The lives of millions of Jews, from South America to the Himalayas, were touched this past Passover by Chabad-Lubavitch’s myriad activities, from preparation and instruction to the actual enactment of Seders worldwide. Proclaimed from giant billboards and modest pamphlets alike, Passover by Lubavitch 5756 (1996) was one giant gift to Jews, many of them far from home and longing to reclaim their roots, others just yearning to experience with strangers or newfound friends the kind of Seder they had with loved ones at home.

In the weeks before the Festival of Freedom, as Passover is called, Lubavitch emissaries worked at a frenzied pitch, distributing over three million hand-baked Shmurah Matzahs and millions of descriptive holiday guides, operating model Matzah bakeries to teach children and adults how the Matzahs are prepared, and much more. Much of this was done in concert with local JCC’s, federations and other community groups. The Lubavitch emissaries conducted model Seders to instruct Jews who had been estranged from their religion – such as those from the former Soviet Union – in the practical details and taught classes about the mystical meanings of the Seder meal. Some fifty Chabad Houses on college campuses in the United States provided students with all their Seder needs through their innovative “Seder-to-Go” kits and hosted large Seders-to-stay.

On the Rooftop of the World

Lubavitch has always gone to great lengths to ensure that the love of Judaism is brought to Jews everywhere. Within the past few years it can also be said that Lubavitchers go to great heights.

Following legions of “wandering Jews,” Lubavitch emissaries have gone to the so-called rooftop of the world, Katmandu, Nepal, a favorite destination of Jewish trekkers — particularly, in recent years, that of Israelis who have finished their army service and are out to see the world.

This year, Rabbis Levi Wolf of Morristown, New Jersey, and Eliezer Zaklikofsky of Detroit were dispatched to make that trek. They arrived in the Himalayan Hindu kingdom outfitted with one ton of Matzah, kosher meat, wine and Haggadahs, and energy enough to galvanize an army of backpackers – more than 1,000 young Jews climbing the highest mountain fastnesses in the world.

Dozens of Israelis went on voluntary KP duty, peeling potatoes while trading favorite chicken-soup recipes and discussing the Haggadah and its modern-day relevance with the rabbis. And throughout the high mountain passes, along the tortuous paths of Nepal and Tibet, young Israeli, American, Australian and European Jews could be heard alerting each other to be back in time for the Seder down below.

Pesach night, these wandering Jews streamed into a huge army tent lined end to end with blue plastic chairs, long tables covered in white, laden with Haggadahs, bottles of wine and Seder plates.

In face of these great numbers, the rabbis, rather than seat themselves at the head of any table, leapt atop table tops and led the crowd in the Kiddush and the reading of the Haggadah. As the spirited singing went on into the night, increasing numbers of passers-by were drawn in. The youngest at the Seder asked the Four Questions. Hundreds of participants remained to dance and sing under the Katmandu sky until the wee hours of the morning.

Pesach in Katmandu Lubavitch-style was a real eye-opener for me," said Irit Goren, 22, of Tel Aviv, who had come to Nepal to study Eastern religions. “This is the first time Judaism had any meaning for me... I never knew that Judaism was so spiritual. I really feel happy to be a Jew.” At the Seder Goren promised the rabbis to dig deeper into her own heritage.

A Positive Jewish Experience

Goren is one of some 25,000 Israelis who trek through the Himalayas each year as a rite of passage following army service. “A lot of Jewish kids come here searching for meaning and spiritual identity," said Zaklikofsky. "Unfortunately, many did not have positive Jewish experiences at home, so they wind up looking into other religions here. We came to give them a positive Jewish experience that will help them find spiritual sustenance in their own backyard of Judaism."

For days after, young Jews on the streets of Katmandu were running up to Rabbis Zaklikofsky and Wolf, calling excitedly, “Todah rabbah Chabad." (Thank you, Chabad.) And many more flocked to the rabbis for impromptu study sessions that lasted till early morning.

In Old Shanghai

For the first time since World War II, Jews gathered together in Shanghai, China, to celebrate Pesach with a communal Seder. Up until the last minute, the Israeli diplomatic office in Shanghai, which co-sponsored the event, was deluged with phone calls from Jews no one had known were there, wanting to join the Seder.

By nightfall, more than 80 Jews had converged on the Sofitel Hyland Hotel to celebrate the Seder with Rabbis Eli Popack and Chaim Friedman of the Lubavitch Yeshiva in Sydney, Australia. The rabbis, who had also brought along a much-needed Torah scroll for the community, reported that many of the participants were moved to tears.

“The question ‘Why is this night different from all other nights’ hardly needed asking,” said Rabbi Friedman. "All night we heard people repeat incredulously, ‘I have never experienced anything like this before.’”

Although today fewer than 200 Jews – most of them business people representing foreign companies – live in this thriving Chinese city, Shanghai was once a haven to 30,000 Jewish refugees, those who fled the pogroms of Russia and, later, Hitler. A Lubavitch rabbi, Meir Ashkenazi, led the relief work there during and after WW II, tending to both the physical and spiritual needs of the refugees. The large Ohel Moshe synagogue, built in 1907, marks the early presence of Lubavitch in Shanghai.

After the war's end, nearly the entire Jewish community of Shanghai left for the West and Israel. Now, 50 years later, a small group of Jews has returned.

Says Colin Hendrick, the Australian businessman who worked tirelessly to arrange the Seder together with Lubavitch World Headquarters in New York: “Just as the Lubavitch synagogue became a place of physical refuge for many thousands of Jews, so, too, did Lubavitch return to Shanghai to offer spiritual assistance.”

And Other Points East. . .

East of Shanghai, in Bangkok, Thailand, Lubavitch hosted two Seders, one for the more than 150 Jews who comprise the city's standing community, and another for over 500 tourists to be found in the Kawasan district that is popular among the backpackers. Five hundred bottles of kosher wine were sent from the United States, 200 pounds of Matzah from Israel and 1,000 pieces of chicken, prepared in the prescribed manner by Rabbi Yosef Kantor, the resident Lubavitch emissary.

Rabbi Kantor also sent full Seder provisions to more remote Asian outposts, including Vietnam and Sri Lanka. Elsewhere in Asia, large Seders were conducted by the Lubavitch emissaries to Hong Kong, Rabbi and Mrs. Mordechai Avtzon, and by rabbinical students dispatched to Kobe and Tokyo, Japan; the island nation of Singapore; and New Delhi, India.

Meanwhile, in Israel. . .

Chabad representatives in Israel sponsored more than 200 public Seders for over 20,000 people, many of them from the former Soviet Union and celebrating Pesach for the first time.

In Rehovot, the Chabad emissary found himself drinking the four cups of wine with an elderly Russian Jew from Dnepropetrovsk (Yekaterinoslav) who broke down and said, "The last time I celebrated Pesach was over 50 years ago, with the chief rabbi of our city." It turned out that he was referring to none other than the Rebbe’s father, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson of righteous memory, whose self-sacrifice in providing Russian Jewry with their Passover needs, particularly hand-baked Shmurah Matzah, is legend.

Unbowed by Katyushas

And in Kiryat Shemonah, Katyusha rocket attacks by Hezbollah guerrillas just three days before Pesach did not stop Chabad from holding any of its scheduled festivities. Only four hours after authorities gave permission to gather, Chabad conducted three Seders, including one at the nearby Churshat Tal army base.

(Note: In a rare expression of “unity”, all three prominent Israeli newspapers, Ha’aretz, Yediot Achronot and Ma’ariv, featured a picture of the Seder in Nepal on their front page.)