“Womanning” the Home Front: Five B’nei Menashe Mothers Tell Their Stories
(November 2) While their sons and husbands have gone off to war, the women of Israel’s B’nei Menashe community have been active on the home front. Here are five of their stories as told to our Newsletter.
Elisheva Polin, 47, from the town of Beit El in Samaria, north of Jerusalem:
“The Hamas attack of October 7 caught us by surprise. Only that evening, when Shabbat and Simchat Torah were over and we could check our cell phones and take calls, did we realize we were at war. Now, each of us has to do what she can to help our soldiers and our country.
“Many of us have husbands and children in the army. My son is serving in the army, and my daughter, who will soon be turning 18, plans to join too, even though as a girl from a religious home she’s not obliged to. My sister's older son returned home from abroad to join his unit. Her younger son is also in the army. In my immediate family, there are five men now in uniform. I’m proud of them all. But we women can’t just stay home and pray for them. We have to contribute, too.
“I’ve lived in Beit El since my family came to Israel when I was a teenager in the early 1990s.The first week of the fighting, all the women of Beit El, we Bnei Menashe too, got together to see what we could do. Reservists from the town and area were being called up and our community center served as their assembly point. We cooked food for them and served it while they waited to be sent to their bases. There must have been over a hundred of them. A few were subsequently stationed in Beit El to guard the settlement, and my sister and I bring them hot meals every Shabbat. There’s been a women’s drive to collect funds for the IDF, too. Although we B’nei Menashe aren’t as well-off as some others, we’ve given what we could.
Alona Haokip, 28, from the village of Nokdim in Judea, southeast of Bethlehem.
“I came with my family to Israel in 2012 and married my husband Sagi, a B’nei Menashe like myself, two years later. We lived in Ma'alot in the Upper Galilee until three years ago, when we moved to Nokdim to be close to Jerusalem. After all, Jerusalem is the pride and joy of a Jew, and though we couldn’t afford a home there, we wanted to be as near to it as possible.
“Sagi and I have two sons, Idan, who is eight, and Omer, who is six. Now I’m alone with them, because Sagi has been called up. This isn’t the first time. In the confrontation with Hamas two years ago, he was mobilized, too. Although I thought it would be the same this time, it hasn’t been, because we’re now in a full-scale war and Jerusalem has been rocketed, too. My parents live there, and for the first few days of the fighting we stayed with them, but when we saw they were coping well, we went back to Nokdim.
“I work at a local kindergarten. Idan studies in Jerusalem and has transportation there and back, but I have to drop Omer off at school in Nokdim before I report for work. They’re both independent and I should be all right until Sagi returns, though I know that could take a long time. Last time he was called up, he kept receiving his monthly pay check, and I hope it will be the same this time. I have two brothers in the army, too, one doing his regular service and one called up for reserve duty. I worry about all three but I try not to let my sons see it, because I don’t want to seem weak. I tell my boys that their father is a hero defending Israel. I want them to feel proud of him.
“After work I take Idan and Omer with me to our community center, where we prepare and pack food for our soldiers on the frontline. There are also many B’nei Menashe refugees from Sderot in Jerusalem, some of them friends and family, and I visit them quite often. Most are homesick and want to to home. I try to provide comfort and a sympathetic ear.”
Moi Sarah Wolf, 53, from Beit El:
“I’ve always had a soft spot for soldiers. My father was one in Manipur, in the professional Indian army. Indian soldiers don’t have it easy; it's a thankless job that no outsider understands. It’s different, though, in Israel where everyone serves. I myself have two sons in the IDF.
“When the war broke out,. I was itching to do something, to contribute. I spoke to my friend Esther Schomberg in Efrat, a B’nei Menashe like myself. We' had already joined forces several months before to send food and medicine to our people in Manipur who were the victims of ethnic cleansing. Now, Esther told me about an organization called Unity Warriors that concentrates on aiding the IDF. We went back to our B”nei Menashe donors and friends of a few months ago and they gave whatever they could, even though most were still supporting families in Manipur. The funds we raised helped to buy extra provisions for our soldiers. I’m also volunteering with the rest of the women of Beit El, arranging for food to be delivered to soldiers wherever it’s needed. I’m doing all I can.
Aviela Singsit, 52, from the city of Migdal ha-Emek in the Lower Galilee:
“Though I live in Migdal ha-Emek I run a business managing guest houses in in the old neighborhood of Tzfat [Safed]. Together with a partner, I rent five such houses to tourists. I divide my time between the two places and sometimes spend Shabbat in Tiberias where my son lives with his wife and small children, so I’m on the move a lot.
“When the war started, my son was called up at once for reserve duty. I wasn’t worried about my grandchildren and daughter-in-law because they had moved in with her parents, and so when I heard that there were soldiers in the north who needed lodging and meals, I offered them one of my guest houses. There are six or seven of them staying in it now. I’m glad to contribute what I can. I know many B’nei Menashe in Migdal HaEmek, Tiberias, and Tzfat who are donating small sums to the war effort even though they are hard-pressed for money. When I’m approached, I’m happy to give.
Rivka Lunkhel, 51, from Kiryat Arba, outside Hebron:
“Ever since the war began, the women in our B’nei Menashe community been trying to give all the help we can to our sons, brothers, and husbands who have been called up. Things haven’t been as well-organized as they might have been, but we’ve managed to contribute, mostly sending personal items like soap, shampoo, toothbrushes, tooth paste, toilet papers, and so on that aren’t issued by the army. Some of us contributed the actual items and some gave money.
“That’s been one part. But we women have another weapon of our own: our prayers. I’ve been involved in two WhatsApp groups, one consisting of 400 B’nei Menashe and the other of Israeli women in general. We coordinate things so that from the time we wake in the morning until we go to bed at night, there isn’t a moment when one us isn’t praying for our soldiers or reciting Psalms. Everyone takes her turn for five or ten minutes, and when it’s ended, she sends out a message and someone else takes over. There have been days on which we were able to recite all 150 psalms from beginning to end – and on top of that, we have to work, cook, and look after our families. We’ll keep it up as long as necessary.
“I should also say that I’m one of the few B’nei Menashe mothers to have a daughter in the army, in fact, two. The older one Yael has been called up for reserve and our second youngest, Shirel, is serving. She’s always been doted on by us, and on that fateful Sabbath she was patrolling the perimeter of Gaza with her platoon. When they were attacked by Hamas, they took cover in their personnel carriers and called for reinforcements. There was a firefight in which three of Shirel’s fellow soldiers were injured, two boys and a girl, and a vehicle was destroyed.
“The fighting lasted 12 hours, but they stood their ground heroically and in the end the attackers were driven off and a helicopter evacuated the wounded. When things like that happen, there’s nothing you can do but pray and and leave the rest to God. I have faith He’ll look after Shirel.”.