Howbeit on the tenth day of this seventh month is the day of atonement; there shall be a holy convocation unto you, and ye shall afflict your souls; and ye shall bring an offering made by fire unto the LORD. (Leviticus 23:27)
It is a heavenly irony that, no matter what the temperature on the days before Yom Kippur, when the actual Day of Atonement arrives, it will be unseasonably hot. It was that way this year in Israel and it was even more so in India, as Israel Returns’ emissary to the Bnei Menashe, Yochanan Phaltuel, discovered.
Yochanan decided this year to leave his regular home base in Churachandpur, where Israel Returns maintains its Indian headquarters, and spend the holiday with the Bnei Menashe in the northern town of Moreh along the border with Myanmar (Burma), a 7 hour, 172 kilometer drive away from Churachandpur.
Moreh is already well known in India as the hottest place in the state of Manipur (one of the two main states where the 7,000 Bnei Menashe still remaining in India live). But this year, the temperature on Yom Kippur topped over 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) with 85 percent humidity!
No problem, you might think; just crank up the air conditioning and turn on the fans. Not so in rural India, where electricity can be erratic even on the coolest of days, Yochanan reports. Our wilting emissary tried to stay sanguine. “In the Torah, it is written that on Yom Kippur we are to ‘afflict ourselves,’” he says. “So, as we bring ourselves to cry from our hearts on this awesome day, so too come our bodily tears – sweat pouring out like drops of water, falling on the pages of our machzorim [the Yom Kippur prayer books].”
Heated poetry aside, Yochanan survived and sent us a number of pictures taken before the holiday, including a few from the annual ritual of kapparot, where Jews symbolically rid themselves of their sins by waving small sacks of money over their heads (which is then given to charity)…or, invoking a much more ancient tradition, live chickens.
Yochanan’s visit to Moreh also afforded him the opportunity to attend the tombstone consecration ceremony for Yedidiah Manlun, on the 30-day anniversary of his death. The ceremony was held at the Zion Veng cemetery in town, which is used by both of Moreh’s two Bnei Menashe communities, Moreshet Menashe and Beith Shalom.