Judaism in Nepal

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In 1986, the Israeli embassy in Katmandu organized a Passover celebration as a service to the 7,000 Israelis who visit Nepal annually. The celebration was taken over in 1999 by the Chabad (/ħabad/) movement, a Hassidic Jewish movement that specializes in outreach to nonobservant Jews. Prior to 1986, there was no organized practice of Judaism in Nepal, and there is no native Jewish community.[1]

The Nepalese Chabad center has achieved some degree of notability, primarily for the Passover celebration, reputed to be the largest such celebration in the world, with 1500 participants. The couple who run the center were models for a television series in Israel.

The Jerusalem-based NGO Tevel b'Tzedek ('The world with Justice'), under its orthodox head Micha Odenheimer has organized many Israeli youths to travel to Nepalese villages and provide help to handle modernization, teaching efficient forms of irrigation and agriculture to outlying villages. The organization maintains a local staff of 50 Nepalese. [2]

Passover seder[edit]

In 1986, the Israeli embassy in the Thamel section of Katmandu started the tradition of holding a Passover Seder for Israeli travelers.[3][4][5][6] In 1999, the Chabad house took over the event.

By 2006, the annual Passover seder sponsored by Chabad hosted 1,500 participants. It has been called the "world's largest seder",[7] requiring 1,100 pounds of Matzo, the ritual unleavened bread of the festival.[8] By 2014 the event drew 1,700 attendees, though the ceremony was threatened by a strike that delayed a shipment of Matzo.[9]

Growth of Chabad house in Nepal[edit]

The Chabad movement maintains houses throughout the world, to provide services to the local Jewish communities and to Jewish travellers. The Chabad house in Kathmandu was opened in 1999 by Rabbi Chezki Lifshitz and his wife Chani.

According to Chani, the movement had difficulty finding shlichim (emissaries) to go to Nepal. "They couldn’t find shluchim [emissaries] willing to go to such a third-world country,” she said in an interview. “We were the crazy couple willing to do it."[10]

The house was a success, and the movement opened two satellite houses in Nepal, one in the city of Pokhara in November 2007, and a third in Manang in April 2014.[11]

In May 2012, the Israeli television network Reshet launched the miniseries "Kathmandu," starring Israeli actor Michael ("Moni") Moshonov, based on true events from Chabad house Nepal. The series ran for 13 episodes.[12]

Besides being the model for the television series, Chabad house has often made news. In October 2013, Rabbi Lifshitz prevented the cremation of a religious Jewish woman from Australia who was killed in a traffic accident.[13] Cremation, customary in Nepal, is forbidden by orthodox Judaism. The organization was also involved in recovery of the remains of a New Jersey woman killed in a plane crash in the Himalayas.[14] The house has been featured in numerous magazines, including The Atlantic,[15] the Jerusalem Post,[10] and other media.

Israeli tourism in Nepal[edit]

According to the Nepal Ministry of Tourism, 7151 Israelis visited Nepal in 2012, staying an average of 16 days.[16] Although Israelis comprise only about one percent of total tourism in Nepal, their mark is noticeable. "Any visitor to Nepal is guaranteed to hear Hebrew being spoken in the streets and to see Hebrew signs and T-shirts in the main tourist locations," writes Rabbi Ben in his travel blog "The Travelling Rabbi".[17]

Jewish religious leaders have expressed concern that many Israeli and American Jews visit Nepal in a spiritual quest that distances them from their Jewish roots. "The antipathy to religious ritual that many Israeli Jews have inherited from that early generation of founding Zionists, leads many of them to search for spiritual fulfillment in Nepal or India...," writes Rabbi Daniel Gordis.[18] "Ashrams in Nepal and India are filled with young Jewish people, mostly American and Israeli.".[19] In fact, however, very few Israelis go to Nepal for spiritual reasons – 62 in 2012, or less than one percent of all Israeli visitors to the country, and far below the average of 14 percent for all nationalities.[16] It is unknown how many Americans of Jewish extraction visit Nepal for spiritual reasons.

Other Jewish links to Nepal[edit]

The French Jewish scholar Sylvain Lévi visited Nepal in 1898 and published a three-volume historical study (Le Népal: Étude historique d’un royaume hindou, 1905–1908), considered the authoritative Western account of the country for most of the 20th century.[20] Lévi later wrote a comparative study of the Jewish and Hindu religions, based on his Nepalese researches[21]

The Hong Kong-based Jewish Kadoorie family has been involved with philanthropy in Nepal (as elsewhere in Asia), particularly serving Gurkha communities, and Horace Kadoorie was awarded the Order of Gorkha Dakshina Bahu (First Class) by the Nepalese government.[22][23]

Security issues[edit]

The U.S. State Department has found Anti-Semitism to be "not an issue of any significance" in Nepal,[24] and has reported no Anti-Semitic acts in annual reports on the country.[25]

Haaretz reported in 2013 that an Iranian suspected of planning terror attack on the Israeli embassy was arrested by embassy security personnel and handed over to the police in Katmandu, Nepal.[26]

The Times of India reported in 2014 that Indian security forces had foiled a plot by the Indian Mujahideen to kidnap Jewish tourists in Nepal to be used in exchange for the female Pakistani scientist Aafia Siddiqui held in a US jail, and that the organization had rented a hiding place in the hills of Nepal to hold their hostages captive.[27][28]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Birnbaum, Eliyahu. "Nepal: the Land Where Time Stopped (in Hebrew)". Retrieved June 28, 2014. 
  2. ^ Yossi Klein Halevi, ['The rabbi of Nepal,'] The Times of Israel, 5 May, 2015
  3. ^ Rabbi Levi Brackman (April 13, 2006). "Nepal: 1,500 Israelis take part in Seder". YNet News. 
  4. ^ April 14, 2014, Israel National News, Volunteers Save Kathmandu Seder, Accessed June 22, 2014, "...Chabad house, which is expecting over 1,000 people for Monday night's seder..."
  5. ^ March 24, 2014, Israel National News, Will Strike Keep Matzah from Kathmandu?, Accessed June 22, 2014
  6. ^ April 15, 2014, Global Post, From Kathmandu to Jerusalem, how Jews around the world are celebrating Passover, Accessed June 28, 2014
  7. ^ Heilman, Samuel C.; Friedman, Menachem M. (2010). The Rebbe: The Life and Afterlife of Menachem Mendel Schneerson. Princeton, NJ, USA: Princeton University Press. p. 9. ISBN 9780691154428. Retrieved July 7, 2014. 
  8. ^ Amy Yee, The Atlantic, April 12, 2012, 1,100 Pounds of Matzo in Kathmandu: Welcome to the World's Largest Seder, Accessed June 28, 2014, "...In what has become an annual tradition, hundreds of Israeli travelers gather in Nepal to celebrate Passover – with plenty of kosher wine...."
  9. ^ April 8, 2014, Jewish Tribune, Nepal Chabad without Matzah due to Israeli Foreign Military Strike, Accessed June 28, 2014, "...shipping container filled with Passover for a planned 1,700-person seder in Katmandu, Nepal, remains stuck in India...."
  10. ^ a b "Kindness and kinship in Kathmandu". Jerusalem Post. June 9, 2012. Retrieved September 19, 2014.  .
  11. ^ "Chazaka: Third Chabad House in Nepal". Shturem. April 27, 2014. Retrieved July 1, 2014. 
  12. ^ ""Kathmandu" (official website, in Hebrew)". Reshet TV. Retrieved September 19, 2014. 
  13. ^ "Rabbi in Nepal halts cremation of Jewish woman". Jewish Telegraphic Agency. October 16, 2013. Retrieved September 19, 2014. 
  14. ^ "New Jersey woman dies in Nepal crash". Jewish Telegraphic Agency. August 1, 2010. Retrieved September 19, 2014. 
  15. ^ Amy Yee, The Atlantic, April 12, 2012, 1,100 Pounds of Matzo in Kathmandu: Welcome to the World's Largest Seder, Accessed June 28, 2014
  16. ^ a b Ministry of Culture, Tourism & Civil Aviation, NEPAL TOURISM STATISTICS 2012, p.21
  17. ^ "Nepal". The Travelling Rabbi. Retrieved September 19, 2014. 
  18. ^ Gordis, Daniel (June 17, 2010). Saving Israel: How the Jewish People Can Win a War That May Never End. Hoboken, NJ, USA: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. ISBN 9780471789628. Retrieved July 7, 2014. 
  19. ^ Gordis, Daniel (October 5, 1999). Becoming a Jewish parent: how to explore spirituality and tradition with your children. Harmony Books. p. 45. ISBN 0609604082. Retrieved July 7, 2014. 
  20. ^ Riccardi, Theodore. "Nepal Mandala: A Cultural Study of the Kathmandu Valley. By Mary Shepherd Slusser.". The Journal of Asian Studies 44 (2): 445. doi:10.2307/2055986.  |chapter= ignored (help)
  21. ^ Strenski, Ivan (1997). "Sylvain Lévi: Maus's "Second Uncle". Durkheim and the Jews of France. Chicago, Ill.: University of Chicago Press. pp. 116–148. ISBN 0226777359. 
  22. ^ Olds, Sally Wendkos (2002). A balcony in Nepal : glimpses of a Himalayan village. San Jose [Calif.]: ASJA Press. p. 165. ISBN 0595240275. 
  23. ^ Dixit, Kunda (April 4–10, 2014). "Kadoorie in the land of Gurkhas". Nepali Times (701). 
  24. ^ "Report on Global Anti-Semitism". U.S. Department of State. January 5, 2005. 
  25. ^ "2012 Human Rights Reports: Nepal". U.S. Department of State. April 19, 2013. 
  26. ^ Haaretz Staff (April 23, 2013). "Iranian suspected of planning terror attack on Israeli embassy arrested in Nepal: Man is detained by Israeli security staff and found to be in possession of a counterfeit Israeli passport.". Haaretz. Retrieved July 2, 2014. 
  27. ^ Tiwary, Deeptiman (March 24, 2014). "IM skipped return to Pak for mission to kidnap Jews". The Times of India. Retrieved July 2, 2014. 
  28. ^ PTI – New Delhi (February 27, 2014). "IM Plotted to Kidnap Jews to Bargain for Al-Qaeda Woman: NIA". The New Indian Express. Retrieved July 2, 2014.