Manali Diary 4: Search for Missing Israeli Continues


Manali Diary 4: Search for Missing Israeli Continues

Photo Credit: Levi Pekar

Dibibokri Glacier

by Levi Pekar - Khalga, India

August 17, 2009

When an Israeli traveler, Ami-Chai Shtainmitz, was discovered missing in India, Chabad rabbinical students Levi Pekar and Yehuda Kirsh took an active role in organizing search parties. This is part four of Levi's Manali diary, exclusive to lubavitch.comClick here for his earlier entries.

 Thursday 16 Av

Yehuda’s team got up 6:00am, and again the team was split in two, the “easy” group would go to the villages to put signs and gather information, while “difficult” team would climb the mountain and search. The day was mostly uneventful, but later on in the evening one of the volunteers came to a guest house to buy something, when he noticed a folding tent in a side room that matched the description of Ami-Chai’s.  He quickly passed the information on to Gil, who in turn had to think how to go about verifying if it was actually Ami-Chai’s or not. If he would get the police involved and it turns out to be nothing, we can lose the support of the village people; just to walk in and ask to check wouldn’t work either, as the guy wasn’t that friendly. In the end he sent in someone in to buy something and hopefully get a good glance. It turned out not to be Ami-Chai’s.

Friday 17 Av

Yehuda’s day was spent preparing for Shabbos in Khalga while the rest of the team went on the searches, which didn’t go as planned. Eli from the IDF 669 Harel unit tripped and broke his thigh so Ami-Chai’s friend Matan took over his team. Eli is a broad person so it took six people to carry him down the mountain and three people to carry the luggage that he carried himself.

Yehuda asked me to send him provisions for Shabbos so I sent him 80 Challahs, 40 song books and a bottle of vodka. His Friday night was a major success. He had 70 people who came including Ami-Chai’s family. He put his talented singing capabilities to work, and got the crowd out of the solemn serious searching mode and into a true Shabbos spirit. Within  a short period he had the crowd singing along with him.

In Manali,  230 people joined us for Shabbos—the largest Shabbos we ever had! I bought 20 new chairs the previous week, pulled out Yehuda’s and my mattresses, overturned milk crates, had people sitting together on one chair and we still had 30 people standing!  I spent most of the night talking about Ami-Chai and how everybody can help by either coming to the searches on Sunday or by giving Tzedaka and putting on Tefillin in his name.

Shabbos 18 Av

The search wasn’t planning to go out on Shabbos because most of the people were way too worn out, but when a flock of vultures were seen in the distance hovering over a location about 10 miles from Khalga, a team was quickly assembled and raced over there. To their relief it was a dead buffalo. On Saturday night the new rescue team came, Oliver and Sharon lead by Gil who came a couple days earlier

In Manali we broke another record of 100 people coming by day and again the theme of the meal was Ami-Chai and how we all have the responsibility to help in any way we can including volunteering, praying, and doing Mitzvot in his name. Saturday night 25 people came and volunteered to go to the searches, and dozens more agreed to do something in his merit.

Sunday 19 Av

Yehuda came back in the morning from Khalga, exhausted. We spent most of the day putting our Chabad House back together, I went to buy some chess boards and while I was standing in the store I met two girls that visited our Chabad House. After some small talk they tell me that they were with Ami-Chai the Shabbos before he disappeared and contrary to what we heard from his friend, they said that he was heading towards the snow caps and not to Bunbuny.

I was greatly surprised but because I didn’t have my cell phone I asked them to accompany me back to the Chabad House so I can relay the message to Gil. They said it was too late to join me, but promised to come the following morning.

 When we got back to the Chabad House we called Gil and told what had occurred and we were even more surprised than before when he told us that if we don’t find those girls within an half an hour he will take a taxi straight to Manali and wake up the whole town if to find them.

We rounded up all the people in the Chabad House especially the ones who weren’t able to join the searches for various reasons and went to search for them. We started off with 10 people but on our way up we encountered more people and they volunteered to help us, so we ended up over 35 people going door to door at every guest house and internet café.  After a 45 minute search we found them and we passed the phone with Gil on the other end. They told him what they told me and then we dispersed and went to bed with a strong hope.

Monday 20 Av

Because we had  to arrive at Khare-Ghanga that day (3 hour drive to Kasol, 1 ½ hour drive to Varshani, 1 hour walk to Khalga and a 4 hour hike to Khare-Ghanga) we pulled out of Manali in 5 jeeps at 9 am. In Kasol I met and drafted another 4 guys and in Khalga I met and interviewed Ami-Chai’s father Yaakov, a kind man who, even in the midst of his angst, had the wherewithal to smile and laugh with us.

As we were trekking through the rain towards Khare-Ghanga, I got a call from Yehuda who told me that he received a phone call from a distressed woman claiming her daughter named Shani called her for money and was told to call back the next day to verify the location of the wire and she didn’t. All we knew was that she was in Parvati valley. About an hour later while I was crossing a particularly dangerous river I got another phone call from Yehuda telling me that the consulate called and notified him that another girl named Daniella K. who was also in Parvati and happened to be an Israeli actress hadn’t called home for 10 days. The hysteria was starting to be felt in Israel and every person who hadn’t called in more than a week was feared lost.

When we finally reached Khare-Ghanga, the first thing everyone did was either go to the hot springs or get some food. I went  to the farthest guest house and rented the whole place out so that way the married couples and the religious girls could have some privacy and not sleep with the public. As I was going towards this guest house I happened by a couple sitting on a rock and smoking.  I tried reaching out to them but they weren’t being very responsive so I let them go but on my way back, the Lubavitcher in me got the better of me, and  I tried engaging them in conversation. Imagine my reaction when she introduced herself as Daniella K.!

I quickly told her that search parties were starting to get organized to find her and that she should hurry and call home. So with one down and two to go I went to sleep.

Tuesday 21 Av

I woke up and after a short breakfast of two hard boiled eggs left Khare-Ghanga with 18 people headed towards the snow caps. We marched to the plateau where instead of taking a right and heading down the mountain towards Bunbuny we took a sharp left and started to climb the mountain. We left Khare-Ghanga at 7:45am, at 1:00pm we finally made it high enough where trees couldn’t grow anymore because of the lack of proper oxygen. We made our lunch break (2 hard boiled eggs for me); by this time people weren’t able to continue from fatigue so we continued moving with 10 people leaving eight of them to head back, at 2:00pm it was getting hard to walk because of the steepness so we had to slow down and by now we were only 8 people left, we were able to see Khare-Ghanga and Bunbuny from a distance. At 3:30pm we reached the snow caps at the height of 4700 meters (15,500 feet) with only 4 people left including myself (I don’t know how I did it, when I got back I was completely stiff).

The walk down took 3 hours; picking up people we left behind was probably the hardest part because we had to remember where they were, we got back and after an hour catching our breaths I gave the first Tanya class Khare-Ghanga ever had. We went to sleep disappointed that we didn’t find anything at the snow caps.

Yehuda related to me over the phone that in the morning he got a call from Shani who asked why he was trying to get hold of her. He told her that her parents were worried sick about her; she admitted that she completely forgot to call back to her parents and will do so immediately.

Two down one to go.

Wednesday 22 Av

Today we scoured the forested cliffs between Khare-Ghanga and the Parvati River for four hours. While scaling one of the cliffs, I fell 10 feet and scratched my whole back.  Besides for this, it was a tiresome job because we would go back on forth every time just little closer to the river and it got very repetitious. After lunch (a can of tuna someone brought me) we spent 4 hours going through a dense forest Between Khare-Ghanga and the path that leads up to the plateau. Again, I had a small accident and slipped and smashed my knee on a rock, so I limped around the rest of the day with a cane.

Thursday 23 Av

Over the next couple days Gil requested that the Israelis don’t help because they were going to real cliffs and only wanted Indian grapplers to come, so we rounded up all the Israelis and headed back to Manali.

I got back to Manali and went straight to the doctor to check out my foot (I was still walking with a cane). Thank G-d I’ll survive.

Friday 24 Av

Yehuda and I were told by many people that we were going to have an extra large Shabbos so we bought new tables and chairs. The Steinmetz’s were planning to spend Shabbos with us with another family friend that came from Israel. We had an astounding 250 people at our meal. We recruited more people for the coming week of searches.

Shabbos 25 Av

Shabbos day we had 120 people and again we spent our time campaigning to get people to help in any possible to help Ami-Chai, Either coming on the searches, saying Psalms or donating money to help fund the searches.

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