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


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I have a long connection with this idea of doing a seder here. Back in 1990, Rabbi Zalman Schachter had proposed teaching the Tibetans how to do a seder. (The word means "order," and a seder is a meal with a definite order of eating and speaking, all designed to recall the wondrous liberation of Hebrew slaves from Egypt long ago.)

Passover on Beliefnet
  • Johanna Skilling on the lessons she learned at an interfaith seder.
  • Arthur Hertzberg on the lessons of his parents' seder.

    PLUS: Find more features, music, and the interactive seder plate in Beliefnet's Passover section.
  • Back then, the Dalai Lama had asked for Jewish secrets of survival during our long years of exile from our homeland. The seder was one answer. The rabbis created the seder as we know it after the Second Temple was destroyed. They centered it on commandments in the Torah, but they also borrowed the form of the Greek Symposium, a special meal or banquet, such as the one described in Plato's "Symposium."

    Zalman wanted to pass the favor along to the Tibetans. Now that they are living in exile--some 150,000 in India, Europe, and the U.S.--perhaps they too could use a home ritual in which family members recall the spiritual values of their tradition and pass them along to children.

    In 1996, I came to Dharamsala and fulfilled Zalman's idea by doing a seder with Jewish and Tibetan Buddhist teachers. But Azriel Cohen has taken the idea to a whole new level. My seder was small, intense, and in many ways a profound sharing of Jewish and Tibetan views of freedom. But Azriel Cohen's seder was a massive gathering of the tribes--not only Jewish tribes but also curious travelers from around the world.

    It was far from a typical seder. At the beginning, we had introductions in English and Hebrew--the languages of the majority of the folks--as well as greetings in Russian. Then a


    a wandering Hindu mendicant, named Shiva introduced himself, his dreadlocks falling down to his heels.

    The seder itself followed the usual order of the service. My favorite part was the Four Questions, in which the youngest child in the room asks questions about the meal, leading to the narration of the Passover story.

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