23 Dec Operation Menashe: Meet Harel Kingbol, making aliyah from Mizoram
Shavei Israel is now intensively preparing for “Operation Menashe” – the next wave of Bnei Menashe aliyah from India – which will bring 899 people to Israel over the next 15 months. The first group of immigrants is from Mizoram and will be arriving at the end of this week! It’s the first such operation from the Indian state with the second largest Bnei Menashe population in nearly 7 years. We present for you here the third in our series of profiles of Bnei Menashe families who will be arriving shortly in the Jewish state. Meet Harel Kingbol.
For nearly 20 years, Harel Kingbol has dreamt of making aliyah to Israel so that his children “never face the same trouble and suffering as I did growing up,” he says. For Kingbol, the suffering started when he was 9-years-old: that’s when he had his brit milah (ritual circumcision). In the Indian state of Mizoram, where he lives, Kingbol explains that no doctor would perform circumcision until that age, and Kingbol and his family were not yet part of a Bnei Menashe community which had its own mohel (ritual circumciser).
It wasn’t the pain of the procedure that caused Kingbol’s distress, though. His young friends mocked him for his decision; even more so for always wearing a kippah (yarmulke) and a tallit katan (a garment with ritual fringes worn under a shirt). “They would try to knock off my kippah and pull on the strings of the tallit katan, since I never tucked it in,” he recalls.
Later, Kingbol joined a semi-professional football team in Kolkata (Calcutta). “There too I faced many problems,” he laments. “When the manager found out I was Jewish, I rarely had a chance to play.”
Despite the difficulties, Kingbol stayed strong. “I am proud to be Jewish and Bnei Menashe,” he says. So much so, that Kingbol, 26, was appointed one of Shavei Israel’s “Fellows” among the Bnei Menashe, serving as a community leader and educator. His unflinching commitment is now about to be rewarded: he and his family are scheduled to make aliyah with an upcoming group from Mizoram.
And none too soon. Kingbol and his wife Hodaya have two young children: Rachel, 3, and one-year-old Nevo. Rachel has begun asking questions, Kingbol says. “She is very clever. She wants to know why we are different than the people around us. Why don’t we eat pork or crab? Her mother tells her that if you eat these things it will make you unhealthy, so if you want to grow up to be a beautiful girl, you must keep kosher. I look to Psalm 126 instead [A Song of Ascents which reads “when the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dreamed…Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy”]. I know how hard it is to lead a Jewish life outside the Holy Land.”
He’s experienced a bit of what’s to come too: in 2010, Kingbol was part of a group of Bnei Menashe leaders who came to Israel on a Shavei Israel-sponsored trip. We have a picture of Kingbol at the Western Wall here.
Kingbol’s parents have suffered in India for being Jewish as well. His father worked for the government which, Kingbol says, didn’t permit him to take off for Shabbat and holidays. As Kingbol’s father became more observant, he applied for a voluntary pension, but the agency refused. It took him several years before his request was finally approved.
Kingbol lives today with his extended family, including his parents, in Aizawl, the capital city of Mizoram. “I pray that my father and mother, who brought me up to be a proud Jew, and all my brothers and sisters [he has two], will be able to return to the Promised Land very soon,” he says.
With Shavei Israel’s help, that day is fast approaching, as it also says in Psalm 126, “The Lord has done great things for us and we are filled with joy.”
If you’d like to help the Kingbol family – or any of the 899 Bnei Menashe on their way to Israel as we write these words – please visit the Support page on our website. We appreciate your generous donation!