Solving the cholent puzzle: Ra’anana congregation hosts Bnei Menashe for Shabbat

Solving the cholent puzzle: Ra’anana congregation hosts Bnei Menashe for Shabbat

Flyer advertising Bnei Menashe Shabbat weekend in Ra'anana

Flyer advertising Bnei Menashe Shabbat weekend in Ra’anana

What goes into making a good Kiddush meal after the Shabbat morning service in synagogue? Some homemade cakes and cookies, maybe a little kugel and, if it’s a very special spread, cholent – the traditional Shabbat dish consisting of potatoes, beans and chunks of meat.

Several years ago, when the Ohel Ari congregation in Ra’anana decided to host a group of 30 Bnei Menashe families for Shabbat, the shul’s Kiddush planners went all out. The catered food was delicious, the conversations meaningful, and both sides agreed to do it again soon.

But as the volunteers were cleaning up at the end of the Kiddush, they came across an unexpected leftover: the Bnei Menashe hadn’t touched the cholent. Recalling that awkward moment, Rabbi Hanoch Avitzedek, Shavei Israel’s director of the Bnei Menashe Aliyah and Absorption Department, explains what happened.

“The community is used to eating just plain rice on Shabbat day, as that was the standard lunch in India,” he says. And so, as sumptuous as the cholent may have been, the Bnei Menashe – as with other immigrant groups around the world – prefer the tried and true of their traditional “comfort foods.”

Ohel Ari got a chance to try it again earlier this month when the congregation once again hosted several dozen Bnei Menashe families. A total 130 people, arriving on three buses from Midgal HaEmek and Acre in the north of the country, and from the Jerusalem area, came together for Shabbat Tetzaveh in Ra’anana. They were hosted in the homes of local families for the meals; they prayed together at Ohel Ari; and they had an Oneg Shabbat Friday night during which Shavei Israel Chairman Michael Freund led a discussion for both communities on the topic “Finding the Lost Tribe of Bnei Menashe.”

On Shabbat morning, there was another class by Michael Freund on “Jewish Demography and Jewish Destiny,” and in the afternoon, Bnei Menashe Rabbi Yehuda Gin gave a talk in Hebrew. In addition, the Dvar Torah (word of Torah) during the morning prayers was given by Rabbi Gurion Sela, also a member of the Bnei Menashe.

But an important question remained: what would they do about the cholent this time?

In an attempt to apply a modern day version of the wisdom of Solomon to this cross-cultural culinary puzzle, “we held a long discussion before the Shabbaton,” reports Rabbi Avitzedek. “And in the end it was decided: no cholent. We would have rice instead.”

But then he adds, sporting a wry smile, “with lots of sauce!”