NEPAL – When organizing the largest Passover Seders in the world in an unstable country like Nepal, one must take every scenario in consideration. This year, for instance, wine and matzah were stalled at the Indian border, the hotel manager increased the price for a hall that's supposed to house some 2,000 participants, and additional security forces were required after a terrorist group threatened to attack Jewish targets worldwide.

But for Rabbi Chezky Lifshitz, the Kathmandu-based co-director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Nepal, such hassles are all part of the job. Speaking about the border that has been shut down for the past week and a half – the country's historic elections last month failed to ease political tensions between its monarchy and Maoist Communist groups – the rabbi seemed unfazed about a container of 2,000 bottles of wine, 2,000 pounds of matzah, and 3,000 units of gefilte fish that as of Friday hadn't yet arrived.

"We're not fazed," he stated. "It's happened every year, and we've always succeeded in pulling through."

He added that such headaches pale in comparison to the joy that thousands of Israeli tourists experience at Passover events in Kathmandu and at a Chabad branch in Pokhara operated by Rabbi Avi and Zimrat Fuchs.

In the last few days, Lifshitz lobbied government officials to provide 30 extra policemen and bomb-sniffing dogs to guard Kathmandu's Seder, consistently the largest in the world. Israeli intelligence recommended beefing up security at such events in the wake of the Feb. 12 assassination of Imad Mughniyeh, the chief of staff of the Lebanese-based Hizbullah terrorist organization, in Syria. In Nepal, police forces will by assisted by Israel Defense Force soldiers.

Searching for Spirituality

Israelis from all walks of life come to Nepal in the search for spirituality. They find it at the Chabad Houses in Kathmandu and Pokhara.
Israelis from all walks of life come to Nepal in the search for spirituality. They find it at the Chabad Houses in Kathmandu and Pokhara.
For Gilad Rothschild, 23, the Kathmandu event will be his first Seder. Born in the Israeli agricultural village of Kfar Hes, he served as a paratrooper in the army and spent two months backpacking in India. Like many his age, he plans on spending 10 months in the Far East before returning home to study economics and management.

"We need something in our lives between the army and the transition to real life," he said while dining in the Chabad-operated Glatmandu kosher restaurant in Kathmandu's Thamel tourist base. "I always dreamed of taking my trunk and enjoying the air and freedom.

"When we came to Nepal, we were told we can find everything in Chabad," he continued. "So we came, although we're not necessarily devout. This year's Seder will be a first for me and my friends."

The mixture of religion and openness found at the Chabad House fascinates Orit Tsell, a Tel Aviv-born backpacker.

"In Israel, we are isolated and detached from other people and ideas," she explained. "We try to work and survive. You don't smile at one another. Here, an Israeli will always approach the other and ask, 'What's up?' And we know we'll always have Chabad for a shelter and a place to meet others. Israelis find spirituality here."

One event in the days leading up to Passover seemingly proved Tsell's point. Touched by the monthly discussions Lifshitz holds in locations throughout the Himalayan Mountains, Alon Solter and Liat Berkowitz, an Israeli couple living in Nepal for the past 13 years, had a traditional Jewish wedding April 16.

The groom, sporting dreadlocks, and the bride stood beneath a chuppah, or wedding canopy, walked down the aisle as husband and wife. Guests feasted on a menu of falafel balls, pita bread and French fries, and worked up a sweat performing traditional Chasidic dances.

The scene was a total amazement for Frenchmen Patrick Lebhat and Yochanan Levy. Both in their 30s, they arrived in Kathmandu that morning. Lebhat, a software engineer, was looking for an exotic place to celebrate Passover when he stumbled on an article in a French newspaper describing the Nepal Seders.

"What we didn't imagine was to be at a Jewish wedding in Kathmandu," said Levy, a mathematics teacher working in a suburban Paris school. "This is amazing. French weddings are very expensive and are planned six months ahead. This wedding was very sufficient and joyful. We should do the same in France."