In 2005, then-Sephardi chief rabbi Shlomo Amar formally recognized the Bnei Menashe community as descendants of Manasseh, one of the Ten Lost Tribes, exiled from the Land of Israel more than 2,700 years ago. Though the community practiced a biblical form of Judaism, including some Sabbath observance, as well as laws of family purity and circumcision on the eighth day after birth, Rabbi Amar’s ruling required them to undergo formal conversion to Judaism after immigrating to Israel.
(Note: At the time of my interview with the couple, Avi did not speak English or Hebrew. He spoke with Galith in the Kuki language. Galith, whose English is fluent, translated for Avi. “My hubby,” she calls him).
Avi recalls how he met Galith: “In our community, it was customary for a man to marry the daughter of his mother’s brother (his first cousin). But I chose Galith. She was 18 years old at the time and we met in secondary school in Assam.” Galith smiles and adds: “And I was attracted to Avi.”
Galith describes their betrothal: “In accordance with our tradition, Avi’s parents came to my home carrying sweets, a teapot and tea. When they poured the tea for my parents, they officially asked for my hand. The custom was to ask three times.”
Avi adds: “We did not have a religious wedding ceremony.” That would take another 15 years, during which time the couple raised three children, immersed themselves in Jewish study and practice, and worked to fulfill the dream of their ancestors – to return to the Holy Land. In an emotional moment, Galith shares a significant memory: “Every Friday night when I would recite the blessing over the candles, I would add the following prayer: May this be the last candle that I light in India.”
When their prayers were finally answered, the couple thanked the Almighty with the traditional expression, “Baruch Hashem.” They are also grateful to Shavei Israel, a Jerusalem-based nonprofit, that provided them with Jewish learning opportunities in Manipur, prepared them for aliyah and is currently facilitating their absorption. Over the past 15 years the organization has given aid to 3,000 Bnei Menashe. According to their estimates, there are over 7,000 members of the community still awaiting aliyah.
In November 2017, Galith and Avi were among 162 immigrants who made aliyah under the auspices of Shavei Israel. One month later, when they visited the mikve (ritual bath) for their formal conversion, the group numbered 164. Two mothers had given birth.
The same evening after their immersion, Galith and Avi, along with eight other B’nei Menashe couples, were married in a group ceremony at Shavei Israel’s absorption center in Kfar Hasidim. The brides, ranging in age from 23-45, wore traditional white wedding dresses. Shavei Israel founder and chairman, Michael Freund, extended his greetings: “They have now been remarried in a traditional Jewish wedding ceremony which symbolizes the new lives they are building in the Jewish state.”
When asked what dreams they have for their three children, Galith and Avi responded: “We’re happy whomever they marry. As long as they’re Jewish and love each other.”
Photo credit: Courtesy of the Singson family/Shavei Israel