The world’s biggest Passover seder is at risk of being canceled this year because of a strike at the Israeli Foreign Ministry.
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The seder, organized for the past 26 years by the Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic movement in Kathmandu, Nepal, typically attracts about 2,000 backpackers, most of them Israelis traveling through South Asia and the Far East. But all the supplies for the upcoming seder, sent in a container from Israel, are stuck in Calcutta, India, because striking Israeli Foreign Ministry staff are not releasing them from customs.
In an email exchange with Haaretz today, Chezki Lifshitz, the Chabad emissary in Kathmandu, expressed hope that Foreign Ministry staff would make an exception in this case and break for their strike to allow the container to be delivered to its destination. “There are thousands of Israelis in the midst of the Annapurna trek planning to celebrate the seder with us in Nepal,” he wrote, referring to a popular hiking circuit in the country. “As of now, the container is stuck in Calcutta — a distance of two-and-a-half days from Kathmandu. The roads are windy, and you never know how long it’s going to take. Meanwhile we’re having to spend lots of money on storage fees in India because of this delay, and we’re trying to figure out other creative options.”
Yigal Palmor, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, said in response that the Passover seder in Kathmandu would absolutely not take place as a result of the strike, which is being held to protest employment conditions of Israeli diplomats and the Finance Ministry's decision to cut their salaries over renewed sanctions.
"It is not at risk of being canceled. It will be canceled. What can we do? We’re on strike,” Palmor said. “Chabad should take their complaints to the Finance Ministry. They know well enough that for years we were happy to help out with this seder, which has become a tradition. But now we’ve been pushed into a corner by the Finance Ministry.”
Menachem Brod, the spokesman for Chabad in Israel, said as far as he knows this is the only seder that will be affected by the Foreign Ministry strike. Chabad organizes annual seders in other remote corners of the word that typically attract Israeli backpackers and travelers, including Cambodia, Vietnam, Peru, Kenya, Congo and the Australian Gold Coast.
Referring to the possibility that the seder in Kathmandu might be canceled, he said, “We’re not raising our hands yet.”