News for North Texas
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Nepal, Home To The World's Largest Seder, Puts On Massive Passover Celebration


Last night was the first night of Passover. Jews commemorate the Exodus from Egypt with a ritual feast to tell that story. Seders are typically family affairs, but one of the largest in the world takes place in Nepal. Danielle Preiss reports from Kathmandu.

DANIELLE PREISS, BYLINE: There's a small house in Kathmandu's tourist district where you'll hear more Hebrew than Nepali spoken. The community center is run by the Orthodox Jewish movement, Chabad. This week, Rabbi Chezky Lifshitz led a group of men in prayer in Kathmandu's only synagogue.

CHEZKY LIFSHITZ: (Speaking Hebrew).

PREISS: Most Nepalis practice Hinduism. There's a large Buddhist population, a smaller Muslim community and Christianity is growing. There are also Sikhs, Jains and Kirats, a Himalayan culture and religious practice, but no Jews. Saroj Bajracharya, the Nepali manager of the Chabad House, says the religion isn't well-known, but Nepalis are very tolerant.

SAROJ BAJRACHARYA: Our leaders in general in Nepal - they don't have any problem with other religions.

PREISS: The center mainly caters to groups of Israeli backpackers that travel Nepal, often after completing military service. Passover falls during the spring trekking season, so many now plan to be in Kathmandu for the holiday.

YULI SIMON: I think all the Israelis know about the Seder. And 'cause we are far from home, we want to do, like, real Seder.

PREISS: Twenty-three-year-old Yuli Simon recently finished her military service and is traveling for several months. After Nepal, she'll go to India. Another traveler, Jake Norton from London, was initially skeptical to spend Passover away from home.

JAKE NORTON: And then I realized quite quickly that I was going to be at one of the largest Seders in the world, which excited me quite a bit.

PREISS: But delivering a proper Passover meal to a thousand guests in Nepal is no mean feat. For the big dinner, Chabad imported about 2,000 pounds of matzah from Israel, 200 pounds of beef from New York and 25 gallons of palm oil from Malaysia. During the holiday, observant Jews avoid all leavened products. So matzah, a sort of unleavened bread, takes center stage. But the trickiest item is kosher wine.

CHANI LIFSHITZ: Because it was very tough, you know, to bring all the wine and the - so we make here alone, you know? It's - if you cannot bring it, do it, you know (laughter)?

PREISS: That's Chani Lifshitz, the rabbi's wife. The dinner requires drinking four cups of kosher wine. After years of struggling to import enough, Lifshitz started making his own in huge plastic tanks that normally store water on Kathmandu roofs.

MOSHE KLAR: This is not what I thought I'd be doing in Nepal.

PREISS: Brooklynite Moshe Klar and friends were recruited to help finish the process. To be considered kosher, the wine must be watched by a religious Jew throughout.

DAVID WOONTEILER: A God-fearing Jew.

PREISS: David Woonteiler helps Klar pour a water jug of the pungent homemade wine into a giant pressure cooker. Then they light a gas flame to quickly boil it.

WOONTEILER: Moshe, start 14 minutes - starting it?

PREISS: The boiling makes it so the wine can be handled by non-Jews and still considered kosher. For Chani Lifshitz, the granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor, Passover is a time to enjoy but also to remember.

CHANI LIFSHITZ: You have to understand that we suffered so much because (inaudible) that we are Jewish people. So now when we can be together, you know, we can be - Jewish people are family.

PREISS: Here, it's just a bigger family. For NPR News, I'm Danielle Preiss in Kathmandu.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: April 19, 2019 at 11:00 PM CDT
A previous Web introduction to this story incorrectly said the Israeli Embassy hosts the Seder in Nepal. In fact, it is hosted by the organization Chabad-Lubavitch.
Danielle Preiss