Ethnic violence in India endangering lives of Bnei Menashe

Ethnic violence in India endangering lives of Bnei Menashe

After years of inter-ethnic tension, fighting broke out last month between the majority Meitei people and the 50,000-strong tribal minority Kukis. The Jewish tribe, the Bnei Menashe, aligned with the Kuki, were caught in the crossfire. 

Michael Freund, the chairman of the organization Shavei Israel, told Isael365News that over 1,000 members of the community, or 20% of their total, have been displaced. One community member was killed, and another was shot in the chest and is hospitalized. Two synagogues and mikvehs, or ritual baths, were burned down. An estimated 292 Bnei Menashe families have fled to Kuki-majority hill areas within Manipur or to the nearby state of Mizoram, according to Shavei Israel.

Yosef Vaiphei from Beth El Langol in Manipur described his ordeal.“It has been a tough month for me and my family as we try to come to terms with what’s happened. We’ve felt shocked, helpless, hurt, sad, tired, numb, and angry at the same time.”

T<em>he Sefer Torah in Sajal Manipur that was burnt photo credit Shavei Israel<em>

Yosef’s younger brother Samuel Vaiphei, who got married just a month ago, works for Shavei Israel and was in Churachandpur occupied with the work regarding the aliyah process for the next Bnei Menashe group to move to Israel; his family was in Imphal where the worst violence was taking place. They were separated because of the violence.

Samuel remains in Churachandpur and is busy with the distribution of food to the Bnei Menashe refugees and is running a medical center.

Yosef writes, “It has been a tough month for me and my family as we try to come to terms with what’s happened. We’ve felt shocked, helpless, hurt, sad, tired, numb, and angry at the same time.

“It was on the eve of May 3rd, 2023 around at 6:00 pm, a group of the Meitei organization [ethnic group in northeast India] numbering more than a thousand, with the help of Manipur State Police, attacked my residence at Newlambulane 3rd Street, Imphal East.

“Defenseless, we had to hide under our beds for cover. Stones rained at our residence as we were helpless but luckily the miscreants were unlucky to try and break down our main gate and enter my place. The attack lasted for around 10 minutes, after which they retreated. We packed our bags and important documents and had to take shelter in our neighbor’s garage where we spent the night.

“After a short while, the miscreants came back again and started attacking where they successfully took down our residence gate and ransacked our house, and destroyed our vehicles.

“The next morning, with the help of the Indian Army, we were escorted to Leimakhong Red Shield Army Camp where we took refuge for the next 5 days. From there, we moved to Guwahati and have been staying in a hotel. With the current situation in Imphal right now, it looks like I won’t be going back home any sooner.

“No words can bring back what we’ve lost but I’m sharing my journey.”

“This is one of the gravest crises the Bnei Menashe in India have ever experienced,” Freund said. “More than 80 percent of the Bnei Menashe Jews in northeastern India reside in the state of Manipur. The Bnei Menashe have been hit hard by the unrest.

“As soon as the violence erupted, Shavei Israel went into action. Utilizing our staff on the ground in Manipur and Mizoram, as well as our extensive network of volunteers, we established four relief centers for Bnei Menashe refugees, delivered thousands of kilograms of food, clothing, and other basic necessities to those in need, and helped dozens of families to relocate from Manipur to the neighboring state of Mizoram.”

“Shavei Israel is doing everything in our power to assist the Bnei Menashe who were affected by the violence. We are grateful to the Jewish Agency for Israel and the UJA-Federation of New York for providing support for our ongoing relief efforts and we call on world Jewry to join us in helping the Bnei Menashe in their hour of need.”

The Bnei Menashe (sons of Manasseh) claim descent from one of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel who were sent into exile by the Assyrian Empire more than 27 centuries ago. Their ancestors wandered through Central Asia and the Far East for centuries, before settling in what is now northeastern India, along the border with Burma and Bangladesh. Throughout their sojourn in exile, the Bnei Menashe continued to practice Judaism just as their ancestors did, including observing the Sabbath, keeping kosher, celebrating the festivals and following the laws of family purity. And they continued to nourish the dream of one day returning to the land of their ancestors, the Land of Israel.

Shavei Israel is raising funds to help the Bnei Menashe at this website.

Thus far, a total of 292 Bnei Menashe families (numbering 1,190 men, women and children) have been forced to flee their homes in the past few weeks since the violence began between the Meitei and Kuki tribes and most have been left destitute.

In the southern Manipur district of Churachandpur, Shavei Israel has opened a relief center to assist 125 families (out of the 292) that have sought refuge there. We have been arranging for temporary shelter for the families and have been distributing food packages containing rice, lentils, vegetables and other basic items. In addition, we have given diapers and baby formula to parents with infants, medicine to the sick and elderly, and we have also purchased clothing such as shirts, pants, undergarments, etc. since many of the refugees were forced to flee their homes and leave all their belongings behind. 

The remaining 152 Bnei Menashe refugee families (out of the 292) are spread out in three other locations where Shavei Israel has opened relief centers. In Kangpokpi, Manipur, we are helping 17 families; in the border town of Moreh we are providing aid to 90 families; and in the neighboring state of Mizoram, where 60 Bnei Menashe families fled from Manipur, we are assisting them as well.

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