December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas from Jaffa, Israel

The photo of stenciled graffiti in South Tel Aviv appears to me an image of one kind of dove of peace. May it inspire thought, action, and leadership toward effecting social justice and human rights locally and globally.

Christmas morning, I attended the service at Immanuel Church in Jaffa — the best balm for sorely missing dear Christian friends in the USA with whom I have attended services on their holiday the past decades!

The Jaffa crowd was international, with soloists from each nationality singing "Silent Night" in their native languages at the service end. With the words shown onscreen at the front of the sanctuary, one by one, they sang in Russian, Ghanian, Gaelic, Afrikaans, Spanish (from Uruguay), Finnish, Dutch, Chinese, and so on. Terrific.

To my Christian friends in Israel, the USA, Canada, Germany, and Norway, warm wishes for a holiday season filled with love, grace, and community! And continuing through 2014 and beyond.

Related posts

November 28, 2013

Tulasi Ghimirey's Thanksgiving letter

"I have the pictures of all the
volunteers in my memory of my heart."

First published November 26, 2009

Last summer, I met Tulasi Ghimirey at the Atlanta Bhutanese Refugee Support Group July Fourth picnic. In 1991, in an ethnic cleansing, the Bhutanese government exiled the Nepali-origin community from Bhutan, their homeland. For more than a quarter century, they subsisted in UN-run refugee camps in southeastern Nepal. In 2000, Tulasi arrived in the U.S., and in the coming years, tens of thousands more Bhutanese refugees followed, arriving in the U.S. and several other countries. In 2009, Tulasi’s parents joined him in an emotional reunion (photos here). Today, thousands still languish in the camps squalid makeshift huts of bamboo and plastic —  homeless, stateless victims enduring years of struggle and poverty. 

Dear Friends,

It is a THANKSGIVING time and a happy time.

In recent months, many great citizens of this country were involved in helping our Bhutanese people in our transformation process to this new way of life. It is totally different to the way we are brought up and raised.

Take my family, for example. They know manual work, not like high technology work here. We know how to plough the fields using a big bull but not a tractor or the one shown in [children’s TV program] Bob the Builder.

“We came to this land where human rights
and democracy are respected.” 
After my arrival, I realized that I can wear the clothes of my own choice and can eat the food of my habits. I can speak freely and write freely and can have a lawyer in the court house in one’s defense. What a free world.

My dad used to pay fees for having a radio in my house and that was a source of great entertainment. Few lucky ones used to own this, also. Here everyone has their own TV, computer and wristwatch.

We were never exposed to the greater world and came from a bamboo hut to a beautiful furnished house where heating and cooling device is under your control. No more running to the muddy rivers. Boy! Clothes can be washed within a few hours.

Yet every evening you go and talk to my friends:
they are nervous.
Smoke alarm is beeping. Someone tried to warm a boiled egg in the microwave and there was a big bang. Three people came and robbed our cash, showing a gun. A Bhutanese guy was in a dumpster [to recycle some items], and the pickup truck came. The guy’s friend saw [the situation] yet couldn’t explain in English to the driver that a man was in the dumpster. The driver kept loading the dumpster until the friend knocked on the door of the truck and pointed to the dumpster. The driver finally understand, and the man’s life was saved.

Cold was the greatest danger for us. 
Back in refugee camps, the temperature was always hot. People reached Atlanta with NO warm clothes. Children and older people were the victims, especially. And several HEROS OF MANKIND jumped in and started helping our people. There were child volunteers, young volunteers, old volunteers, female volunteers, male volunteers, and of all colors. No one asked me, What is your race?

There are thousand of such stories and a reality. Now things are getting better. Yet this transformation process definitely will take a long time, and your help and support is always needed.

American citizens are great and now we have to learn this culture too. 
I have the pictures of all the volunteers in my memory of my heart. Your love and kindness. Your hard work, time, and dedication to improve the living conditions by using your talents is a greatest gift for us. Several projects have began to support us. God, please protect this great people.

Today Tulasi is with his family for Thanksgiving and would like to thank each of you with greatest respect for your support for me, my family, and my community.

Wish you a happy Thanksgiving. Namaste [Sanskrit: a friendly greeting, meaning, I bow to you].

— Tulasi, Kumari and Ryan

My related posts
Cross-posted at Bhutan > Atlanta

August 30, 2013

An Israeli solider and his "adopted" grandmother

Miriam and Daniel have developed a close bond
since Israeli's military volunteer program matched them up
Last week, I joined my second cousin Daniel Zohar on a visit with Miriam, his "adopted" savta (Hebrew: grandmother), in her attractive home just outside Tel Aviv. Miriam is a Shoah Survivor; her left arm bears the Nazi-tattooed ID number. Born in Hungary, she was interned in five Nazi concentration camps, and reached Mandatory Palestine (pre-State Israel) after the Allies liberated the camps.

A widow (her husband, a refugee from Germany, and she met soon after they arrived here), Miriam is 92 years old and lives alone surrounded by photos of her nuclear family (all exterminated) and living relatives worldwide. She shared memories of her happy childhood and of the ghoulish decades. And she discussed the books she is reading and where she buys them, served us a yummy Hungarian vegetable dish she had prepared, and peppered Daniel with caring grandmotherly questions about his well being and activities. She is excited about her upcoming holiday vacation in Jerusalem.

When I admired her near-wrinkle-free skin, she left the room and returned with her secret ingredients: two jars of Nivea Q10 anti-wrinkle cream — one for daytime use, the other for nighttime. Yet I also believe that Miriam's silken skin and shining radiance reflect faith, courage, humor, and intelligence  — hers and her ancestors' of blessed memory.

My related posts

July 19, 2013

l'ilui nishmato, to elevate the soul of Noam Yaakov Mayerson

Noam, of blessed memory, giving pal Daniel a buzz cut

I first published this post October 2, 2007, a little more than a year after Noam Yaakov Mayerson, of blessed memory, was killed in the Second Lebanon War. This morning, I joined Noam's parents, my cousins Gila and Chaim, and his immediate and extended family, friends, and community at the National military cemetery on Mount Herzl to remember him on the seventh anniversary of his death.

To honor Noam's life and to carry forward the work he started and did not merit completing, his parents, teachers, rabbis, and educators developed Darchey Noam, a comprehensive online guide (Hebrew) to the land of Israel. The guide, a publication of the nonprofit of the same name, incorporates Noam's educational vision and the experiential activities he created. A unique feature of the guide is its invitation to study Torah with a hands-on exploration of the physical, spiritual, and historical aspects of the land of Israel.

*  *  *

לוּלֵי תוֹרָתְך שַׁעֲשֻׁעָי אָז אָבַדְתִּי בְעָנְיִי
תהילים קי"ט
Had not your Torah teaching been my delight,
I would have perished in my affliction.

—Psalm 119

So begins the invitation (excerpt shown on the left) from my cousins Gila and Chaim to join them in a Hachnasat Sefer Torah, presentation of a Torah scroll in Tekoa, an Israeli settlement near Jerusalem, on October 1, 2007.

The photo is of their son Noam Yaakov Mayerson, in whose blessed memory Isaac Leib and Ruth Rennert commissioned the hand-lettered Torah as an ilui neshama, an elevation of soul (or spirit) of the departed through the mitzva, good deed done in his name. On August 7, 2006, Noam was killed in the Second Lebanon War when Hezbollah terrorists opened fire on an Israel Defense Forces unit in the southern Lebanese town of Bint Jbeil.

Psalm 119 had special meaning for Noam, and so my pious cousins choice of verse reflects his and their love of Torah, which guides and sustains their lives. Since Noam's death, they have come together with family, friends, and community in sorrow. Today, more than 400 people honored Noam and celebrated the simcha — joyous occasion of the Torah presentation!

Days before the presentation, at the Siyum Sefer Torah, completing the scribal process, a chosen few penned the last letters. In the photo shown here, Chaim, quill in hand, calligraphs on the parchment.

For centuries, Jews have dedicated the scribing of a Torah scroll to commemorate, honor, or strengthen other Jews. Of 613 mitzvot, commandments in the Torah, the final one is to scribe a Sefer Torah.

Today, the Torah was brought on permanent loan to Yeshivat Hesder Tekoa, where Yehoshua, Noam's elder brother, teaches and where Yoni, his youngest brother, studies.

The procession began in the settlement synagogue from where the Torah, carried under a chupa, bridal canopy, and dressed in fine velvet cover and sparkling silver crown, continued to the Yeshiva.

Once there, throngs danced with the "Tree of Life" (Proverbs 3:18).

Among the celebrants was Adin Steinsaltz, head of the Yeshiva and noted rabbi, scholar, philosopher, social critic, and author who, in 1988, Time magazine called a "once-in-a-millennium scholar."

Noam's close friend Daniel also danced with the Torah . . .

. . . while the band played music and sang.

In the Sukkah, Yeshoshua read aloud Chaim's reflections on the celebration and on Noam's life.

Everyone in the Sukkah feasted . . .

. . . and Noa and Noam, both named in memory of their uncle, enjoyed getting to know one another.

Thanks to Noam's friend Gadiel Boar who took the first photo, and to his aunt Lynn Mayerson Berger who took the rest.

My related posts on Noam

June 09, 2013

Transitioned Media Conference at IDC Herzliya, Israel

Today, I attended the Transitioned Media Conference at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) Herzliya on how digital technology affects consumer behavior and media consumption. A panel of entrepreneurs, academics, and thought leaders presented content-rich, dynamic, and well-illustrated short talks, and among them Nick Roveta, Head of Global Content & Partnerships, AOL International; Martin Niesenholtz, former Head of Digital, New York Times; and Mikal Hallstrup, CEO, DesignIt. Niesenholtz was among my guru-mentors during the dot-com bubble years when I developed online content for corporate and nonprofit web sites.

For those who missed attending, the videos from the conference are now online.

June 06, 2013

May 29, 2013

I Can See Clearly Now

Successful cataract surgery! Thank you, Dr. Rotenstreich. My theme song (thank you, Johnny Nash), as performed by the Jamaican reggae master!

January 19, 2013

Voting in Israel's 19th Knesset (Parliament) elections

This Tuesday, I'll be traveling (about an hour) from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem (my official residence) to cast my ballot for the political party that I want to gain the most seats in the 19th Knesset (Parliament) election.

To inform my decision, beyond reading daily commentaries online, I have attended panel discussions with representative members on the slates of four parties (from left to right and from secular to far-right ultra-nationalist and religious Zionist) — among some 34 parties in the competition! And I have attended a parlor meeting with the Number Two person on one party's slate. Daily, I speak with Israelis whose thinking is aligned with ethical principles including justice, democracy, and equal rights for all citizens and whose actions reflect those principles. And, along with countless others, I learn about the parties (and Israeli voters) from TV political satires.

Watch the video (3:37 minutes).

The [wannabe] Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

January 12, 2013

In memoriam: Pritam Adhikari — he lived briefly, in vivid colors

The student and the professor: Bhutanese-born Pritam, a Hindu,
and Israeli-born, Dr. Yedidia Neumeir, an Orthodox Jew.
We can never know which goodbye is the last.
I am missing Pritam Adhikari whose brief life proved that a person can overcome almost all conventional odds in shaping a dream and taking every possible step to reach it. Just this week, Pritam was to have started classes at Georgia Tech following two years' studying at Oglethorpe University. He died last Saturday following a brief illness. He was 22.

Pritam, grew up in a refugee camp, in Nepal, his 100,000-person community victims of ethnic cleansing in Bhutan, their homeland. In the camp, playing with paper airplanes, Pritam's early childhood dream of becoming an aerospace engineer was born. In August 2008, his family joined the growing Bhutanese refugee community in Atlanta. Last Sunday, his parents and immediate and extended family, friends, and community — more than 1000 people mourned the courageous, brilliant, accomplished, and confident soul who was without a trace of arrogance.

In late 2010, when he was applying to colleges in the USA, he asked me to review his personal essay, a requirement for all applications, and to work with him to present a sharp, clear picture of his candidacy. Today, Pritam's essay has become a written legacy and testament that neither false privileges of income, skin color, gender, nationality, nor "status" of any kind will deter a young refugee with pluck, brains, focus, faith, and support and love of family, community, and allies worldwide.

Pritam, your life’s journey is a gift for eternity. And, I thank you, grateful that we met.

Pritam's personal essay

Related posts
An Appreciation: Pritam Adhikari
In Memory of a Wonderful Friend
The dream recedes unrealized
At Georgia Tech: You're never too young to learn