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World's Largest Passover Seder Threatened by MFA Strike

Strike cancels cargo shipments of kosher-for-passover food to Chabad in Nepal, threatening to foil planned Seder for hundreds of tourists.
By Tova Dvorin and AFP
First Publish: 3/25/2014, 2:41 PM

Passover seder (illustrative)
Passover seder (illustrative)
Flash 90

A strike by Israeli diplomats over salaries has foiled preparations in Nepal for what coordinators say is the world's biggest celebration of the Jewish Passover holiday (Pesach), organizers announced Tuesday.

Chabad-Lubavitch organizes the Passover feast or Seder Night in Kathmandu every year, attracting hundreds of people, including Israeli tourists from around the world.

But the massive celebration on April 14 relies on the Israeli embassy in Nepal to help import supplies for the feast to the Himalayan nation.

"We have a problem, we have not been able to get any food shipments through so far for this Passover," said Rabbi Chezki Lifshitz, co-director of Chabad House Nepal.

Israeli foreign ministry employees on Sunday ratcheted up plans for a full-scale strike at home and at diplomatic missions abroad.

"I hope the strike will end soon, if it ends in the next 3-4 days, we can still try to organize the celebration like every year," Lifshitz told AFP.

Hanan Goder-Goldberger, Israel's ambassador to Nepal, defended the strike and said he hoped the dispute over pay and staff conditions would be resolved soon.

"All diplomats are entitled to a decent salary, but my colleagues from other countries get double what I get, it is not fair," Goder-Goldberger told AFP. "I am sorry the cargo is stuck and causing a big problem for people who want to celebrate Passover... but I am optimistic we can reach agreement soon."

The seder (feast) is usually a relatively intimate affair, celebrated with close family and friends, but around 25 years ago the embassy began to invite Israeli tourists in Kathmandu to share in a meal, kicking off an event that organizers say is the world's largest seder.

The Passover holiday celebrates the flight of the 12 tribes of Israel from slavery in Egypt 3,000 years ago.

Foreign Ministry strike: hurting diplomacy?

This is the latest development in the Foreign Ministry strike, which was announced on Sunday. Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman (Yisrael Beytenu) has reiterated multiple times that he does not support the strike in his office, and has deemed the fully-fledged protest "irresponsible."

The strike has been the source of some controversy, after the Finance Ministry claimed that the Foreign Ministry workers actually make very high salaries for Israeli employees. The Foreign Minister's union has fired back, calling the data "illusory." 

Meanwhile, concerns have been raised over the effects the strike could have on Israeli diplomacy, as several important diplomatic visits have already been cancelled or postponed. 

To that end, mediator Judge Adler has called on both sides to attend an urgent mediation session on Tuesday afternoon, noting that there is great potential for damage to Israel's diplomatic reputation. 

"I have concluded that there is good reason to invite leaders of both sides of the dispute to an urgent meeting for mediation," Judge Adler stated. "Given the tremendous damage caused by the Foreign Ministry strike, there is an obligation on representatives of both sides to hold a mediation meeting today."