Bnei Menashe aliyah profile: Itzkhak Fanai – the singing carpenter

Bnei Menashe aliyah profile: Itzkhak Fanai – the singing carpenter

Ever hear the one about the singing carpenter? His name is Itzkhak Fanai and, along with his wife and young son, he’ll be making aliyah in early 2017.

Itzkhak is one of 100 Bnei Menashe who will be immigrating from the Indian state of Mizoram next year with Shavei Israel’s help. We spoke to Itzkhak to learn more about his life in India and what he is looking forward to upon his arrival in Israel.

Aizawl, the skyscraper capital of Mizoram

Aizawl, the skyscraper capital of Mizoram

Itzkhak, 30, gets his nickname through a combination of his profession and his religious training. By day, he builds cabinets and closets; on weekends, he is a cantor at the Bnei Menashe synagogue in Aizawl, the scenic capital known as the “Hong Kong” of Mizoram (for its surprising skyscrapers in the midst of rural India).

Like many Bnei Menashe, Itzkhak came to Judaism in his teens when his family discovered their Bnei Menashe roots.

“I was really amazed…and surprised” he says. Itzkhak still has family members who have not joined the community and who he says “don’t understand” his family’s decision to keep Shabbat, kosher and the laws of family purity.

Fortunately, Itzhkak adds that he was never discriminated against once he embraced Judaism and never experienced any anti-Semitism in India. The biggest problem the community has today is that there is no shochet (ritual slaughterer) in Aizawl – meaning no kosher meat is available.

Itzkhak hopes to continue in his current profession in Israel once he learns Hebrew, but is open to “whatever decent job I can find if the necessity arises.” His main goals are “to be good father, to make my family happy, and to take care of my family’s welfare, both religiously and economically. I will try my best to be a useful person for the community and for Israel. I am ready to help others and to serve the Jewish nation.”

He certainly demonstrated that in India: in 2013, Itzkhak participated in our seminar for Shavei Israel “Fellows” in Sikkim, India. Following that, he taught Hebrew and Judaism to other Bnei Menashe.

It’s not surprising, then, that his talents and dedication are now being acknowledged by placing his family high on the latest aliyah list. “I’ve been waiting to make aliyah for almost ten years,” he says. “It was hard to see other Bnei Menashe making aliyah while we had to stay behind. But Shavei Israel gave us hope.”

He is most excited about being able to “observe Shabbat and the holidays peacefully” in Israel and “to see and pray at the Kotel” (the Western Wall).

If you visit Upper Nazareth, where the Fanai family will be living, and you hear a carpenter practicing his hazanut (cantorial skills) while hammering nails, make sure to say hello. That’s undoubtedly Itzkhak Fanai.

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Brian Blum
Brian Blum
brianblum@gmail.com