The Bnei Menashe community throughout the remote northeastern Indian state of Manipur has begun preparing for Passover at the Shavei Israel Hebrew Center in Churachandpur.
“The experience of seeing the entire community kneading, rolling, and then baking the dough – all as the timer calls out the minutes – is amazing,” said Ohaliav Haokip, 31, of Churachandpur. “Everyone present can feel the pressure of baking the matzah in time – it’s reminiscent of Biblical times, and our forefathers’ hurrying to flee Egypt. I especially loved seeing the children lending helping hands regardless of their skill levels. I hope for a very special Seder this year – and next year in Jerusalem!”
The Bnei Menashe are descendants of the tribe of Manasseh, one of the Ten Lost Tribes exiled from the Land of Israel more than 2,700 years ago by the Assyrian empire. So far, some 3,000 Bnei Menashe have made aliyah thanks to Shavei Israel, including more than 1,100 in the past four years and an additional 102 who arrived in Israel from Mizoram, India, in February. Some 7,000 Bnei Menashe remain in India waiting for the chance to return home to Zion.
Down through the generations and into the last century, the Bnei Menashe continued to practice Biblical Judaism and marked Passover with a number of rituals, which included the removal of any bread from their homes and refraining from its consumption during the holiday as well as offering the Passover sacrifice. In addition, each village priest would recite a series of ancient prayers, such as “Miriam’s Song,” which echoed the Biblical account of the Exodus and its aftermath, describing how their ancestors – the Bnei Menashe – were redeemed from slavery in Egypt, crossed the Red Sea and were guided by a pillar of fire and clouds of glory until they reached Zion.
In recent decades, the Bnei Menashe have embraced contemporary Judaism and adopted its practices.
Photos courtesy of Shavei Israel