Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: “Greetings to South Sudan”


I was really pleased to receive an email this morning from the JTA news service titled, “Jewish groups delivering aid to South Sudan” in which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said. “This is a peace-seeking country and we would be pleased to cooperate with it in order to ensure its development and its prosperity. Greetings to South Sudan.”

If you have been following recent African news, you must have heard that South Sudan became an independent state on July 9, 2011 with its capital in Juba, following a vote for independence.

Per the article, IsraAID (The Israel Forum for International Humanitarian Aid) is planning to send a long-term aid mission to help women, children and the elderly in the new country.

“As a small and relatively newborn country, Israel has gained experience in various factors of water, agriculture, post trauma, education, migration and others that would be valuable to the people of South Sudan who are now building their country,” said Shachar Zahavi, founding director of IsraAID. “It is our mission and Jewish commitment to reach out to our new friends in any way we can.”

Link to article:

As you know, I have been working with immigrant communities for the past few years,  and  have always been interested in global migration and how various refugee communities end up in places like…Israel!

What I have recently discovered since moving to Israel, is that Israel hosts about 33,000 asylum seekers, mostly from Eritrea, South Sudan, and Darfur.

As you can imagine, the situation is a very touchy one, in which the Israeli Government has not been too willing to grant refugee status to many of these asylum seekers, as they do not want to make Israel an attractive destination for long-term illegal migrant workers, although the journey for most through the Sinai Desert is quite a dangerous one and many of these refugees get taken into detention for at least one-month. However, if granted a conditional release document stating discharge from detention, asylum seekers at this time do get a 3-month, renewable visa in which they are allowed to work.

If you have ever visited Israel, and came on a bus to Tel Aviv’s central bus station, you most likely have seen these migrant communities.

I don’t want to express my opinion on whether I personally agree or disagree with Israel’s refugee policy, as I tend to focus on the human aspect of migration.

What I do know from speaking to a few Southern Sudanese at their celebration of independence this past Sunday in Tel Aviv (strategically sponsored by the Telecom Company Orange), is that most do want to return home and probably will over the next year or so. I can assure that their long-term goal is not to jeopardize the make up of an Jewish State.

Nevertheless,whether or not the Jewish State is comfortable in accepting a growing refugee population, I was pleased to see that the Israeli government has reached out to  South Sudan and is proactively trying to help them build a nation.

Please watch my video on the situation of Congolese Refugees in Uganda for World Refugee Day. June 20th, 2011


Today, on the 20th of June, the world celebrates International Refugee Day, and this year, the 60th anniversary of the signing of the UN Refugee Convention.

There are 43 million uprooted people in the world. Every day, men, women and children are forced to flee their countries, leaving their homes behind them.

As you know if you have followed any of my blog posts over the last year on Cafe Avra, I spent 6 months before I came to Israel documenting refugee stories in Kenya and Uganda alongside the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society.

Personally I probably have met over 200+ refugees throughout my time in Kenya/Uganda, which is just a tiny fraction. There are hundreds of thousands.

Above is a video I made for International Women’s Day just a few months ago (March 2011) on the situation of Congolese Refugees in Uganda that I must re-iterate on this World Refugee Day 2011.

As I repeatedly say through all my posts I have written on refugees, I encourage everyone to take a second to think about and try to understand why refugees have to flee their homes. the struggles they go through each day getting access to basic resources and why we need to leave our preconceived notions about refugees behind.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, today, as I have written about before,  rape is used as a weapon of war which forces many refugees into Uganda.

Life is very difficult and dangerous (in Uganda) in the refugee camps where UNHCR provides food and minor assistance, so many refugees leave and try their luck in the capital, Kampala, which is usually not much easier.  Kampala is where I met these Congolese Women.

The political conflict is extremely complicated, but the simple fact is that rebels control the regions of Eastern Congo which are home to various ‘conflict minerals’ used in our cellphones and computers–i.e.  the 3 “T’s….tin, tungsten, and tantalum (as well as gold).

For more detailed info do visit the Enough Project’s website, ( )


As I write I am not focusing on being overly liberal and granting refugee status or citizenship to every single refugee claim.

Israel happens to have 33,000 asylum seekers in which the considerations of granting asylum are far different then granting refugee status to the Congolese in Uganda. (This topic I will explore further at a later date.)

I am talking about the human level…trying to understand just for a moment what a refugee has went through before making an assessment on their current situation.


Like I said above, Israel also happens to have quite a dynamic asylum seeker population, who mostly live in the South of Tel Aviv. The refugee community is celebrating World Refugee Day this Friday, June 24th.

For those in Israel who want to attend:

Music | Protest | Solidarity Friday 24/06/2011, Tel Aviv Old Central Bus Station, starting at 12:00

Performances of Israelis and Africans*:
Bilaka (Congo), Alma Zohar, Sean Mongoza, Quami, Sinit (Eritrea), Special Jam, Vince (Nigeria), System Ali with Assaf Youth Club, Duop Lulone (South Sudan), DJ Ophir Tabul (Café Gibraltar)

Facebook Page:יום-הפליט-הבינלאומי-2011/212268022147426?sk=info


Always remember: “You are never given an obstacle you cannot overcome.” [Rebbe Nachman of Breslov]


As Shavuot approaches and we celebrate when the Torah was given to the Jewish people on Mount Sinai more than 3300 years ago, we also renew our acceptance of G‑d’s gift, and G‑d “re-gives” the Torah.

We must remember that this gift encompasses the blissful times and also the very difficult challenges we face.

As Rabbi Nachman of Breslov reminds us, we are never given a challenge that we don’t have the resources to handle. We must approach climbing the mountains ahead of us with faith, acceptance, strength. Although it is sometimes very painful, it is only once we get to the top of the mountain that we can truly be free!

I received a nice quote by email recently:

There is only one thing that can put you further ahead than success, and that is surviving failure.

When you are successful, you are whole and complete. That is wonderful, but you cannot break out beyond your own universe.

When you fail, you are broken. You look at the pieces of yourself lying on the ground and say, “This is worthless.”

Now you can escape. The shell is broken.

Chag Sameach!

From New York to Nairobi to Jerusalem. My Compassion Towards Religion and Homosexuality Continues to Grow…


Greetings to all from Jerusalem and an early Chag Sameach and Kosher Pesach to all!

Link to youtube video:

Please read below’s context before watching the short video above on LGBTI Activism in Kenya.

*LGBTI: Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual, Transgender, Intersex

Today I want to bring up a controversial issue that I am quite passionate about and seems to now transcend continents.

As a short back story, (and I wrote briefly about my affiliation to this issue  in a post back in December on World Aids Day…. ), throughout my time in Nairobi I got very close to the LGBTI community and met some amazing, kind, and talented friends that I now miss very much.

Due to the criminalization of homosexuality in Kenya, they are mostly a hidden community of activists, by default, who  face a multitude of challenges each day…but still have time to smile.

And why has this suddenly re-sparked my interest?

So two nights ago I went with a gay friend here in Jerusalem, first to an Alma Zohar concert (a very cute, jazzy Israeli Singer–check out this song– )  and then after to the only gay evening they have here in Jeruslaem…Monday nights there is a small drag show in town, which turns into a semi- dance party. Nothing crazy, just a place where people can meet, hang out, express themselves. I would say there were about 100+ people there…

So I am at the party, I am enjoying, dancing a bit, meeting some new people…and all of a sudden I see a few guys with a kippah (yarmulke) dancing, enjoying their time.  (For my non-jewish friends, a kippah is the head covering religious jewish men wear)

For a second it threw me aback…wow, okay, yes….ofcourse there are religious LGBTI individuals….I met them in Kenya and Uganda…they were my friends there!  But maybe because they were religious Christians it didn’t touch home so hard. And I live in Jerusalem now. It is a religious city, and you forget for a second(well actually almost completely) that some of these men, or women, you see on the streets actually define themselves inside as LGBTI.

Funny enough, my friend who took me to this club here in Jerusalem I met in Nairobi, though he is Israeli and was only there for about one month for work.(I am happy we crossed paths 🙂 )

I took him to a small LGBTI party on his last night in Kenya at a friend’s apartment, so he knew the scene a little bit.

So once I saw the religious guys I immediately said to him that I was a bit surprised for a second to see any religious guys here! He said, I know me too in the beginning but of course they are part of the community. And he said, Jerusalem, for the gay community, is like Kenya all over again in a certain way. Which in a way is true, especially for those who grow up religious. Though, as a back up, you have Tel Aviv! And at least you have one designated gay evening per week here in Jerusalem…in Kenya, it could not be possible.


I continue to find myself surprised that I really do connect to the struggles of the LGBTI community, but I consider myself to now be an orthodox, straight- Jew…or alteast I do try to live my life in a way that follows Halacha (Jewish Law).  When it comes to certain controversies in Judaism…such as matters of Jewish identity for example, I find myself very right-wing. If your Mother is not Jewish, you are not Jewish. Simple as that, I am sorry to say. I don’t use negative words lightly, but I have an almost animosity towards the Reform Movement (I grew up ‘Reform’–whatever that means) for telling members of their ‘Congregation’ that if their Father is Jewish and their mother is not Jewish, they are Jewish.  No. They are not. I am sorry…”Reform Movement”….but political movements that arose in the 20th century can not change 2,000+ year laws…

You see my point.

But, when it comes to LGBTI issues, I really do believe that you can be religious, love GD, and GD also loves you…even if you classify yourself as LGBTI.

If you are Jewish, that is, someone born of a Jewish Mother, and you identify as being Gay or Lesbian…you are just as beautiful in GD’s eyes as those who identify as Straight.

A good person is a good person.

A person who is kind and does mitzvahs for others is extremely beautiful in gd’s eyes.

And because I am not Gd, who am I to judge or treat a LGBTI friend, or person, any different from anyone else.

And the fact of the matter is, most of the people I know who identify as LGBTI happen to be some of the most amazing people I know. Some consider themselves religious, and some do not.


I made the video above for a few reasons.

First, to connect you to a member of the LGBTI in community in Kenya who, with a huge smile as you will see, works in creating dialogue with religious Leaders in Africa.

And to reiterate that South Africa is the only country in Africa where you can be openly LGBTI.

Hardly anyone I met in Kenya has been to a Gay Pride Parade, as the only one on the continent is in South Africa and it is usually quite an expensive journey.

My friends in Kenya dream to be able to attend a Gay Pride Parade, and if I truly had the money, I would try to bring them all over to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem this upcoming June for the day’s here. (My next follow-up post, gd willing, will be pictures from both pride days).


Thanks for reading, especially if you are someone who is not as open as I am to LGBTI issues.

I want to send my love to all my LGBTI friends all over the World…from Nairobi to Kampala…Jerusalem…New York…San Francisco…Manchester, UK. I love you for the beautiful souls that you are:)

And to those LGBTI friends outside Africa…remember the video above and do not forget their struggles!

Try to connect to the community in Kenya.

You can check out the Gay & Lesbian Coalition of Kenya’s website here :

Or please do email me at and I will put you in touch with GALCK.


Chag Sameach to all:)

A Tribute to Mary Gardner.


Last Wednesday, March 23, 2011,  there was a bomb attack in Central Jerusalem in which one British woman, Mary Gardner (59), regretfully lost her life.

I found out soon after that Mary Gardner was also a student at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem and took the exact same Hebrew Class as I take at the Rothberg International School. She and I had the same teachers, we just ended up in the opposite class.

Also, I found out at the small ceremony our teachers’ held in her honor this past Monday, that she was born in Nairobi and lived there until she was 15, and spent almost 20 years of her life in West Africa, mainly in Togo.

In Togo she worked for Wycliffe Bible Translators. She already translated the New Testament for the Ife people in Togo.

She was now in Israel for only six months studying Hebrew in order to go back to Togo to translate the Old Testament.

During the ceremony I couldn’t help but feel a strong connection to  Mary, though of course we never met.  I truly praise her lifelong accomplishments and faith, and am  truly saddened we lost a special soul.


In Honor of Mary Gardner:

“When you and the path you have chosen get along just great, it’s hard to know whether your motives are sincere.

But when you come across a path to do good,
and this path goes against every sinew of your flesh
and every cell in your brain,
when you want only to flee and hide from it
do this.

Then you shall know your motives are sincere”

By Rabbi Tzvi Freeman

Central Jerusalem Blast shadows PURIM 2011


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At the moment I was writing this post and almost about to click PUBLISH,  I got a call from my friend making sure I was okay.

There was just a bomb blast in Central Jerusalem near the Bus Station…a place where I walk by almost everyday since I got here.

I was writing to share the photo album above, the joy I saw this past Monday, March 21, 2011 in Jerusalem on Purim.

I just pray all of the 24 wounded are truly okay as more information materializes.

I had a few other things I wrote, but I will let the photos speak for themselves.

(Café Avra Video). Today, on the 100th Anniversary of International Women’s Day, I can only think about the Congolese Refugees I met in Uganda.


Greetings again from Jerusalem.


(youtube link: )

Please do read my note below before watching the video above.

(* Also, just as a warning in advance, this post is quite graphic and descriptive.)

As you might, or might not know, today (March 8, 2011) is the 100th Anniversary of International Women’s Day and all I can think about are the Congolese Refugees I met in Uganda.

Well, I actually think about them everyday but I have chosen not to verbally speak about them on Cafe Avra.

The crossroads of International Women’s Day and my arrival to Israel about 3 weeks ago now has done something very interesting to my emotional state.

On one side I have been feeling so wonderful, so welcomed, and so blessed to be able to choose to be a new immigrant in my country which has everything one might ever need, and all I can think about constantly are each and every refugee I met over my half a year in Africa and especially, especially these strong, strong Congolese Women in Uganda. Personally I probably have met over 200+ refugees throughout my time in Kenya/Uganda, which is just a tiny fraction. There are hundreds of thousands.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, today, as I write this post, RAPE is used as a weapon of war which forces many refugees into Uganda.

Life is very difficult and dangerous (in Uganda) in the refugee camps where UNHCR provides food and minor assistance, so many refugees leave and try their luck in the capital, Kampala, which is usually not much easier.  Kampala is where I met these Congolese Women.

The political conflict is extremely complicated, but the simple fact is that rebels control the regions of Eastern Congo which are home to various ‘conflict minerals’ used in our cellphones and computers–i.e.  the 3 “T’s….tin, tungsten, and tantalum (as well as gold).

Taken from the Enough Project’s website, ( )

The principal conflict minerals are:

  • Tin (produced from cassiterite) – used inside your cell phone and all electronic products as a solder on circuit boards.  The biggest use of tin worldwide is in electronic products. Congolese armed groups earn approximately $85 million per year from trade in tin.
  • Tantalum (produced from “coltan”) – used to store electricity in capacitors in iPods, digital cameras, and cell phones.  Sixty-five to 80 percent of the world’s tantalum is used in electronic products. Congolese armed groups earn an estimated $8 million per year from trading in tantalum.
  • Tungsten(produced from wolframite) – used to make your cell phone or Blackberry vibrate.  Tungsten is a growing source of income for armed groups in Congo, with armed groups currently earning approximately $2 million annually.
  • Gold – used in jewelry and as a component in electronics. Extremely valuable and easy to smuggle, Congolese armed groups are earning between $44 million to $88 million per year from gold

(There are advocacy groups who are currently putting pressure on companies who use ‘conflict minerals’ in their products to be more transparent.)


Rape is then used as  a Weapon of War to force families to flee areas where these minerals are based, in which many Congolese make it to Uganda, and many do not.  And just because you made it to Uganda, does not mean you are safe.

Borers are very porous and women are in severe sexual danger of being raped (again) in Uganda by Congolese Rebels.

Now, this is a warning. please shut down the screen if you don’t want to hear this next part.

This is not just Men raping Women.

Men rape Men,(unofficially 3 out of 10 men are raped) as a weapon of war. Almost every man who is raped  needs surgery at some point afterwards and might never fully recover from the abuse.  Do you think there are enough funds for these surgeries?

In some cases, rebels force fathers to rape their daughters.

Most women are raped in front of their husbands. Once that happens, the husbands usually do not want their wife anymore as they have been truly violated.

Or vice versa, Men are raped by men in front of their wives and they are too ashamed to look at their wife ever again.

What any refugee above would do to be able to choose to go to a new country after the torture they have been through and seen. And that the new country actually wants them as an immigrant! Will give them assistance as a new immigrant!

I am not here to criticize UNHCR, but they understand they have a severe crisis on their hand in Uganda they were not prepared for. (As I know from speaking to a Regional Director in Nairobi a few months after I saw with my own eyes the situation in Uganda.)

The number of Congolese Refugees in Uganda is currently somewhere, unofficially, around a quarter of a million.

Resettlement is like winning the lottery in Kenya and Uganda. Kenya and Uganda can barely take care of their own populations, let alone their refugee populations.

Have you been hearing on the news recently about the internal conflict currently in the Ivory Coast? Imagine the xenophobia against refugee ie  other/external populations in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The footage above was all taken when I was in Kampala, Uganda last July 2010. I personally spoke to many of these women, heard their stories, and perhaps, being very, very naive, thought I could  move on with my life.

So today, on International Women’s Day, and gd willing every day, I want all my readers to appreciate how lucky you are as women in 2011. We all have the opportunity to help in small, or big ways.

You don’t have to go to Uganda, or Congo. You don’t have to donate money. I think just genuinely trying to help  a woman who perhaps has less than you in your own community is enough.

I truly am not sure what else to say but please watch the video.

In my opinion, International Women’s Day is everyday.

@ Jerusalem @ Hebrew University. Subject: Random Adventures.

(* If you found this page looking for information on eyebrow threading in Jerusalem, you can find all the updated details on my sister blog -posted on April 19, 2017)


My friends, hello from Jerusalem!

I think you all know that I was beginning my journey to Israel around this time, so first and foremost I want to thank gd that I made it here safely about a week ago and have been able to settle in smoothly.

I wanted to write sooner, but of course it takes a bit of time to figure out the basics of a new city: understand the transport, where to buy a sim card, where the supermarket is, how to get to the university, etc.

Also, when I think of what I like to post on Cafe Avra, I always feel that I want to share more of a human interest type story, or about a certain experience that I have had that is specific and local.

Because I just arrived, it is hard to zoom in on anything specific just yet…however, I am feeling truly great here so far, especially thanks to some wonderful friends who have shown me around and taken me in.  I really appreciate their open arms.

Also, gd willing, I have a lot of time ahead of me, and my approach to moving to Israel is to observe first and foremost. (It is pretty cold in the evenings, but during the day it’s quite sunny so I find many random places to sit, watch, listen, and talk to random people).  I haven’t felt the need yet to take out my camera. Sorry no photos yet!

Though, I have done many mini adventures so far. Such as: finding my way by different bus routes to my hebrew class at the Hebrew University(which I must say is a beautiful campus on Mount Scopus in which you have an amazing view of all Jerusalem and the Old City) , went to a few restaurants & coffee shops with friends, went to a Torah class in the Old City, explored all the quarters of the Old City(they don’t take you to the Arab Quarter on the Jewish organized trip I went on a few years ago), seen a few apartments in various neighborhoods, visited  a friend’s hair salon in a Jerusalem suburb, found one of the only Israeli woman who does eyebrow threading(supposedly they only learn wax in the beauty school here), had a meal at my roommate’s Iraqi grandmother’s house, and of course tried my basic Hebrew with mostly success in that people understand me, but no success when they talk back to me as its either toooooo fast or, well, their vocabulary is too high-level for me.

Slowly Slowly:)

What else?Ahh…the supermarket. Yes the outdoor market itself is great–fruits, vegetables, sweets. At the market my favorite dried fruit-figs, are as cheap as…I don’t know, potatoes in Idaho.  I couldn’t find a decent fig to save my life in Kenya.

But I have never been to a big supermarket where everything is kosher! Wow, if you know me I truly like to try everything and, again, WOW. It’s a lot to handle:) I have to take that slowly, slowly.  Adding in restaurants, the food in Israel overall l is amazing & fresh, as well as the coffee. No more bitter Starbucks espresso for me!

I even started to train for the Jerusalem Half Marathon(March 25th! coming soon)….Luckily I met a few runners in one of the parks and found out about an 8K race in two weeks…hmm could be blog post material…

Lastly to share…I will be off to Tel Aviv this weekend to visit another friend of mine….to the beach:)! Here I come.

Ahh…and speaking about the beach….

Remember I went to the Caribbean before I flew to Israel?

As I said earlier, I haven’t taken any photos here yet, so let me share with you some  places we visited and random experiences I had with my partner in crime(aka my brother, David) on our family vacation….Enjoy and more to come soon @ Jerusalem!


Photo-Journal: Family Vacation without the Family + my Brother (no one else wanted to explore…)

First, the necessary photos: Here is the ship, Celebrity Summit (docked on St Croix, US Virgin Islands).

And here is the anchor that I think is cool with a back drop as the sun was setting…Location: @ Sea?

And before you get confused where exactly I was…the itinerary went like this: docked at San Juan, Puerto Rico…went to St Croix (US Virgin Islands), St. Kitts, Dominica, Grenada, Tobago, and back to San Juan.

Okay now the real trip. These next photos can sum up pretty much my brother and I…both with our Bob Marley shirts and laughing about, well the ‘coconut’. This coconut was found at the beach in Tobago by Dean, another friend on our cruise. Dean gave the coconut to my brother, and as a joke my brother said..”Ha, maybe I can barter this for another fruit at the market”. We laughed it off, but after the beach my brother and I walked around the town of Scarborough, Tobago and after one terrible attempt at trying to barter the coconut at one small fruit stand, with more confidence he traded it for an orange…well two oranges after I chimed in that it wasn’t a fair trade…one orange for a whole coconut! Anyway, if you can imagine our mentality at this point…aka Bob Marley shirts if you know what I mean…

Receiving the coconut…

Just to clarify if you can’t see…my shirt is “One Love-One Heart” and David’s is “Stand up for your Rights”. Anthems of our time:)

Looking for a market to barter….

Hm, no more in this series, sorry. After we bartered the coconut I had a B Marley moment and forgot to take a photo…oops.


Random moments…

MY STARFISH!  In an attempt to explore non touristy areas, we found a random beach in St. Kitts with a group of Midwesterners from our ship who had snorkeling equipment. They told me there were starfish in the water and I think all girls love starfish right!? But I mean I used to go to the Jersey Shore growing up…so come on, starfish are the size of my hand-maximum.  So anyway I take the snorkel equipment and explore where one of the ladies showed me….It was huge!! I swam down about 10 feet and took it out of the water an brought it to shore in a very dramatic moment…

Our friends, the Midwesterners, heading back from the beach. My brother with Rum Punch. They were all singing Margaritaville…


About two minutes after I took this photo below of a small French village off a snorkeling boat in Dominica(amazing snorkel!!)…the wind BLEW and my camera case and bag flew off the boat..with my lens cap!! Ah! It all happened so fast I did not know what was going on. There were about 50 people on the boat, but the capitan turned around and fetched all my gear…really nice of them huh? Couldn’t believe they retrieved everything…well except for my towel…oops sorry Celebrity Summit, please don’t charge me extra:)

See ,look, he doesn’t seem upset that all my things flew overboard, right?


Lastly….hmm…I have to say there were many further adventures with my brother, but as what happens in many random moments the pictures don’t do justice.

I’ll end here with a photo from Dominica…

Ha, sorry, couldn’t resist. One love my friends:) Back to studying Hebrew..I have quiz tomorrow!