Woman performs Afghan dance
Miriam Peretz of Nava Dance performs a traditional Afghan dance at Manny’s fundraiser on Nov. 11, 2021. (Photo/George Barahona)

At Manny’s, a heartfelt fundraiser for Afghan resettlement 

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Afghan refugee resettlement is a cause that is close to home for Manny Yekutiel. The owner of Manny’s Cafe in the Mission District lightheartedly refers to himself as “half-ghan,” since his mother is Ashkenazi and his father is Afghan, but he takes very seriously the plight of those who fled their home country when the Taliban returned to power in August.

On Nov. 11, Manny’s Café hosted about 200 people to raise funds in support of Afghan refugee resettlement efforts. The event raised $53,850 for two leading organizations providing refugee assistance in the Bay Area: the Afghan Coalition and Jewish Family & Community Services East Bay.

Yekutiel shared that he felt a sense of duty not only to help the new wave of refugees, but also to proudly showcase his unique culture.

“Obviously the evacuation of Afghanistan and the war has taken a terrible toll on that country,” said Yekutiel at the event. “There are now no Jews left in Afghanistan. My culture there is over. So it’s left to people like myself, and the Jews who are scattered around the world, to continue to keep our culture alive. So I feel a very heavy weight of responsibility.”

Man wearing Afghan dress
Manny Yekutiel, owner of Manny’s Café, hosted the fundraiser on Nov. 11, 2021. (Photo/George Barahona)

Despite the tragic circumstances, Yekutiel, who organized the fundraiser with Danny Yadegar and Harris Mojadedi of the Afghan Coalition, wanted to keep the event upbeat and celebratory. The evening began with heaping plates of hummus and bolani, a traditional Afghan stuffed flatbread, and as attendees mingled, rhythmic music pumped through the cafe’s speakers.

Later, local musicians played classical Afghan compositions on the lute-like rubab and the tabla, a pair of twin hand drums, as dancers twirled around in colorful embroidered dresses. Joyous ululations (a celebratory vocal trilling common in the Middle East) emerged throughout the night from the crowd, some of whom sat on velvet couches, with the rest gathered on vibrant Afghan rugs that covered the cement floor.

“I am just heartbroken by what is happening, but I also felt it was so important not only to do what we can to support such important work here in the Bay Area, but to also celebrate the culture that so many are not familiar with,” Yadegar told the crowd. His parents immigrated to the U.S. from Iran.

In addition to the performances, there was a silent auction of a donated painting from Mission artist Will Valle, which sold for $1,800.

Man playing hand drum and man playing stringed instrument
Local musicians play classical Afghan music on the tabla and rubab. (Photo/George Barahona)

Later in the evening Mojadedi, of the Afghan Coalition, led a panel discussion with Robin Mencher, executive director of JFCS East Bay, and Aisha Wahab, who sits on the Hayward City Council and the board of the Afghan Coalition.

“One word that describes it is brutal. That’s the honest truth,” said Wahab when asked what life has been like as an Afghan American and activist since August. “For the last three months, if not more, it has been a nonstop marathon of ‘How can we provide the resources?’”

In the month after the fall of Kabul, from mid-August through Sept. 13, more than 225 Afghan refugees had been resettled in the Bay Area, according to the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration. An estimated 53,000 Afghan evacuees await resettlement at various military bases in the U.S.

Both JFCS East Bay and the Fremont-based Afghan Coalition have long histories of providing refugee resettlement services, including legal counsel, housing assistance, physical and mental health care, English classes, vocational support and anything else refugees might need as they acclimate to life in the U.S. But the U.S. has not undertaken a refugee evacuation of this size since the Vietnam War, according to reports, and with the already existing housing crisis in the Bay Area, resettlement can be a daunting task. JFCS East Bay has resettled at least 215 Afghans since August, more than the organization typically helps in an entire year, with more evacuees expected in the coming months.

RELATED: Afghan refugee family starts new life in East Bay, with help of JFCS

The funds raised at the event will go toward direct aid, including housing, food, clothes and medical care.

“I think that it is our responsibility to do everything we can to help the people who have made it, who’ve been able to leave the country, who’ve been able to get out of Afghanistan, and are coming to our part of the world to start a new life and a better life,” said Yekutiel.

Donations to help Afghan resettlement efforts can be made to JFCS East Bay here and the Afghan Coalition here.

Lea Loeb
(Photo/Aaron Levy-Wolins)
Lea Loeb

Lea Loeb is engagement reporter at J. She previously served as editorial assistant.