Avior Kholhring 88 298.
(photo credit: Upper Nazareth Illit Absorption Center.)
On November 22, Avior Kholhring, 35, his wife Donna and their three children, Randy, 15; Aaron, 10; and Tamar, six; were part of the historic aliya of 219 Bnei Menashe from Manipur and Mizoram, India. Mizoram, the Kholhrings' home, is located in northeast India, a mountainous region bordered by Myanmar (Burma) and Bangladesh. The Bnei Menashe claim descent from the Tribe of Manasseh, one of the Ten Lost Tribes. They relate their history of exile from the Northern Kingdom of Israel 2,700 years ago, across the Silk Route and finally ending up in India and Myanmar.
Most of the residents of Mizoram were converted to Christianity in 1894. But Kholhring tells of the stories that were passed down from generation to generation in his family, always with the emphasis that they were descendents of Manasseh. "I first heard this from my grandfather," he says, "and I began to study Jewish texts to see what the significance of this was. This led to my full conversion to Judaism."
Kholhring vividly recalls a story his grandfather told him about people traveling from town to town and knocking on doors to ask for shelter for the night. The hosts would call through the door, "Are you good guests or bad guests?" "We are children of Manasseh, we are good guests," would come the answer, and the host would know that they were from the tribe of Manasseh.
His uncle is a pastor and his close relations practice Christianity. However, Kholhring knew that his ancestors were not Christian. He began to read the Bible and to learn about Judaism, and when he made the connection between the lost tribe of Manasseh and the Jewish people, he knew that he must be Jewish. Many of his wife's family made aliya previously and live in Afula, Beit El and Ofra.
Kholhring was born in Manipur, where his father ran a business exporting hand-woven clothing to Mizoram. He received his BA in history from Manipur University, where he met his wife,who has a BA in political science. When civil war broke out between local tribes in Manipur, Kholhring's father sent him to Mizoram to oversee the business. He made sure the clothes were sent to the market on time, collected the money and sent it back to his father.
Kholhring and his wife lived in Aizawl, the capital of Mizoram. They began studying Judaism at the Hebrew Center in Aizawl established by Shavei Israel. "It was here that we learned Halacha, to pray from a siddur, Jewish rituals, Hebrew and songs. We learned about Israel and knew that one day we would come home. People from the villages sold their belongings to rent a house in the city and study at the center," he says.
Kholhring and his two sons were circumcised in 2001 in a private clinic. In 2005, members of a rabbinical court came to Mizoram from Israel and Kholhring and the entire family underwent conversion. "We knew that we would come to Israel, because God promised to bring together his exiled people in the Promised Land."
"I thanked God the minute we set foot in Israel for giving us this wonderful opportunity," says Kholhring. "We all felt so incredibly happy."
He and his family were greeted at the airport by many well-wishers, including the director of the Jewish Agency's Upper Nazareth absorption center, their first home. "We went directly from the airport to the absorption center. I feel completely at home here. Our children are also really happy to be here."
Kholhring is also grateful to the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews and its founder, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, for funding their aliya.
"We do not have a routine yet," Kholhring says, "but we are getting our new lives organized." With the assistance of the absorption center staff, the Kholhrings have opened a bank account, signed up with a health fund and will soon get their ID cards. They are also looking into schools for their children.
Shortly, the family will begin their routine with the other residents of the absorption center, studying Hebrew in the morning, and taking part in cultural activities and field trips to get to know their new country in the afternoons.
"We do not need much," Kholhring says. "We brought money with us, in dollars of course, and we are getting a monthly stipend from the Jewish Agency."
With the death of his father, the dispersion of his brother and two sisters to Delhi and Kholhring's aliya, the family business has closed, so Kholhring is not earning any additional income.
"I am sure we will manage," he says.
Kholhring speaks Mizo, Hindi, English, Manipur and basic Hebrew. He is looking forward to becoming completely fluent in Hebrew.
Since arrival, the Kholhring family has made friends with Argentinean, Russian and Ethiopian families living at the absorption center. "Our daughter is already practicing Hebrew with her young friend from Argentina," Kholhring says with smile. "We are like a family here, all of us sharing the same experiences and our desire to build a home in Israel."
In Mizoram, Kholhring put a hat over his kippa, because the neighbors laughed at him. After conversion he did not eat meat. "We are Jewish in every sense of the word," he says.
While living in Mizoram, Kholhring was the bookkeeper for his aunt's school, which had almost 1,000 students. He thinks he may be able to find work in this field, with the assistance of a professional retraining course.
Donna was an English teacher in Mizoram and would like to continue in this profession.
"We've dreamed of coming to Israel for many years. I don't foresee any real obstacles. We have already overcome the greatest obstacles - becoming Jews and coming to Israel."
Having arrived less than a month ago, Kholhring is not sure of his plans. "Right now, everything is upside down. I can't even think about the future."
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