The Manipuri peoples' resurgence and the Jewish lessons

Erendro Leichombam & Anand Laishram *

The Jewish people, ethnic Jews or of Jewish origin, living in Israel or elsewhere, have achieved tremendous successes in almost every field of human endeavour. The Jewish people were driven out of their homeland in 70AD after the destruction of The Second Temple at Jerusalem andwere forced to live under oppression and slavish conditions for centuries in Europe. They were subjected to recurrent State sponsored persecutions (the pogroms and the "Final Solution" of Hitler's Nazi Germany come to mind).

Even after the creation of Israel in 1948, they had to fight multiple wars to protect their homeland, in 1948, 1967, 1973 and 2006. But incredibly, they have not only survived but flourished. Their list of achievements is mind boggling!Jews have constituted 28% of all Nobel Prize winners for Medicine, 26 % for Physics, 19% for Chemistry and 41% for Economics (Jewish people make up less than 1% of the total world population). Albert Einstein and Sigmund Freud were Jewish.

The founders andco-founders of Google, Facebook, Whatsapp, Android, Oracle, Airbnb, Tinder, Cisco and Dell are all Jewish. CEOs of many Fortune 500 companies are Jewish. Fashion designers Calvin Klein, Levi Strauss, Ralph Laurenand Donna Karan areJewish. The football clubs Manchester United and Chelsea are owned by Jewish origin businessmen. Warner Bros., Paramountand DreamWorks have Jewish founders and co-founders. Steven Spielberg, Woody Allen,Scarlett Johansson, Bob Dylanand Harrison Ford are all Jewish.

Even the inventor of the Teddy Bear, Morris Michtom was Jewish. The achievements of the Jewish people in the field of finance are of course well known. The Rothschild family dominated the world of banking and finance for almost two centuries. Nathan Mayer Rothschild was as much responsible as the Duke of Wellington for the defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte. Goldman Sachs was founded by Jewish businessmen. The US Government has been nicknamed 'Government Sachs' because of the influence Goldman Sachs has over it, allegedly.

Israel has been given the moniker "Start-up Nation."Today, Israel has more companies listed on the New York Stock Exchange than the entire continent of Europe put together. Israel, although located in a region with desert-like terrain, is a net exporter of agricultural products. Even though they lack natural water resources, they face no shortage of water; in fact, they export indigenously developedwater conservation, purification and desalination technologies to the rest of the world, such as drip irrigation technology. Israeli universities are renowned the world over.

It has one of the highest number of scientific publications per million citizens. Being one of the most innovative countries in the world, Israel has one of the highest per capita rates of patents filed and percentage of GDP invested in R&D. It also has the highest number of scientists and technicians per 10,000 employees which drives its successful high technology economy.

How is the Jewish story relevant to Manipur? Many parallels can be drawn between Israel and Manipur. They have an almost identical geographical size—Israel's area is 22,145 sq. km while Manipur's is 22, Israel came into being in 1948 while Manipur regained sovereignty in 1947; becoming the first South Asian Country to have a democratically elected Assembly in 1948. Both Israel and Manipur have been embroiled in conflicts; their territorial integrity being under threat today.

The Hebrew language and script, after languishing for centuries in exile, later gotrevived and re-developed, especially after 1948. Similarly, Meiteilon, the lingua franca of Manipur, and its original Mayek script are also undergoing resurgence today. The Israeli characteristic of "Chutzpah" and the Manipuri characteristic of "Echang-Thouna" are similar in many respects; both implying a quality of courage and defiance in the face of obstacles.

The contrasts however are more telling. Israel today has a GDP of above US$300 billion with per-capita income of US$35,000. Manipur on the other hand has a GSDP of barely US$2 billion. Israel is located in an arid region but faces no shortage of water while Manipurfaces water scarcity despite having an abundance of rainfall. Inspite of such challenges, Israel has made itself a net agricultural exporter while Manipur has gone from food self-sufficiency at the peak of its civilization to dependencytoday.

The Jewish people were homeless for nearly two millennia since 70AD while during the same period Manipuris have had the privilege of calling a place "home", starting from 33AD, when, according to The Cheitharol Kumbaba, a unified kingdom was established by Nongda Lairen Pakhangba, who,interestingly, may have been the ruler when the Jewish Exodus began.

But today, there is a great disparity in the levels of development of Israel and Manipur. Jewish people, both in Israel and outside, are unabashedly proud of their Jewish heritage, culture, language and identity and align their personal goals with the larger goal of Israel's development. By contrast, in Manipur today we witness ethnic tension, and a sad trend towards disowning our own identity, indulging in self-bashing narratives,thereby perpetuating a corrosive ''Yaroi Oiroi'' cynical and apathetic value. Israel is moving forward, Manipur seems to be moving backward. We need to make a U-turn; we need a peoples' resurgence, our own Thouna-ful movement that inspires the self-assurance required to believe again in a self-determined destiny as a people.

What are the reasons behind the tremendous successes of the Jewish people? What can Manipur learn from the Jewish story? The most important lesson we can learn is the power of self-belief. The Jewish people believed that they were "The Chosen People" whose purpose was "to shine a light upon humanity." Their belief became a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The Jewish people, while in exile for nearly two thousand years sang "L'Shana Haba'ah B'Yerushalayim" whenever they gathered, wherever they were, verbalizing their deep longing for their homeland—finally realizing it in 1948. Beliefs are powerful; if we propagate a "Yaroi Oiroi"belief in our community, it willsurely turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Let's start believing in "Yadriphao Oidriphao" and start reviving our self-confidence, pride in our identity, our culture, and a determination to overcome our obstacles.

Without a strong sense of identity, the Jewish people would not have survived in exile for almost two thousand years. Despite challenges, they held on to their religion, language and culture. Jews living in different parts of Europe maintained close contacts with each other which helped them in conducting business and commercial activities. Even today, they are thriving amidst conflicts and wars because of their unity and strong sense of community.

Every Israeli, including women, joins the Israeli Defence Force(IDF) for two years atleast. This is the first key lesson we can learn from the Jewish narrative. We need to not only design public policies that unite the community and instill patriotism and pride but also encourage all civil society organizations (CSOs), Leikai and Khun organizations at all levels to ignite a resurgence of the Manipuri pride, solidarity among the people and a wholesome emotional integrity.

The second key lesson we can learn is the way Israelis define contribution. Every Israeli businessperson conducts business with the objective of contributing to Israel. This is not mere rhetoric. The above assertion has been thoroughly investigated and validated through research and study, such as, inthe bestselling Council of Foreign Relations book "Start-up Nation".

The Jewish people from all over the world contribute openly, unapologetically, to Israel—financially, intellectually or physically. To succeed, we have to overcome all divisive forces; protectingour values whilst learning the best practices from others. We have to discard theinsecure survivalist scrambling we see today—the idea that if we root for the benefit of Manipur, we will have to sacrifice our own personal goals—and create a confident contributive culture instead. If we labour intelligentlyfor a cause greater than ourselves, we will betaking care of our own personal goals too. When we study and work hard in our respective professions, keeping in mind Manipur's development and peace, we will achieve even more. "Find a cause that's larger than yourself and then give your life to it",this is precisely what we need to imbibe from the Jewish story.

Additionally, another reason for the Jewish success is their great emphasis on education. This culture of education in the Jewish community began as a response to a tragic experience in their history—thedestruction of their Temple. TheTemple was the centre of their religion. The Rabbis (priests) were educated while the common people were confined to agriculture. After the destruction of the Temple, however, the Jewish people had to find a way to protect their religion. This they achieved by teaching the common people to read their religious book, The Torah. This was at a time when most people in the world were not literate.

While they were in exile in Europe, they took to the professions which demanded literary and mathematical skills. They toiled to reach the top of their respective professions and become indispensable to the communities they lived in. In a similarly tragic incident, however, the burning of religious and secular books in Manipur's history, commonly known as the Puya Meithaba, blunted the growth of knowledge and violently destroyed the natural progression of a civilization. The shock and destruction in the Jewish experience led to a wider appreciation and democratization of learning, while it seems the opposite occurred in Manipur's case.

We need to realize now that such traumatic historical events, should instead lead us to emphasize even more on education. The burning of the Puyasand its tragic memory should, on the contrary, stoke the fire within our hearts to learn, revive, and disseminate knowledge even more. This is the third crucial lesson we should learn from the Jewish story.

Can education alone explain their successes?The asnwer is no. The Jews arealso enterprising. Their business mantra is "try and persevere."People who have tried sincerely and failed are respected in the Israeli society. They are encouraged to start over and are given avenues to contribute their hard earned wisdom. Similary, in Manipur we should not write off any temporary failure by uttering "Yaroi Haidro Oiroi Haidro." If we seek to build a thriving startup ecosystem that will eventually transform the economic reality of Manipur, we need to instill this key value in our society too. This is the fourth lessonwe have to emulate. No nation with cynicism as a value has ever built a robust economy.

Finally, the fifth lesson we can learn from the Israelis is their optimism; their characteristicof changing seeming poison into medicine. Bomb shelters are used as classrooms; deserts are transformed into farming land; when wars force schools to close down, parents take their children to their workplaces where makeshift classes are organised. The Israeli IDF in the beginning had only discarded weapons scoured from the junkyards of Europe and USA post World War II but today they have a powerfulmilitaryand have become a major exporterof defence equipments to the rest of the world, including India.

Israel didn't limit themselves because of their restricted geography or demography: when neighbouring countriesput economic sanctions on Israel, they exported to Europe and North America. To minimize their oil dependency, theyinvested in clean energy,thereby converting their constraints into opportunities to innovate. We need to learn to do this too. We must learn to make the proverbial lemonade when life gives us lemons. And not just lemonade, but also lemon pie and lemon zest.

In conclusion, Israel's success story is more about the people and less about the place. In many aspects, Manipur has been better endowed naturally. However, our comparative advantages have to be translated into tangible results. And for that we need human resource development and a paradigm shift in our attitudes. We need to invest heavily in educationand entrepreneurship. And we need to have a collective vision for Manipur. We need to visualise, but most importantly, we need to believe in ourselves.

We need to stop tearing each other down. A small population of highly motivated, hard working and united people can change the world. Manipur's resurgence is not a far-fetched dream. Determination and courage are Manipuri traits as much as they are Jewish traits. Manipur is our home on this planet. We must protect it, and its protection begins in each of our hearts, with our values. And as the Israelis have shown us, no matter what the odds, it is possible. These are the most important lessons we can learn as a people. Let's destroy the prevailing "Yaroi Oiroi" attitude and replace it with the determined ethos of "Yadriphao Oidriphao!"

(The article is an excerpt from PRJA's weekly discussion meetings: Wakhaloi Meepham)

* Erendro Leichombam & Anand Laishram wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was posted on May 08, 2017.

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