It was the next best thing to the Pony Express, and an outright miracle that appeared out of nowhere. Last week four Israelis died and at least a dozen others were injured; but at least 250 Israelis were saved and hundreds of others as well, because a group was resourceful.
Seizing a ‘window of opportunity’ when it came galloping by, a group of Israelis huddled in a tiny wooden shack – a tea house in the mountain pass of Thorong La — over writing a call for help in Hebrew as a Himalayan blizzard raged outside.
“There are Israelis trapped in the tea shop at the pass,” wrote Rotem Snir. “Lives are in danger. Help us. Thank you.”
A Nepali porter took their note and rode out on horseback into the storm, hoping to reach the camp they described passing on their way up the mountain. They themselves were stuck at 18,000 feet above sea level, and for the remainder of the storm would remain there – a decision that saved their lives.
The porter, meanwhile, found three Israeli hikers and delivered the note.
Upon reading it, they immediately contacted the Israeli Embassy in Kathmandu.
The local Chabad House was transformed into a command center. The Kathmandu Chabad House sees hundreds – make that thousands – of Israeli backpackers every year; it’s the traditional pit stop on the way up or down the Himalayas. It’s also the venue for the biggest seder in the world – at the top of the world – one where the supplies literally have to be brought in on horseback.
Rabbi Yechezkel Lifshiftz, Chabad-Lubavitch emissary to Kathmandu and head of the Chabad House, responded to the flood of emails from worried parents and constantly updated a Google spreadsheet with data on Israelis who were out in the storm.
Israeli volunteers helped work the phones and exchange information with the Israeli Embassy.
More than 400 Israelis were on the “watch and pray” list, coded by trekking agency.
By Monday, search teams were wrapping up operations, and at the Kathmandu Chabad House, an Israeli psychotherapist was scheduled to lead a group session. The bulletin board showed that medical care was available from Israeli doctors.
Those who stayed in the teahouse discovered how miraculous it was that they had managed to reach shelter when they did.
One of the group, Jacob Megreli, 24, told the Wall Street Journal that he and another man rescued an Israeli buried in snow that rose higher than his head. Only the tips of his upraised hands showed above the sparkling white trail, tipping off the searchers. After that, he told the New York-based newspaper, his group found at least one body every 20 minutes along the trail.
Of the hundreds who made it to safety that Monday in the storm, 200 to 250 were Israelis, according to embassy figures. Hundreds more were from other nations. Nepali villagers, mountain guides and helicopter pilots worked tirelessly to rescue whoever they could.
By Wednesday, when the storm cleared out, 33 people had lost their lives, according to Nepal’s Home Ministry. Four were Israeli.
Had it not been for the miracle of a tiny wooden teahouse, a piece of notebook paper and a Sherpa pony express, who knows how many more …