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August 30, 2002 - Image 85

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2002-08-30

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

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IT'S NOT TOO LATE!

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When Halkin returns on his own in
the fall of 1999, two translators, who
were born in the area but now live in
Israel, accompany him. Many local
people are invested in convincing him
of the truth of their links to Judaism.
In Manipur, a retired senior govern-
ment official, the father of one trans-
lator, asks . him, "Have you ever heard
of an entire people feeling out of place
where their ancestors were born?"

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Identity Crisis

Hillel Halkin: Strong empirical evidence.

end, which says the Lost Tribes are
across the Sambatyon River, known to
flow for six days and rest on the sev-
enth. And since travel is not permitted
on the Sabbath, the Lost Tribes have
remained beyond reach.
The notion of the. Lost Tribes goes
back to the Bible: In 722 BCE, the
Assyrians sent the 10 tribes of north-
ern Israel into exile. In a chapter, "A
Short History of the Lost Tribes,"
Halkin explains the many theories and
legends about their fate, and tells of
the generations of people who've
searched for them.
As he describes it, in the narrow
streets of Aizawl, in Mizoram, the
longing for Zion seems palpable.
Stores are named Israel Appliances,
Israel Bazaar, Israel Grocery. When
Israeli commandos successfully raided
Entebbe, celebrations were jubilant
and, when Rabin died, the air was
filled with mourning.
When Halkin visits a synagogue, he
finds all the familiar murmurs and
swaying, "as if they had been doing it
all their lives."
The group wasn't so much discov-
ered; rather they had discovered them-
selves. Although many were
Christians, having been under the
influence of British missionaries after
1900, they had an awareness of having
an old religion and an ancient ancestor
named Manasia.
In the 1950s, a village man had a
vision in which it was revealed to him
that the Mizo people were the descen-
dants of Israelites, and should return
to their ancient homeland.
Some of the villagers adopted bibli-
cal customs, while still living as
Christians. In the 1970s a group of
them asserted that they should live
according to Israel's faith. Rabbi
Avichail was the first knowledgeable
Jew they encountered.

When asked why the Jewish connec-
tion is so important to these people,
Halkin explains that "they're really a
people with a terrible identity crisis."
He continues, "They're a very proud
people, and for reasons not clear to me,
they have a great sense of superiority."
They were a warrior people, and the
arrival of Christianity turned them into
a sedentary people. "Christianity wiped
out their past, destroyed memories, arti-
facts, the old religion." He goes on to
describe a collective sense of amnesia.
He says the idea of being a Lost Tribe of
Israel is very appealing to them as a way
of gaining back their lost identity.
Although they come from warrior
stock, they are a peaceful and gentle pop-
ulation, yet they identify with the war-
rior-like people they read of in the Bible.
Halkin learns about aspects of the old
religion like priestly sacrifices, an
ancient chant about the crossing of the
Red Sea, the practice of circumcision
and the belief in one God. But he real-
izes that as evidence, these things don't
necessarily hold up, since the tellers may
have been influenced by their more
contemporary knowledge of the Bible.

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Eureka!' Moments

But, as Halkin's just about certain that
the idea of the Lost Tribe link was
invented, an exotically dressed man
named Dr. Khuplam drops in to see
him — and their encounter results in
one of several "Eureka!" moments for
the author, turning his opinion around.
Dr. Khuplam, a physician, had spent a
lot of time traveling by foot to small vil-
lages, and in 1949 realized he was more
interested in people's stories than in med-
icine. He then began devoting his life to
collecting folklore. Totally self-trained, he
became the only ethnographer at work in
the area, keeping diaries by hand.
The doctor shares with Halkin a
text he compiled, The Wonderful

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Genealogical Tales of the Kuki-Chin-
Mizo. Halkin immediately sees many
biblical parallels. It's through his lin-
ANCIENT MYSTERY on page 86

8/30

2002

85

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