24 Jan Bnei Menashe Aliyah Profile: Lyon Fanai – keeping Shabbat pushes this independent Indian to Israel
In the winter, when the sun begins to set earlier and earlier on Friday afternoons, observant Jews living in the Diaspora all encounter a similar problem: they must leave work before their colleagues in order to be home in time for the start of Shabbat. It’s true whether one lives in Indiana or India.
The need to explain one’s religious behavior to non-Jewish peers is exacerbated when a two-day holiday comes along and additional days need to be taken off.
As a result, observant Jews frequently set up their own businesses, so they can be in charge of their schedules without a boss looking askance.
That was the main reason Lyon Fanai opened an independent desktop publishing and computer-aided textile design firm in Mizoram, India.
“Requesting a day or two off from the office for a Jewish festival was definitely a problem,” Fanai tells Shavei Israel. “I ultimately had to leave the company where I was working.”
The Shabbat day-off conundrum hit him again when he served as the secretary in a voluntary organization.
“I would need to call meetings not on Shabbat and festivals,” he explained. “Though my colleagues tried to understand, it created a lot of questions. That’s when I realized that the best way to be observant in India was for me to establish my own work.”
Fanai knew that there was one place in the world where he could get the balance right: Israel. And he knew that Shavei Israel was helping the Bnei Menashe make it to the Holy Land.
It took nearly 15 years of waiting, Fanai said, but now he is ready to reboot his observant Jewish life in the world’s one and only Jewish State: Fanai is part of the latest group of close to 100 Bnei Menashe who will be making aliyah from India in the coming weeks with the help of Shavei Israel.
Lyon Fanai, 50, studied political science and graphic design in college. His wife, who will be making aliyah with him, is a hairdresser. He has a younger brother and sister, but they will not be joining him in Israel at this time.
Fanai has been active organizing Shavei Israel programs in Mizoram and teaching Hebrew and Judaism to his fellow Bnei Menashe. He is a leader and advisor to his local community.
Learning more about his Jewish roots has always been important to him.
As he became more observant as an adult, Fanai says he had to “tackle a lot of questions both from inside and outside the community.” Fanai collected books on Jewish topics “from wherever I could.” At one point, an Australian Jewish donor sent five books from the set “The Midrash Says.” Shavei Israel Chairman Michael Freund gave Fanai a book called “Inside Purim.
“I’ve been able to use these books to teach community members in India and to answer their basic questions,” Fanai says.
Fanai also surfs a number of Jewish websites – JewsforJudaism.org was a favorite, he says. “It was like a virtual yeshiva for me.”
Based on his thirst for knowledge, in 2009, Fanai applied and was selected to participate in the 21st annual Nahum Goldmann Fellowship, a Jewish leadership training program held in alternating years at the Sea of Galilee in Israel. Shavei Israel sponsored Fanai.
Fanai calls making aliyah “a duty and a mitzvah, to be the torch-bearers for all of humanity and to fulfill the obligations prescribed by the Torah.”
Still, there is sadness mixed with the joy: he is leaving more than a dozen family members back in India.
But Fanai is coming with an optimistic attitude. “I will accept whatever comes,” he says. “But first, I need to learn all about my new environment.”
Current events in Israel don’t frighten Fanai.
“I’ve gone through a lot of challenges in my life. As a result, I always keep my faith,” he says. “To find strength while waiting for the right moment is the most important lesson I’ve learned.”
Lyon Fanai will need that strength as he now embarks on perhaps his life’s greatest adventure. We have no doubt he will find it.
“Having wisdom, insight and knowledge are the greatest opportunities that G-d has bestowed upon me,” he says.
Let us say “Amen” and Baruch Haba – welcome to Israel’s newest Bnei Menashe immigrant. And may he finally obtain a true Friday afternoon balance!