Seder in the Himalayas
In the land of exiled Tibetans yearning for freedom, a seder gathers Jews and non-Jews from around the globe to mark Passover.
BY: Rodger Kamenetz
I'm just recovering from last night's seder, a mammoth six-hour event with 250 guests. The setting was spectacular, here in the foothills of the Himalayas. When I stepped outside for evening prayers, the moon was a big white matzah in the sky, and you could see the white peaks of the Himalayas. For me, they are beautiful, but for the Tibetan refugees who live here in exile, the other side of those peaks are a lost home.
My friend Azriel Cohen, who lives in Jerusalem, started a project he calls "Tent of Light" (in Hebrew, it'sOhr Olam,
"Light of the World"). He comes from aharedi
(so-called ultra-Orthodox) Jewish background, and his dream is to bring the Jewish people together under one tent.
After he read my book "The Jew in the Lotus," he decided to check out Dharamsala himself. Dharamsala is full of Jewish travelers. Some are "dharma" people, seeking Buddhist teachings here and in other parts of India, practicing meditation on retreats, and generally opening up in this extraordinary land so rich with spiritual practice. There are many Israelis here, usually young people traveling after their military service, seeking an exotic and inexpensive adventure. I was amazed to see how many signs and posters in Dharamsala are in Hebrew.
Azriel's Tent of Light is a place where Jews who have been opened up by other spiritual traditions can taste some of the deeper teachings of their own. In addition to the seder, it features several weeks of classes and lectures about Jewish spirituality, this year led by Mimi Feigelson, a wonderful storyteller and teacher from Jerusalem, and me. Helping us out from Capetown is "Uncle Steve" Barnett, who uses rhythm, clapping, and drumming to bring together people from different cultures. That helps a lot because our Jewish "puja" (as the Hindus call any ceremony) has been attracting interest not only from Jews but from a representative sample of the entire planet.