You know the day is going to be interesting when everyone is talking about a mysterious sacrifice that is going to take place. It was my second day in a little village in Manipur, India and that’s what was on everyone’s lips. Yes, a sacrifice; you heard that right. I was baffled as well. Everyone seemed to know about this ‘sacrifice’ that we were to go and witness, but they found it amusing letting me guess and wonder…in particular what (or who?) was to be sacrificed…

For all the drama, it was actually, well, quite dramatic! We drove through a quaint little village of small houses with thatched roofs, dusty roads, and lots of goats, chickens and children wandering about, some drawing water from a common well. A village where time seems to have stood still for many decades.

We arrived at a tidy cottage with a wrap-around porch, where Reuven, the young man who was my driver in Manipur, lives with his family. Waiting for us on the porch were a number of traditionally dressed Bnai Menashe, both young men and women, and elderly ones as well. The yard was set up with chairs in a semi circle around a wooden post with a feathered basket dangling from the top. A large white chicken was prancing around the post, connected by a string tied around his foot. (At least now I knew what was to be sacrificed!)

It was almost authentic...if you take out the Channel 10 news camera...

The cast of characters including the unsuspecting chicken. Photo: Laura Ben-David

They proceeded with an elaborate ceremony led by a ‘high priest’. It was surreal. I was bewildered, trying to understand what was happening, and how it related to Bnai Menashe. Turns out it was a mock sacrifice. Well, not to the chicken it wasn’t as he ended up just as dead…(yes, it was revolting. I’ll spare you the details.) The point of performing it was to demonstrate a practice that the Bnai Menashe have always done until the time that they were reunited with modern Jewry and understood that the practice of ‘korbanot ‘ – sacrifices – was no longer done. What was incredible was seeing how many details of their practice was straight from the Jewish playbook of korbanot: covering the blood, sprinkling on the altar, removal of the intestines with the rest going to G-d…It was truly remarkable!

To complete the feel of the ancient tradition, everyone was snapping pictures with cameras and iPhones, and the Channel 10 crew from Israel (there to do a piece on Bnai Menashe) was rolling their camera the whole time. Alright, so it was almost authentic 😉

That was one sacrifice. And a mock one at that. But there is very real sacrifice taking place among the Bnai Menashe: Aliyah.

I’ve heard people talk about the Bnai Menashe as if they were living in slums and Aliyah was their ticket out. Nothing could be further from the truth. Granted most of the people reading my blogs may not consider their simple villages to be up to their standards but frankly what we feel is irrelevant. The Bnai Menashe are not to be pitied. They are not unhappy or looking to leave. They make Aliyah because that is the dream of the Jewish people despite the fact that it will actually be quite challenging for them.

We took some time to meet with some of the families who were packing up for their imminent departure for Israel. The families ranged from simple farm workers, to highly educated professionals. For which of these people was Aliyah going to be their ‘ticket to a better life’? The farm workers who would, at best, get farming jobs or other blue collar work? Or the highly educated professionals? Naturally they have the huge learning curve of the Hebrew language, plus whatever different cultural nuances exist in their professions.

You want to hear real sacrifice? One of the young men had just completed his master’s degree and was about to go on for his doctorate in Social Anthropology but gave it up to make Aliyah.

Family about to make Aliyah

Family from Manipur about to make Aliyah. The son on the left gave up going for his doctorate to move to Israel. The daughter (middle) was a nurse in India. Photo: Laura Ben-David

Is their life going to be better because they are making Aliyah? Maybe, maybe not. But, you see, that is the one thing that they are not even considering. They are making Aliyah because it is the Jewish dream. The Bnai Menashe have no problem making a sacrifice for something that they believe in.

Still wondering about the Bnai Menashe? You wouldn’t believe what their Shabbat is like. Stay tuned…

Click here to read more of my posts chronicling the homecoming of Bnei Menashe.

[Addendum: Since posting people have asked how they can help. Shavei Israel is a private organization that works tirelessly to help the Bnai Menashe and other lost Jews to return. Donations are graciously accepted.]