill and was not given proper medical care. Accommodations were found for her in Sderot and I came from Manipur to attend to her.

Dina Singson

The town’s B’nei Menashe have been solidly behind us, and Rabbi Lhungdim and his family have been helping us with everything, from getting us doctors’ appointments to obtaining social benefits. The entire community has stepped in to help, too, and given me work taking care of small children. and bringing them to school and back, so that I can pay for my and my mother’s expenses. We couldn’t have chosen a better place to live.”

Today, Sderot has one of the largest B’nei Menashe communities in Israel and one that is growing all the time. If there’s a lesson to be learned from this, it’s that B’nei Menashe immigrants to Israel are like most people. Let them make their own choices and run their own lives rather than live in a state of dependency, and they’ll be happier and better-off.



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