“The feast of unleavened bread shalt thou keep; seven days thou shalt eat unleavened bread…” Exodus 23:15 (The Israel Bible™)
The Bnei Menashe community across the remote northeastern Indian state of Manipur have begun preparing for Passover this week. On Thursday, the community baked matzah, the traditional unleavened bread of Passover at the Shavei Israel Hebrew Center in Churachandpur.
“In the far-flung regions of northeastern India, thousands of Bnei Menashe will sit down on Passover eve to conduct the traditional Seder, which embodies the hope they have been nurturing for generations: to make aliyah (immigrate to Israel) and return to the land of their ancestors, the Land of Israel,” commented Shavei Israel Founder and Chairman Michael Freund.
“The experience of seeing the entire community kneading, rolling, and then baking the dough – all as the timer calls out the minutes is amazing,” added 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,” emphasized Haokip.
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. 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.
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.
“Over the past four years, we have brought over 1,200 Bnei Menashe to Israel,” pointed out Freund. “We hope that after 27 centuries of exile, the remaining 7,000 Bnei Menashe still in India will be able to celebrate Passover next year in Jerusalem.”