It’s Erev Pesach, and Jews around the world are hustling and bustling to prepare the final touches on their sedarim. From arranging the seder plate to peeling potatoes and cracking walnuts, there is much to be done and never enough time to do it. For those hosting a public seder, the preparation is double or even triple the amount of a regular one. Public sedarim are held by the hundreds around the world every year. In recent years, public sedarim have been turned into all inclusive Pesach getaways and resorts. The destinations are endless; from Palm Desert to Cancun to Tuscany, Pesach has become the most exciting of Jewish holidays. But of all the Pesach getaways to choose from, none is more exotic, or as big, as the seder hosted in Kathmandu, Nepal.
This famous seder has claimed its title as the largest public seder in the world, hosting well over one thousand people every single year. The seder, hosted by Rabbi and Mrs. Lifshitz, Chabad Shluchim to Kathmandu, attracts people from all walks of life, and grows every year. Such an operation takes a lot of effort and creativity, especially when it comes to kosher food. Living in a remote location may make kosher resources hard to come by, but it’s far from impossible to put together a beautiful, memorable, and delicious Pesach seder for all to enjoy.
They say it takes a village to raise a child. Take that same village, move them to Kathmandu, and you have the team of workers who bring this humongous seder to life. When it comes to preparing and executing a seder on such a large scale, one can never have enough help.
Lital, an Israeli who was backpacking through Nepal with a few of her friends, had arranged to spend Pesach in Kathmandu, and arrived at the Chabad House two weeks before Pesach. What she found upon arrival was astonishing; an army of workers, backpackers, and friends working together to bring this seder to life. “It was like one big, Israeli reunion,” she recalls.
Along with hundreds of other Israeli backpackers, a group of young students and two couples that the Lifshitz’s brought out to Kathmandu, she spent two weeks preparing for the seder of a lifetime. Kosher food is hard to come by in Nepal, but it’s not impossible to find. Chabad of Kathmandu has a restaurant, where a majority of the food for the seder was prepared and cooked. While some ingredients, such as vegetables, can be found locally, matzah and wine were ordered from Israel in mass amounts. “You would not believe how many boxes of matzah they had in storage —it was unbelievable!” Chickens, which Rabbi Lifshitz and the team of rabbis shechted themselves, arrived in crates by the hundreds several days before Pesach. Along with local workers whom the Lifshitzs’ hired, it took a team of about fifty people to bring the seder to its final form. Days of peeling potatoes, boiling carrots and roasting chickens reached a majestic pinnacle on the night of the seder.
A young, newly married couple who went to help conduct the seder was shocked to find just how much time and effort goes into preparing such a vast amount of food. “It was an incredible operation,” they explained. “We arrived a week before Pesach, and most of the preparations had already been taken care of. What was left to do immediately before the holiday began was actually cooking the food.” How does one even begin cooking food for 1,500 people? They combine the use of the Chabad House kitchen, as well as the kitchen in the restaurant and the kitchen of the venue they rented out for the actual seder. “The venue had a commercial kitchen similar to what you’d find in a hotel—massive pots, huge ovens. It cut the cooking time in half.” After cooking for days at a time, executing the actual seder felt like a breeze. “There are actually two sedarim held at the venue,’ the couple explained. “The main seder, which is conducted in Hebrew, is run by Rabbi Lifshitz. There is a second seder, conducted in English, that takes place in the same venue, right outside of the room where the main seder is conducted.” While over 1,500 hundred people took part in the seder last year, only 400 of them stayed for the meal. “Once we arrived at the meal, we moved everyone around so that they would be closer to one another, to give it a homier feel. The food was plated and served by the staff so that we would be free to help conduct and explain the seder.”
The most important part was making sure that everyone felt at home. From the massive amounts of food, wine and matzah to the heartwarming tune of Ma Nishtanah sung by the youngest in the crowd, one thing’s for sure: A seder like this is surely an affair to remember.