November 25, 2011

Tulasi Ghimirey's Thanksgiving Letter 2011

Tulasi loves growing vegetables
In 2000, Tulasi Ghimirey arrived in the U.S. from United Nations-run refugee camps in southeastern Nepal. There, 100,000 fellow ethnic-Nepali Bhutanese refugees landed in 1990 following ethnic cleansing in Bhutan, their homeland. Through combined efforts of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Third Country Resettlement Program and the U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program, about 60,000 Bhutanese refugees have been resettled in the U.S. Tulasi lives in Atlanta with his wife, Kumari, and son, Ryan. 

Dear friends, volunteers, and well-wishers of me, my family, and the Bhutanese community,

I never wait for Thanksgiving to arrive to thank this country and its citizens. Giving and Thanking someone is the ultimate happiness prescription.
At night, I still dream of those days, especially the torture that I have gone through, in Bhutan. I find myself running, crying, and begging for help. Those camouflage outfits of the Bhutanese Army haunt me always.

When I get conscious from my dream, I find myself in the fancier house in America. My pounding heart slows down realizing that I am in America and not in Bhutan. The next thing I do before putting my body under the quilt is to Thank this great country because I will never be tortured again. I don’t have to get punched in my face until I am found guilty. What humane laws this country has. I can proudly say that I am a human being because humans are treated as human beings here. 

Thank God for the bountiful blessing bestowed upon America, Land of the Free and Home of the Brave! I salute our armed and unarmed forces who are making tremendous sacrifices to keep us SAFE and FREE. Thanksgiving would not even exist without their selfless service. And, as I feast on delicious food, I remember the American farmers who feed us and the world safe nutritious food. 

We still have many people struggling to put food on the table as we work to recover from our economic downturn. Our food shelves feel increased demand during the holiday season so I encourage you to donate or make a charitable contribution.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving with family and friends.

Related posts
Emory University article on Tulasi
Bhutan refugee finds Shangri-La in Atlanta

November 07, 2011

In Tel Aviv: Levinsky Park

Levinsky Park is a hub of activity
Thanks to massive efforts in and around this patch of green between the sketchy, rundown Neve Shaanan neighborhood and the Central Bus Station, many low-income and impoverished Israelis, undocumented workers, refugees, and asylum seekers can obtain token basic services. As a rule, nongovernmental and volunteer humanitarian organizations offer food, shelter, childcare, legal advice, and health care. Area adults and children can enjoy, too, nurturing facilities — a multilingual library, playground, and basketball court that often lift their spirits and fuel their hopes for solutions to ostensibly intransigent human problems.

Watch the video (6:45 minutes).

My related posts

September 28, 2011

At Bialik-Rogozin School, shooting baskets with Josh Gomes

Josh Gomes discusses the game in "Hebrish/Englew"
with several players on the Grades 8-9 Basketball Team
The compelling educational vision and innovative practices of the famed inner-city Bialik-Rogozin School in South Tel Aviv draw hundreds of volunteers, including my friend Josh Gomes, an American professional basketball player winning points for Israeli teams several years.

In grades K-12, the international student body numbers nearly 900 Jews, Christians, and Muslims from 48 countries — with roots in Israel, Sudan, Darfur, Ghana, Sierra Leone, the Philippines, Eritrea, Russia, Dominican Republic, and Columbia, among other countries. A film about the school, Strangers No More, captured the Academy Award in the Documentary Short Subject category, in 2011.

Josh scored big on his visit with the Grades 8-9 Basketball Team (they captured third place in the 2011 Tel Aviv Basketball Competition). The team's makeup reflects the international student body.

Watch the video (4:16 minutes)

Bialik-Rogozin School
Ha-Aliya 49
Tel Aviv, Israel 66041
Tel. 03-668-3802
(from abroad ++972-3-668-3802)

Related posts

August 05, 2011

At Georgia Tech's Combustion Lab, you're never too young to learn

Pritam shows cousin Sarda how a vortex tube works

If somebody wants to be in the lab, if science interests him, we have to provide the platform to do that.

— Dr. Yedidia Neumeier, principal research engineer and adjunct professor, Georgia Tech, School of Aerospace Engineering

Last summer, while reviewing the draft of Pritam Adhikari's personal essay for his college applications, I learned about his compelling dream of a career related to aviation — a dream he developed in Beldangi-2, a Bhutanese refugee camp in Nepal, and nurtured across continents and cultures despite a dizzying array of traumas, demands, and challenges following ethnic cleansing of 100,000 fellow ethnic-Nepali Bhutanese in their homeland, Bhutan.

And it struck me that polishing Pritam's standout essay was secondary to introducing him to my longtime friend, Dr. Yedidia Neumeier. The pair bonded quickly — the Israeli-born Orthodox Jew and the native Bhutanese son of a Hindu priest. Yedidia invited Pritam to join David and Moshe (he dubbed the trio, the "Three Musketeers") this summer in an intriguing project in Yedidia's lab.

David (Yeshiva HS, NYC), Moshe (Yeshiva Atlanta),
Pritam (Druid Hills HS, Atlanta), and Yedidia
The project? Investigating vortex tubes — the scientific phenomena and design of these effective, low-cost solutions to industrial spot cooling and process cooling needs.

On completing their project in the Combustion Lab, the "Three Musketeers" presented the fruits of their summer activities. In a wood-paneled seminar room of the storied School of Aerospace Engineering, Dr. Neumeier introduced the high school students and their guests and described the project purpose and methodology. Each student explained what he had learned, illustrating key points using presentation slides.

Family, friends, and graduate students paid rapt attention.

Following a robust Q&A, the group drove across campus to the Combustion Lab where Yedidia explained early aerospace technology.

And, the guests experienced "hands-on" a vortex tube in operation.

In their project presentation, a concluding slide on "What we gained and learned from our time at Georgia Tech" summarized what the students had learned: "How to set up a proper experiment, take good data, and understand our results." And, I reflected on other lessons they had learned — meeting fellow students from different cultures and backgrounds and working together as one team honoring everyone's talents and creativity.

May they and their devoted teacher, mentor, and ally continue to go from strength to strength! And to Yedidia: תודה רבה, רבה — many thanks!

Related post
Pitamber Adhikari: "Though I am financially poor, mentally, I’m rich!"

June 05, 2011

Breaking Into Israel: my Eritrean hero Kidane Isaac

My Eritean friends (L to R) Kidane Isaac, Filamon Juenist, and Domoz
 Bereket. Behind me, American pal Josh Gomes (Levinsky Park, Tel Aviv)

Update | Wedding in Jaffa, Israel: Kidane Isaac and Laurie Lijnders

In the Sinai, thousands of Eritreans fleeing conscription, torture, and conflict in their East African homelands have been seeking safe harbor in Israel (many were turned back from Libya and Italy). Along their way, human traffickers raped, tortured, killed, and held hostage the impoverished refugees for extravagant ransom monies. Those who survived the perils then risked shooting by Egyptian and Israeli border guards.

In Tel Aviv, Kidane Isaac, my gentle friend, courageous community leader, and Eritrean asylum seeker who survived the treacherous journey inspires me daily to act on the Torah injunction (Leviticus 19:34) —

כְּאֶזְרָח מִכֶּם יִהְיֶה לָכֶם הַגֵּר הַגָּר אִתְּכֶם, וְאָהַבְתָּ לוֹ כָּמוֹךָ כִּי גֵרִים הֱיִיתֶם בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם

Treat foreign residents living among you as your native-born. Love each one as yourself because you were foreigners in Egypt.

Kidane and others are interviewed in "Eritrea to Israel: Dying to cross the border," a British public-TV station Channel 4 documentary. Watch the video (23.5 minutes).

No country for refugees, article on The Refugee Voice, in Haaretz newspaper, April 15, 2011

The African Refugee Development Center
Founded in 2004 by refugees and Israelis to help refugees and asylum seekers in Israel, ARDC provides community services and lobbies for fairer policies towards refugees.

The Hotline for Refugees and Migrants
Founded in 1998, HMW is a non-partisan, not for profit organization promoting undocumented migrant workers' and refugees' rights, and eliminating human trafficking in Israel.

Organization for Aiding Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel
Founded in 2007, ASSAF is a non-profit organization that provides support and runs programs to protect and strengthen the African refugee community in Israel.

May 10, 2011

Celebrating Israel's 63rd at Hulda Forest and Herzl House

Theodor Herzl, "Visionary of the State," look-alike in
(cardboard) signature beard and top hat
holds his Jewish State, a key text of early Zionism

In Jewish time, each day begins at sunset. So, last night, on the eve of Yom Ha'atzmaut [Hebrew: Independence Day], I joined Yehudit and Yisrael Liman and their two youngest grandchildren and their parents to celebrate the birth of the State of Israel sixty-three years ago, on May 14, 1948. Yehudit, who had decorated cakes with soy-yogurt to spell out the number 63, lit two candles, and recited the ancient Shehecheyanu [Hebrew: who has given us life] blessing.

Blessed are You, Adonai, sovereign of the world, who has kept us alive, sustained us, and brought us to this moment.
Talmud (Berachot 54a)

The next morning, I rode with Gwen and Lloyd Dreilinger to join Havurat Tel Aviv fellows for a traditional holiday barbecue picnic in Hulda Forest. Here, as in many of Israel's national parks, forests, and historic sites, the tour leaders are volunteers doing national service during a "gap year" between high school and compulsory army service. Working under Jewish National Fund direction, they conduct activities that teach about Zionism, nature, and environmental awareness.

In the video (Hebrew), the tour leaders explain the history of Hulda Forest and Herzl House, and impersonate Theodor Herzl (1860-1904), "Visionary of the State."

Watch the video (3:10) minutes.

For more information, visit Hulda Forest and Herzl House by Aviva Bar-Am.

My related posts

April 28, 2011

Josh Gomes: My Eritrean brother can dunk; he just wanted a little help this time

Basketball pro Josh Gomes teams up with Johnno, age 7
 at Levinsky Park in South Tel Aviv
Josh Gomes and I are family. Yup. Most of the kids buzzing around Josh arrived in Israel with their parents to escape genocide, war, and hunger. They are refugees, asylum seekers, or migrant workers — legal and the other kind. All the kids begged the gentle, towering American to notice, coach, and play with them as they passed, blocked, and aimed balls at the basket. "He's a real player! He's a real player! gasped 11-year-old Joseph, who recognized Josh from TV coverage.

The international team of players, with roots in Israel, Sudan, Darfur, the Philippines, Eritrea, and Russia all speak Hebrew plus two or more languages; within nanoseconds, they bonded with their instant hero. Their common language? Smiles, hugs, and, a rich patois stew of Hebrew and Arabic among the kids and, between them and Josh, bits of English they know and Hebrew phrases Josh learned during his three seasons playing professional basketball on Israeli teams.

Volunteer Maureen Milham hugs Johnno
flanked by Josh and me
Maureen supplied the basketballs from her U.S. Army surplus backpack, stamped in green letters, "Humanitarian Aid." A fitting name for this oasis in space and time of friendship, play, and joy.

My related posts

April 03, 2011

Purim in Kfar Tavor and Kaduri

Drora Karniel won a prize for her Purim cowgirl costume
at Gil Hagalil Senior Center in Israel's Lower Galilee
(Click the photo to read Zalman Shazar's
[Hebrew] homage to elders)

Purim celebrates a story in the biblical Megillat Esther (Book of Esther), in which Queen Esther saves the Jewish people from (Ahasuerus advisor) Haman's plot to destroy them.

At their Purim costume party, more than fifty seniors sang, danced, clapped, laughed, argued, shared their current events and memories of pre-State Israel, ate lunch, and listened to the Purim story, history, and messages. The lovely black-olive-eyed Shai, for her Bat Mitzva project, distributed to each elder Mishloach Manot  — a Purim gift basket that she had prepared. Other celebrants were three caregivers (two from Sri Lanka; one, from Nepal), a half dozen staff, and me (with my camera lens focused on the celebrants). It was a terrific morning.

Watch the video (9:49 minutes).

Who is Drora Karniel? 
Since 2005, when I first visited Drora and her husband, Mordechai, in their Kfar Tavor home at the base of Mount Tabor, we have become good buddies. Related by marriage (my late father and her late husband were first cousins), our free-wheeling conversations — in Israel or by phone when I'm in Atlanta, cover all manner of topics.

Mother to three, grandmother to ten, and great-grandmother to five (and counting), the Jerusalem-born matriarch grew up in Motza, at the capital city's edge, where her grandfather was a grape grower and vintner who traveled to Africa on business ventures several years. Following in the footsteps of her father, an elementary school principal, Drora opted to begin a teaching career at Kfar Tavor to join the pioneers living in simple bunks, using primitive outhouses, and bathing in shallow copper vats with water heated on a Primus (kerosene) stove, also used for cooking.

An educator always learning
Here, Drora met her future husband, a fellow pioneer ("he was like an encyclopedia"), and soon taught larger classes and higher grades at the nearby Kadouri Regional Elementary School (she retired after a forty-year career, at age 62). An avid reader of history, I.B. Singer, and other authors from around the world ("not just Jewish ones"), Drora continues a lifetime of taking piano lessons, playing the concertina, knitting sweaters for her family, and following her recipes for Hamantash —  three-cornered holiday pastries (that she served me in her home and packed for my journey back to Tel Aviv). A globetrotter (in the USA —twice, and in Thailand and Italy), Drora sings in the Gil Hagalil choir, exercises weekly at the Kfar Tavor senior club, and concludes —

Hakol b'seder [Everything is OK].
— Drora Karniel

My previous Purim posts

March 15, 2011

In Japan's tsunami, Fuyoko is "fine" (per Facebook messages)

Fuyoko drinking tea in my Tel Aviv flat (January 2005)

On getting news of unspeakable disasters, putting a human face on the victims follows quickly. And so when news broke of Japan's tsunami flood, earthquake, and nuclear meltdowns, it was Fuyoko Sato's face that I saw; she, the only person I know on that island nation.

Feeling a bit loony turning to the Internet (if, miraculously, she was OK, would she even have access?) yet having no other means of contact, I posted a message on Fuyoko's Facebook "Wall" (where I found similar messages from other concerned friends).

Tamar Orvell > Fuyuko Sato
From Tel Aviv, Shalom Fuyoko! All I could think about was you and your family and friends on hearing news of the disasters in Japan. Please put a word here so that we can know of your whereabouts and situation. My heart goes out to you and to your nation. — Much love, Tamar
Sunday at 3:19pm

And then, the next day, came Fuyoko's reply.

Fuyuko Sato
It really nice of you to think of me. I have no problem here though some people in my town have to go to shelter because of tsunami. all of my family and friends are fine. thanks again for your note.
8 hours ago

Tamar Orvell
Your news shines light on news that reports horrors. Please keep me and your FB friends and others updated, and especially, on how we can support you now and over the coming weeks, months, and years. Love, Tamar
about an hour ago 

 ° ° °
The back story
Fuyoko and I were among the Shabbat dinner guests in Jeff and Judith Green's Jerusalem home, a first meeting with the remarkable Japanese young woman that launched our friendship. Fuyoko quickly wow-ed everyone by speaking basic Hebrew that she had learned in less than two years, a tribute to her sharp intellect, Japanese legendary study habits, and Israeli tutor.

What brought the demure, unassuming Fuyoko to Israel that winter in 2005? Research on public memorials to the Shoah — the subject of her thesis for a master's degree in history at UMass Amherst (the flagship campus of the University of Massachusetts system).

From Jerusalem to Tel Aviv
When we learned that the next week she would decamp to Tel Aviv, from where she would visit Shoah memorial sites in the center and north of Israel, I invited her to be my Tel Aviv house guest.

. . . and then to Atlanta
In 2006, after UMass Amherst awarded her the master's degree, and before she returned home, I had the pleasure of hosting her again, this time in my Atlanta home. Fuyoko had been selected to participate in the Summer Institute for Teaching the Holocaust, a program hosted by The William Breman Jewish Heritage & Holocaust Museum, in Atlanta!

Fuyoko preparing her native dishes in my kitchen,
using ingredients her mother had sent from Japan

Over the years, sometimes on Skype, more often via email, and now on Facebook, we have kept up with each other's lives. Exactly one year ago, Fuyoko sent me a long email, that began —

When I traveled to Israel, I had a lot of hard time, but now I really miss Israel and I would love to go back there. People were full of energy and actually they were friendly. (though sometimes there were some people who were rude.) I also miss the sea which was really bright blue. The sea of Tel Aviv was the bluest one I have ever seen.

Today, I especially miss the radiant Fuyoko — her courage, wisdom, sense of humor, and love of people, history, adventure, and the Hebrew language. And I often reflect on our real-time visits, when this gentle, persistent self-starter showed me how to engage with a culture almost totally alien to her own, and not become undone; rather, to notice and value the worthy, honorable, and pleasing differences.

Perhaps the disasters in Japan (and elsewhere in the world) will impel us to find a way to meet again.

March 09, 2011

In Tel Aviv: International Women’s Day 2011

 "Bread, work, fair wages for all women"
"From Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, we'll do battle as in Egypt"

Shouting slogans inspired by current struggles for democracy and justice in Libya and Egypt, hundreds of marchers — Jews, Arabs, kids, dogs, and 2.5 men — under police escort, demanded fair and equal wages, an end to cuts in social services, an end to the Occupation, and dignity for Arabs and Jews.

The marchers joined women and girls (and their allies) around the globe in celebrations marking the 100th Anniversary of International Women’s Day.

Watch the video (1.48 minutes).

February 27, 2011

Dr. David Lloyd earns my kitty's loudest purrs

Dr. David Lloyd communing with Mica
 while managing her heath care

While I have long attempted in my real-time conversations to practice "hakarat ha-tov" [Hebrew: recognizing and acknowledging what is positive and good], I began in 2006 to promote shamelessly on this blog, too, outstanding service providers (some, even oases of hope trumping ignorance, cynicism, and despair) with whom I engage in Israel. In this, my first post on outstanding providers in my other home, Atlanta, GA, I shamelessly promote Dr. David Lloyd, uber veterinarian.

When my cats (over the years) and I were done suffering dreadful experiences at the veterinary practice a distance of several minutes' walking from home, my friend Marlene suggested an alternative — albeit one that requires imposing on a neighbor-angel (thank you, Jonathan, Abby, and Hope) to pick up supplies or drive us the 20-minute trip.

The rest, as they say, is history. Following a recent emergency visit, on witnessing Dr. Lloyd's magic — consummate professionalism that he expresses in the most tender ways, one neighbor-angel and her dog, Cliffie, joined my exodus, having found the same promised land.

Dr. David Lloyd
North DeKalb Veterinary Clinic
2485 Lawrenceville Highway (near Druid Hills Road)
Decatur, GA 30033
(404) 321-7756

Related posts

February 22, 2011

Atlanta's Craig Gilbert, Bhutanese, and Community Service Awards

Craig and Bhutanese weavers discuss logistics
of selling baskets during the reception to follow
Emory's Community Services Awards Ceremony

Craig Gilbert was among ten honorees at Emory University's 2011 annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Service Awards Ceremony. In his acceptance speech, Craig spoke of partnering with Atlanta's Bhutanese refugees, and the dreams of America (for his family, among millions of others) and of Dr. King.

Watch the video (3:52 minutes).

My related post about Craig and the CSA Award
2011 Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Service Award honors Craig Gilbert