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HISTORY OF BNEI MENASHE: THE ROAD NOT TAKEN

Thursday, December 16, 2010


Neglected History Revisited 
Yonathan Haokip


In this article, I want to share my own introspection regarding the setback of Bnei Menashe in regards to their own history and tradition. My aim is to reflect the ‘mirror of Bnei Menashe’ to the best of my experience.

Everything was going fine, just fine until, suddenly in the midst of warm summer in 2010, did I realize the need to educate the young generation of the Bnei Menashe about their own history and tradition – at least in brief.

Today’s young generation of Bnei Menashe need to realize the importance of learning their history. Many of us ignored or did not care to study; they rely on our elders of the community for this. Many of us stick religiously with Judaism or being Jews. I heard a report from my friend another day that a journalist came to interrogate one of the young man well-educate from Bnei Menashe, because he speaks English. When the journalist ask him about their history, his answer was ‘I don’t know’ I was bemused by this report and insist what I heard was untrue. So, I asked my friend what he would say if he were in place of that young man. Now, my friend was no better. This surprises me and saddened me more.

So now the question arise, Who is responsible? If a well-educated young man can’t answer a simple question. Its obvious that most of the young generation won’t be able to face such question again in India and in Israel. We have no idea of where we came from, who we are? Moreover forget the history, I hate to admit that those children who made aliyah a decade ago did not understand their own language.

The question is where will they learn from? Who is to educate them?  It is incumbent for every person to know and to make it known to everyone. We should not forget that we are recognized by what we are and where we came from.

If we don’t know who we are, then we don’t have to right to claim who are we.

After analyzing, I observed that there are various reason why history is neglected. First, the young generation did not bother to take the pain to study their own history. Second, no parents dare teach history at home. Third in most public gatherings, only Torah and halakha are the point of discussion. This is no room left for our history. Even if there is time to discuses history, no one would take a step to attend it. So in most case, History of Jews or History from the Bible is main topic. Worse of all, no one put a question on the subject. Everyone thinks they knew it, but they just don’t care.

If this goes on, what would be the outcome, I think we should aim to beautify ourselves. We all should be in a position to explain every definition of our history. Understand our own history is vital instrument for our promotion as well.

Neglecting history will not only makes ourselves doubt to others, but even to our self. When we think deeply, this could be the curse of our love for negligence.

Let us interrogate ourselves, how far are we going to move without knowledge of our own history. Most of today’s youngsters’ minds are inculcating with the seed that has sown and drift further away from story of their originator. Who is to blame? Not a single soul is left to be spared, to be held responsible; we all are the convict and victim of our own negligence.

I am not a social scientist. However when I think about the future of Bnei Menashe I debate myself on how to  reform our ways of promoting our identities. We have been blessed with culture, history, tradition and language. Of course, we are proud to be a Jews. However to know one’s identity is vital, without which no nations thrive to exist. We need to give space in our life to retain our identities wherever we are. We have customs, legends, history of our own and language as well. We have our own ways of making Matza. I’ve heard that Morrocan Jews (If I am not wrong) still practice making their own Matza (hand made) which they still retain this tradition even in Israel today. We have our own too.

Language: Barrier of Intimation:
Likewise, its important to retain those tradition which keeps are still  alive. Maintaining our own language in Israel is vital. Its an expression of bond that exist between people and family as well.  Its is sad to learn that our children in Israel can’t understand their own language. Are we going to give hope to ourselves that they will follow us when our own children did not speak their own language when they are young? Did anyone think that he/she will love his/her brethren when he/she does not speak their language? Man in nature has the tendency of love towards their fellow beings who speaks the same language. Children are bound to know Hebrew even if you forbid them. So parents can be a linguistic teacher at home. Language has to be the focal point for unity and love amongst us.

I have few suggestions to come out of this Disease of Negligence of our own history and languages. Negligence is not a crime to be punished, but a disease to be cure. History must be studied at home before aliyah, everyone should be well versed in it. At home-town in Manipur, we have Shavei Israel Fellowship who conducts Siur every week. They can impart the knowledge, but it is the congregation/public who has to initiate a request to Shavei leaders.

Secondly, it if the community did not make any request for special class on history, then, as authority vested in them, member all Shavei Fellowship has the rights and responsibilities to educate their own community. My experience has taught me that only Torah and Halakha etc are taught in most Siur programe and history and other issues in regards to culture and traditions are neglected.

Thirdly, each one of us, everyone, including me, have to put effort to know more of our own history. It depends on individual as well. If we don’t know our history, who will?

 So I took the pain to post History of Bnei Menashe in brief on by blog http://www.history-of-bnei-menashe.co.cc/ in English. I would like anyone to translate it in Hebrew for youngster in Israel. I am working on the same to post in our Bnei Menashe languages as well in near feature.

Finally, I am happy to know that tradition of naming a baby is still prevalent. Its customary to start the first syllable of a baby boy, from the last syllable of the name of his granddad. So the name itself can be used to trance the roots from where he came from.

To wrap up, its not an easy job to judges someone on something, someone is going to like it and someone not.

If we are good to point other’s failure we must also be good in rectifying the failure.

We all have to take part in it, to strengthen Bnei Menashe.

Yonathan Haokip
Member Shavei Fellowship, 2010.
Mumbai

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