The Dream and the Movement

Rabbi Micha Odenheimer and Dr. Bishnu Chapagain, Nepal Director at a group Kabbalat Shabbat.

Rabbi Micha Odenheimer and Dr. Bishnu Chapagain, Nepal Director at a group Kabbalat Shabbat.

When Micha Odenheimer, a rabbi and a prolific journalist, travelled to Nepal in 2005, he was struck by the large number of Israeli tourists who were visiting the impoverished nation. Talented and motivated, many of them expressed a desire to do something to help the country. They also told Micha about their frustration that there was no framework that would allow them to do so.

Micha began to dream of harnessing the energy and curiosity of those young Israeli backpackers to help Nepal’s poorest and most marginalized communities. When he returned to Israel he recruited 15 young Israelis who moved to the Swayambu neighborhood in Kathmandu in 2007, living in a group house and volunteering with local NGOs. Micha stayed with the group, mentoring their work and inspiring them with study sessions on the philosophy, Jewish and universal, that had motivated him.

With that first group, a movement was born. In the past 7 years over 500 young Israelis and Jews have come to Nepal to give and to learn, and have returned to their home communities with a different view of the world and their place in it. Tevel is now running independent development projects in rural communities in Nepal, led by an outstanding local staff who infuse the international volunteers with their commitment and knowledge of their country. The model has been so successful, and the demand for the service-learning programs is so great that Tevel is now expanding its activity to the small nation of Burundi in Africa and plans to expand to additional countries in the future.

Volunteers work with community members on the demonstration farm in the Dhading District.

Volunteers work with community members on the demonstration farm in the Dhading District.

It is our responsibility to bring Jewish ethical wisdom to bear on the current international economic order. We need to focus on the regulation of international corporations and the promotion of grassroots democracy, and on the nexus between the battle for a clean environment and the struggle for social justice. We must not forget that the prophetic voice of justice emerges from a faith that human beings have within us the potential for something better, deeper, and ultimately more pleasurable—both as individuals and as a society. If we listen closely to the deepest layers of our tradition we will begin to realize this truth: none of us will be free until all of us are . When we gain awareness of how enmeshed we are with all of humanity, economically and thus ethically, we will begin the work, in partnership with other spiritual traditions, of creating a new ethic for the global age.  
Rabbi Micha Odenheimer, Founding Director