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Hope in Katmandu

Hope in Katmandu


"Join Lubavitch and see the world," the saying goes. I would like to thank my parents for joining Lubavitch; and, yes, I have gotten to see the world.

I write this article from Katmandu, Nepal, where I am spending my third consecutive Passover. I come on behalf of Chabad-Lubavitch to help organize and run the largest Seder in the world, with over 2000 participants, mostly Israeli backpackers on their post-military-service trek ("to see the world," too, I guess); it is truly an amazing experience.

On my journey here, I had an upsetting moment when reading the news. There were two featured headline photos on the front page of the Daily Telegraph.

The first featured a smiling Gerhard Schroeder; the German chancellor had his arm around a toothless 75-year-old Petro Mishtschuk, a Buchenwald camp survivor from the Ukraine. They were commemorating the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the camp that exterminated hundreds of thousands of our people.

Further down the page was a second photo, featuring an Israeli soldier arresting a demonstrator who was apparently involved in burning tires on the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway in protest of Ariel Sharon's "disengagement plan."

It struck me as the cruelest irony that the country that was built from the ashes of the concentration camps and the old Europe--what the Chancellor called "our deepest shame"--was itself going through some sort of war. But here it was a war of brothers. I was saddened by the thought that the very army that was built on the principle and vow that "No Jew in the world will remain unprotected again" was arresting brave settlers in their homeland. The extreme wild actions of some of these religious Jews frightened me, too.

"What does this mean?" I asked myself. Aside from the burning question of who is right and who is wrong in this debate (on which I certainly have my own strongly-held opinion), the animosity and lack of love that the two Jews in the picture displayed toward each other was dreadful to behold.

Thamel is a small district in Katmandu where tourists en-route to their different treks around the Annapurna and climbing the Everest gather for some civilization. The narrow streets clamor with rickshaws, taxis, and plenty of stores selling the local wares. I reckon there are more internet cafes and travel agents in this small neighborhood then in the whole of New York City.

In the center of all this hustle and bustle is a small building that houses the Beit Chabad ("Chabad House")--the one stop for all the Jewish travelers' needs. It is a home away from home for thousands of backpackers every year. With a kosher restaurant, library, medical clinic and synagogue, it serves as an embassy forJews of all nationalities.

As you can imagine, the preparations for the "largest Seder in the world" requires a lot of work and assistance. Many of the backpackers volunteer and come before Passover to help with the preparations. From the potato peelers and horseradish grinders to the security experts and first aid professionals, everyone is busy helping with their respective talents.

Top and middle: Preparing for the seder in Katmandu, Nepal. Bottom: Sign welcoming particapants to "the largest seder in the world" in Katmandu (Photo Credit: Osher Litzman)
Top and middle: Preparing for the seder in Katmandu, Nepal. Bottom: Sign welcoming particapants to "the largest seder in the world" in Katmandu (Photo Credit: Osher Litzman)

I sat down at one of the tables where they were slicing chatzilim--eggplant--an Israeli delicacy. Sitting at the table was Yoav who lives in Sa-Nur, a village in the Shomron slated to be evacuated this summer under the "disengagement plan." Next to him sat Erez from Tel Aviv. Together, they busied themselves with the chatzilim, smiles on their faces, singing an Israeli folk song and working systematically. The worries of home were obviously not troubling them right now as they sat in unity with one joint task in mind: preparing for Passover. I was amazed how such a diverse group was so close-knitted and fused in such a way. There was such unity that one rose above the differences, both political and religious.

The Chabad movement, since its launch in Russia more than two centuries ago, promoted the motto that all Jews are one, with one task in mind--making this world a dwelling place that G‑d would feel at home in. Today, it is possibly the largest Jewish international organization serving Jews from all walks of life in over fifty countries. Here in Katmandu it sets a great example: with all our diversities and divisions, we all share one Father in Heaven; we are one family and share one soul. There is a unity that transcends all disparity.

I sat quietly, listening in growing admiration to young people my own age who have been through situations I wouldn't wish on anyone. They have seen bloodshed and turmoil, yet they all seem happy and hopeful as they sit in unity preparing for the festival of liberation our people experienced over 3,000 years ago. I mutely hoped to myself that this harmony and unity will continue when they return to their homeland.

Unity is the foremost requirement to ensure our continuity. For there to be peace in the region, there must first be peace at home. We are most vulnerable when we are not unified; if we are to survive in today's hostile world, we must increase in goodness and kindness to one another.

That day in Katmandu gave me hope.

Rabbi Mendel Cohen serves as director to Chabad of Shoredich, and Rabbi at The Saatchi Synagogue, St Johns Wood, London.
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Discussion (17)
May 1, 2015
Chabad Nepal
It is the Strength ( Koach ) of the Lubavitcher Rebbe that keeps on giving .

May we all share in The Rebbe's Vision to bring Moshiach Now

12 Iyar 5775
George Yosef Mordechai Gati
Fresh Meadows , N.Y , usa
March 26, 2010
I had the pleasure of visiting Chabad in Thamel, Kathmandu in 2006, while serving as an International Expert in China......As a Jew, I felt at ease in Kathmandu however Tibetan refugees in this small Himalayan nation are constantly reminded of their second class citizenship and that they could be deported back to Tibet at any time if they upset the Nepali regimen. This is not right. My Tibetan friend from Kathmandu is currently seeking political asylum in the USA. He awaits his hearing in New York City.....
Dr. Amy Eisenberg
Santa Rosa, CA USA
May 18, 2005
Setting things straight:
Firstly, thank you Mendel for a beautiful article.

Secondly, I think the author has specifically tried to express a message of unity at a time of stress, without going in to either side of the disagreements. Hence the different comments vis--vis Chabads opinion on the issue, are really out of context. (Correct me if I am wrong).

Finally, may we merit Moshiachs coming speedily in our days and an end to all suffering.
London, Uk
May 18, 2005
True Education for a Worthy People.
I love my fellow Jewish people and Torah more than anything to me Chabad is my heart and soul i am saddened that this great Organisation has changed it's views and now sides with the right wing fanatics who know little Torah but much about hatred of Arabs and Zionism. Of course i understand that Chabad had to survive but when i read this article moreso when i read one of the comments complaining that this site does not say enough in support of Zionism i was reminded of the words of a truly great man.....

Not via our desire did we leave the land of Israel,
and not via our power will we come back to the land of Israel.
Lubavitch Rabbi Sholom Dov Ber Schneersohn ZT"L.

P.s my motivation in sending this comment was not to upset anyone nor do i wish to argue i just thought i owed this man a voice even if it is misunderstood or ignored.
French Hill, Israel
May 18, 2005
Very nice
Just wanted to say another wonderful job. Nice and entertaining article from a career Yeshiva man...
Peabody, MA
May 18, 2005
hope in katmandu world's largest seder
Love how people search the globe for spiritual meaning and then find it in our own very spiritual religion. Also, thanks for teaching hebrew word for eggplant--great stuff
sarasota, fl
May 17, 2005
Dear Mendel
Dear Mendel: I hope they really treat you well at Such talent, with such enormous potential, is impressive to see... we always look forward to your opinions and the fortelling of your experiences.
Brooklyn, NY
May 17, 2005
Right On
I'm from Texas and that's the most inspiring article I've ever read. Thank you for inspiring me to join chabad and "travel the world."
Toby Mulcher
texas, america
May 16, 2005
I enjoyed this article, although one thing bothered me. In this paragraph it is written ("on which I certainly have my own strongly-held opinion") as you see, we're not fighting for our home because of our 'opinions'. G-d gave us this land and wants us to keep it! That's not an opinion, that's a fact!
melbourne, vic
May 16, 2005
piecing together the sparks
Once again, a most important aspect is omitted if not just overlooked

Katmundu is a Mecca of Eastern sprituality, varieties of Hinduism and Budhism. The spiritual elgacy of the Benei Kedem or Eretz Hodu which translated means the land of giving thanks, or prayer and spiritual connection.

That the longing Jew has an outlet high in the Himalayas to connect to God through our own Judaism is so important.

The Holiness of the East, but not quite the Torah, ok let us gather up the holy sparks of other spiritualities but when we piece togehter the shards of the broken vessels, the distresses sparks of holiness, we come up with our own Torah each and every day being graciously offerd to the Jew from Kodech Borehu...
Daniel Sultan`
llaguna woods, ca