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Monday, December 2, 2013

  By Yochanan Phaltual - Shavei Israel Administrator, India

Language is one instrument that serves to communicate people. It is an essential for conveying our thoughts and feelings and it is a means to express our mind in a way that involves our whole person.

Language serves as a bond of unity. We know that our language HEBREW is a sacred language with which G-d created the universe, and it is the Holy Tongue through which He gave us the Torah at Mount Sinai.

The use of sacred language is a tradition in the whole world. In Hinduism, the language of prayer is Sanskrit, which is no longer in use. In Buddhism, Pali is used, a language that today only Buddhist monks study. In Islam, Arabic is used for the sacred book Quran, which is also the language used only by the Arabs and not by every Muslims. In Christianity, Latin is the liturgical language, but today it is replace almost totally by vernacular language so much so that many Christians today could hardly recite a “Pater Noster (The Lord’s prayer)” in Latin.

Interestingly, like the olive oil of Khanukah, Hebrew language survives the test of all time. Hebrew remains a unifying force that has nourished the life of the Jews till today.

No doubt, Hebrew is our language and the key of Bnei Menashe to identify ourselves as a Jew. However, Israel is a land of “diversity in unity” as Jewish people from different parts of the world immigrated and settled there.

What about the Bnei Menashe language used in diaspora when living in the Holy Land, is it still valuable and indispensable?

Language is a culture and it is part of our identity. Like any other new olim (immigrants) in other countries, Bnei Menashe also has a hard time fitting into the larger society and culture. One of the most challenging is language. For the last 20 years, the small group of Bnei Menashe in Israel faces many problems of adaption. The children born in Israel and the younger immigrants are less likely (or not at all) to speak their “diaspora language” mainly because the schools they attend, the music they listen to, the television they watch and the language they used at home is Hebrew. This created a hiatus between parents and children relationship and not to speak at all the older immigrants.

The older generation being more protective of their culture heritage tends to keep themselves with the diaspora language. Isolationism of older generation from the new generation is a great threat due to language barrier.

However, under the aegis and new revolution created by the Shavei Israel, the speed of Aliyah is continuing and getting faster. One great side effect and side benefit is the breaking of the language obstacles.

To have a second language in Eretz Israel is like to have a second entity and soul. Bilingual of Bnei Menashe would in advertantly promote mutual understanding and sense of oneness among Bnei Menashe. It would also learn new way looking the world between the older and younger generation. Switching two languages will develop unity and will become an instrument of communication to influence personality, inspiration, comfort, appreciation, establish cordial relationship, settle dispute and make peace with in the Bnei Menashe community.

Our language of diaspora has been a gift of G-d and it has been in existence for more hundreds of years. Bnei Menase culture has a strong oral narrative tradition and the preservation of our language represents a preservation of our culture as well as our community.

We should not be shy to use and promote our diaspora language in Eretz Israel. Olim from the US and Europe also brought in their native language as a mark of their identity. To speak our diaspora language never makes us less a Bnei Menashe or a Jew. We find from the teaching of our Sages that our forefathers in the Bible like Yosef HaTzaddik, Moshe Rabbeinu and Mordeccai of Sushan were acquainted with 70 languages and this make them mastery over their peers.

The bottom line is learn and use Hebrew our Holy Tongue but also promote and advocate our diaspora language. Have pride in your culture.

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