Lost tribe finds roots


Twelve Jewish youngsters from the lost tribe of Menashe in Manipur have just begun studying at ORT India in Bombay. The Manipuri Jewish community sees itself as descendants of the Menashe Tribe, one of the10 lost tribes of Israel. They believe that after their forefathers were exiled and enslaved by the Assyrians they escaped from slavery and arrived in China, and eventually settled in the northeast part of India. In 1951, a movement for the Manipuri to return to Judaism emerged. Some members of the community contacted Israeli rabbis to begin learning about Judaism, after which many emigrated to Israel and converted to Judaism through strict laws. The Jews who do remain in Manipur, however, have a very poor quality of life. Many of their homes are bamboo and mud shacks without electricity or running water. The community centre functions as a synagogue and occupies rented space. There are not enough siddurim for everyone to use and the community lacks a full-sized Torah, using instead miniature versions printed on paper. During a visit to Bombay in November 2000, secretary of the B’nai Menashe Council, Mr Lemeul Haokip, met with the director of ORT India Dr Edward Haemms, at which time Haokip stressed the importance of sending some Jewish youth from Manipur to begin courses at ORT. ‘This is a major breakthrough and we are hoping that we will admit several more students in the near future,’ said Haeems. In addition to Jewish education courses and bakery classes where they learn how to make challah, pupils are learning computer skills and basic electronics. Six members of the group, who are young women, are also learning hairdressing and beauty care. Starting on February 15, 2001, all of the students from Manipur will be enrolled in a government recognized six-month certificate course in Information Technology. The 12 students, who began classes on January 2 of this year, were chosen out a group of 30 who applied to come to ORT India for vocational training and Jewish education. More youngsters wanted to participate, however, many could not afford to make the journey. There have also been requests for ORT to accommodate students aged 9 to 12 from Manipur so that they can have a formal Jewish education. Dr Haeems said that ORT India is seriously considering this proposal but the initiative will require funds for accommodation, clothing, transportation, books and stationery for these additional students.