This is – this was – Tevel’s Kathmandu headquarters.Or, as it is also known, “the big house.” This is where the NGO volunteers in Nepal would come, in between their stints in the field – for rest, relaxation and a little Yiddishkeit among the monks, pollution, monkeys and buddhas. That’s when Rabbi Micha Odenheimer took his kids out of school for a few months and went on a family trip to India.
Aftershocks and tremors continue, terrifying Nepalis and reaching all the way into neighboring China and India.
Meanwhile, iconic UNESCO World Heritage sites and popular tourist attractions – some dating back more than 1,700 years – have been reduced to piles of rubble: Ancient Buddhist temples, stupas and monasteries have all collapsed.
True, they are known to be stingy, and, indeed, many are loud or downright rude – as the various stereotypes go. But he also, as is his way, observed some other, more appealing, qualities. There are a lot of fantastic kids out there,” he says.
His sense was that many of them were interested in the countries they were traveling through beyond getting stoned at beach parties and paying six cents for dinner.
And that was when, for the first time, he encountered the so-called Hummus Trail.
An estimated 50,000 young Israelis depart from Ben-Gurion Airport every year and head out on their “big trip” to far-off lands.“I wanted to teach something about the ethical traditions at the heart of the Torah,” he says, “and to help youngsters connect those values of Judaism to the universal. “Let’s start giving some thought to what vulnerability and poverty mean,” suggests Noga Shafer-Raviv, 29, Tevel’s director of community development, who has offered up her student apartment for the get-together.“What if the Israeli jaunt through the Third World could be harnessed to transform the thinking of the new generation? “Could it spark an Israel that was not only a high-tech power, but also a place where original and important ideas arose to address the great ethical dilemmas raised by globalization and poverty? “There are always those who arrive in the villages and say, ‘Look! “Let’s start that conversation.” Odenheimer’s pilot program – once a simple operation in which volunteers were recruited, placed with local NGOs, and later got together for some ad hoc Judaism classes – has, over the years, evolved into a much more serious organization.“It seemed to me the problem was that they had no real way to sink their teeth into what they were seeing,” he adds.“And so I got thinking of starting a program that would give their travels a new dimension.” Odenheimer wanted, he explains, to both awaken within these travelers an awareness of the need for global social and economic justice, and to relate that to where they were coming from.One man carefully lays out the dozen bunches of parsley he has brought in from the village on a sheet of plastic and crouches down to wait for customers.