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.
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 asaddhu,
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.
Jazzy, a brilliant 11-year-old here with her parents from Los Angeles, dedicated her moment to Gendun, a Tibetan boy who will also be 11 next week. The Chinese authorities have held Gendun under house arrest since 1995; his "crime" is that the Dalai Lama identified him as the reincarnation of the Panchen Lama, overt the objections of Chinese authorities, who sought to name their own choice.