Bedouin diplomat and Chabad rabbi unite to save lives
Upon arriving at his diplomatic posting in Kathmandu, Ismail Khalidi heard reports of a serious accident that killed Vered Aviyashar in the Annapurna Range of Nepal. Touched by the story of her life, Khalidi teamed up with the local Chabad Rabbi Hezki Lifshitz to establish a life-saving project to provide trekkers with mini oxygen tanks to protect from altitude sickness.
"This is where Bedouin and Jewish values meet," said Ismail Khalidi, an Israeli Bedouin diplomat now serving in the Foreign Ministry as he sat with Chabad emissary to Nepal Rabbi Hezki Lifshitz, a year and a half after Vered Aviyashar (26) of Kibbutz Ein Hanatziv, was killed when her Jeep overturned on the Annapurna ridge of the Himalayas. After the accident, a medical project was launched in her memory.
"The project — owing to my personal commitment to the Chabad center in Katmandu, administered by Rabbi Hezki Lifshitz and his wife Chani, who are dedicated to their work all year round," Khalidi said. The diplomat also donated three months salaries for the medical project which includes the distribution of small oxygen tanks to help Israeli backpackers trekking in the Himalayas suffering from altitude sickness.
"At altitudes over 3,500 meters one is at risk of altitude sickness due to the oxygen-thin air," explains Rabbi Lifshitz. "Altitude sickness can be life-threatening; accessible oxygen is the most effective method to treat it. But travelers generally avoid carrying oxygen tanks because of their considerable weight and price. The solution therefore is to adapt the tank's weight to the climber’s ability to carry them.”
Khalidi immediately committed himself to the project and began raising funds. "Now, that the climbing and trekking season is beginning and Israelis are setting out in groups, only when they are at high altitudes do they discover that they have an oxygen problem and are in need of urgent rescue," he explains. "Until the helicopter arrives, they will be able to make use of the small oxygen tanks available for rent that will carry Vered's name and her heart-breaking life-story."
Khalidi is the first Bedouin diplomat in the Foreign Ministry. He arrived in Nepal a year and a half ago to temporarily reinforce the Israeli Embassy in the country where he served as the acting ambassador. The day after his arrival in Nepal he received the harsh news of the jeep that overturned on the Annapurna ridge, critically wounding and eventually killing Vered Aviyashar and injuring eight of her friends.
In the week following the accident, Khalidi was in contact with the Aviyashar family and put all of his efforts in to ensuring that her body would be flown to Israel as soon as possible for burial. He also extended aid to her wounded friends in the hospital.
The day after Vered was laid to rest in Israel, Khalidi decided to go to the scene of the accident, along the 41 miles-long route that Vered traveled with her friends. He walked twelve and a half kilometers on dangerous hilly terrain, to the scene of the accident near the Nepali village of Tal.
Khalidi decided to build an improvised memorial at the site that included rocks, flowers and Israeli flags and even erected a plaque in her memory. "Vered's story touched my heart," he explained. "She was a happy woman who wanted to see the world. Her story reflects the story of many Israelis who come here and also Israeli-Nepali relations. Since the accident, I have been committed to establishing a medical project in her name. The story touched my heart as if she were my little sister. I discussed many options with Rabbi Hezki, and because there is a problem funding the project, we decided to proceed with something immediately: the oxygen tanks that will help climbers at high altitudes."
Rabbi Hezki and Chani Lifshitz run the Chabad House in Kathmandu and take care of the needs of Jewish backpackers all year round. They took it upon themselves to lead the project in Vered's memory. "The project is an additional step in making the trip for trekkers in Nepal safe," concluded the rabbi.