Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the tag “millennials”

48 Hours After Veteran’s Day

Two days have passed since Veteran’s Day. It is a well-meaning attempt to show those who put their lives at risk to defend our freedom that we care and appreciate their sacrifice. Perhaps it moves a few, most likely those who have better adjusted to their past and control their present. But for those still fighting a war inside their heads, those who struggle because of a physical wound, who are denied the benefits and help they deserve, it might just be another day full of hollow rhetoric.

We are a society that believes in the need to defend itself, that we must be the biggest, best armed, and one of the better trained. We define this concept of defense in our own way. One key strategy is that we keep the field of conflict far away from mainland America. Whether you agree or not, it defines the 1st and 2nd World Wars, Vietnam, Korea, Iraq and Afghanistan. We fought our enemies far away from here. As a Brit whose father fought the Germans, and whose mother carries the scars of the Blitz, I can understand that. Hitler was on our doorstep even if he never crossed the English Channel.

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I can live with this principle and am willing to pay my share of the bill for financing our defense (taxes). But this social contract, which is held with those who serves, demands that we take care of them when they return and cannot smoothly reabsorb into society.

I have written a number of times about this embarrassing and inexplicable injustice, both in this blog and in my novel, Unwanted Heroes. In Israel, a country that lives under a far greater (proportionally) financial commitment to pay for its military, everyone serves in the army. This fact is probably why it is a given that a soldier, wounded inside or out, will receive whatever help s/he needs. It is, quite frankly, not an issue, and this is probably why I was so shocked when I came to live in the US and found homeless war veterans on too many street corners.

Heroes Low Res Finished Cover 11.18

A country that refuses to take care of those citizens, who have most earned that care, cannot be expected to build a moral and principled society. If we give our young people the message that it becomes everyone for themselves, then that is how they will behave. The consequences are fewer taxes gathered, more crime (street and white-collar), and a general erosion in respect and self-respect.

Our soldiers must be held up as the first line of defense for a society that is under attack…from itself. I don’t believe, in this technological age, that there is any rational explanation why a veteran must wait up to two years and more for their claims to be dealt with.

It is the result of a selfish society that doesn’t care, and has become numb to the needs of anyone outside of their social circle. We are failing our soldiers and failing the millennial generation who are watching, learning and judging.

We reap what we sow and we need to become responsible farmers before it is too late. It is 48 hours after Veteran’s Day and time is running out.

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of GalbriethThe First Decree, and Ashbar – Wycaan Master Book 3 – all released by Tourmaline Books. Shalev is also the author of three social justice-themed novels including Unwanted Heroes. He swears there is a connection. More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter). Hang out with Alon on Google+

The Ivy League Class Conundrum

I work on the university campus scene. Whatever your thoughts about the millennials, I love working with them. Seeing a flower blossom, discovering a rare diamond in the rough…you get it. They question, debate, and they are incredibly incisive in their analysis. 

images-4Occasionally the finished product walks into the student center. They are not just a straight-A student, but articulate, active, and charismatic. There is one such student right now who caught my eye with her presence and intelligence.

She had just returned from a national conference and was telling a group that gathered around her how inspired she felt. I caught her, a little while later, alone, with a frown on her face and after a few moments of cajoling she began to talk.

She had met a young man studying at Harvard and they had immediately hit it off. She discovered they were studying the same major, had exactly the same grades, and seemed in many ways to be very similar.

She began to grill him, trying to discover why an Ivy League school would take him and not her. The difference between them soon became apparent. His resume, in her words, was loaded. He had spent every summer in impressive internships, captained or initiated a variety of high school student groups or initiatives. He told her that he had stressed to balance his schoolwork and drive to have grades to reach a school like Harvard, together with all this extra-curriculum activity. She had been very impressed with him.

This young woman is the eldest daughter of a single mother. She had worked every summer since the ninth grade, contributing to the family’s limited financial resources. Her hard-working mother put in extra hours to make ends meet and did not want her high school daughter working during school-time instead of studying. But, as her mother worked long hours, the daughter needed to pick up her siblings, make them dinner, help them with their homework, and generally take care of them. 

images-3She would love to have experienced the internships that her new Harvard friend had done. She would have been proud to participate in the kind of high school activity that he had. But it was just not possible. Circumstances dictated that she took care of her family and she did this with understanding and good grace.

I salute this young woman’s drive to excel through education. I salute her mother, who sacrificed herself for a vision that her children would have an easier life than she did, using education as a vehicle to success.

I just wish Harvard and the Ivy League schools would do the same.

cn_image_0.size.0908-HARVARD

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, The First Decree, and Ashbar – Wycaan Master Book 3 – all released by Tourmaline Books. Shalev is also the author of three social justice-themed novels including Unwanted Heroes. He swears there is a connection. More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

Elves, Dwarves and Political Activists

“You can’t be serious!” she exclaimed, wrinkling her nose as though I had just made a pass at her, or uttered a politically incorrect sentiment. “You write about elves and dwarves running from one end of the world to another killing each other and making long speeches? I thought you were a serious writer.”

In honesty, she had not seen me for a few years, and even then, knew me in the context of my more political work environment. To her credit, she recovered and apologized, and I was able to refrain from pouring my drink into her lap. It was, after all, a good scotch.

images-2-1Friend or not, intentional or not, it still hurt. I thought I had passed this stage, smoothly presenting myself as ‘an author who writes in two genres’. I have practiced my opening line and it is now delivered with confidence.

I am involved in social justice causes. Even in my short eight years living in the US, I have built a fair resume of involvement. I have taken students almost every year to New Orleans, not only to help rebuild a community, physically and emotionally, but to bear witness so that the millennials will not make the mistakes my generation did. I have been involved in various campaigns here and abroad.  I know my local food bank well. Hey, you never had a black President before I came to the US! 

But yes, I love to lose myself in Middle Earth, Alaegasia, Westeros and, dare I add it to the list: Odessiya. It’s a nice break from the intensive campus environment to deal with stubborn dwarves and idealistic elves. While closeted in an urban concrete jungle, I can escape on a horse and gallop through ancient forests, over great ice plains, and to quaff an ale or puff a pipe (without the health risks) with good friends, all from a computer screen or ebook reader.

hobbits-in-pub The San Francisco Bay Area is intensely populated by a variety of the human species often identified by salt-and-pepper haired, wrinkled, colorful attire, and provocative bumper stickers. These aging ideologues have rich resumes of demonstrating against wars, civil rights. Watergate, and more recently, more wars, gay rights, and gun control.

While there are many who have fallen by the wayside, succumbing to burnout, those who have maintained their energy to keep demonstrating and fighting for what is right, all seem to have a secret place they go to recharge, relax, and to return energized to help create a better world to live in. It might be literature, meditation, family, friends, food, nature … it doesn’t matter. As a friend once said: Fixing the world is a marathon, not a sprint.

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Yeah, I write about elves and dwarves doing brave acts and striving for justice and honor. Sure I write about battles and loves, about friendships and magic, about the power of nature and good fighting evil.

It energizes me and often provides clarity and vision. And if I do occasionally wonder what Seanchai or Shayth might do about gun control or why some people are denied the rights and opportunities their neighbors have, well that’s because fantasy is not quite as far-fetched and detached from reality as my shocked friend might think.

God created the world in six days and on the seventh s/he rested…and may well have deservedly read Lord of the Rings.

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Here’s to whatever it takes for each of us to continue the journey we’ve chosen!

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Alon Shalev writes social justice-themed novels and YA epic fantasy. He swears there is a connection. In celebration of the upcoming launch of Ashbar, the third in the Wycaan Master series, Tourmaline Books are offering for August only,  the 2013 Eric Hoffer Book Award for YA - At The Walls Of Galbrieth – for 99 cents (kindle only).

John Legend – Already A Legend

I met John Legend at the Association of Fundraising Professionals conference in San Diego a month ago where I first met Emmanuel Jal.  He is an amazing performer and you can read his already impressive resume here.

But you might just be better off listening to some of his hits.

In a world where so many of our young (and older) musicians and artists are so insular, Legend brings an impressive track record of leveraging his music and talent for social justice.

He has helped promote campaigns in Africa where he raised money for a village in Ghana where people were living in extreme poverty. He cites Professor Jeffrey Sachs‘ book, The End of Poverty, as his inspiration to improve the lives of people living under the poverty line and he started his “Show Me Campaign” in 2007.

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In May 2007 he partnered with Tide laundry detergent to raise awareness about the need of families in St. Bernard Parish, (Slidell, LA) one of the most devastated areas hit by Hurricane Katrina. I had brought a group of students two months earlier to work in this parish. Legend spent a day folding laundry at the Tide “clean start” mobile laundromat and meeting with that community.

He possesses talent, organizational ability and the energy to inspire others to get involved. I truly felt in the presence of a man with a keen awareness of what is going on in the world and the recognition that we can overcome these injustices and create a better world.

images-4 It is why I find working with millennials to be so incredibly exciting. It gives me hope for the future.

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Alon Shalev writes social justice-themed novels and YA epic fantasy. He swears there is a connection. His latest books include: Unwanted Heroes and At The Walls Of Galbrieth. Alon tweets at @alonshalevsf and @elfwriter. For more about the author, check out his website.

Bearing Witness: A Window Closes

I thought it was risky expecting college students to give up a Friday night and come to Hillel, the Jewish Student Center, to hear a Holocaust survivor. We usually invite speakers during the week and had already held two ceremonies, one on the SFSU campus. But sometimes you hold events just because they are popular, and sometimes: something needs to be said.

A student requested that we invite her grandfather, who has a tragic but amazing story. I was stunned to see our small family house fill with over 80 students. People stood along the walls, sat on the stairs and all listened in silence as Herbert Heller told how he was ordered as a boy to take some laundry for a guard’s son, and instead put them on and walked out the camp and escaped.

Herbert Heller talks with a student

Herbert Heller talks with a student

He told us of coming to America and trying to live a fulfilling life without hate and guilt guiding his every step. His voice was quiet and clear. He was not a polished speaker, which only served to make the experience so much more genuine. He was one of our friend’s grandfather. He could have been anyone’s grandfather.

I walked around afterwards asking students if this was their first time hearing a Holocaust survivor and why they had come. I was particularly interested in a small group of students I had never seen; a group that I decided was probably not Jewish. They had been invited by two Jewish students when they had heard these students talking about how important this was to them, they had felt a clear sense of purpose that this was something they wanted to experience.

The common response I received was that a sense of urgency, that a window is closing on the opportunity to hear first-hand accounts of the Holocaust. There is a genuine concern among millennials, who are fueled by a sense of justice and order, that the Holocaust will become just another massacre of a people in a long historical list of shame on humanity, but a page in a history book, nonetheless.

Gloria Lyon, San Francisco resident.

Gloria Lyon, San Francisco resident.

I fear for our ability to keep telling the story. I believe we must each find the opportunity to meet and hear a Holocaust survivor, especially if this someone is a family member.

Two 18-21 year old students said to me separately (paraphrasing): You have the opportunity to bring this amazing man to speak to me, but what will I do in order to pass on the story to my children, to my grandchildren?

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We need to hear the story. As Elie Wiesel said: we need to bear witness. When these students sit down with their children and grandchildren, they will begin their story with:

“One Friday night I met this amazing man and he told me his story…”

Yarzheit Candles Hillel

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Alon Shalev writes social justice-themed novels and YA epic fantasy. He swears there is a connection. His latest books include: Unwanted Heroes and At The Walls Of Galbrieth. Alon tweets at @alonshalevsf and @elfwriter.

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Back to New Orleans

I arrived in the US in 2005, just 103 days before Hurricane Katrina struck landfall. I left my family in the beautiful manicured suburbia of Ventura, California, and rode the greyhound north to seek my fame and fortune in San Francisco. I had 100 days to find a job that would support a family of four in the expensive Bay Area, and then find a house for us to live in.

I’m still waiting for the fame, but fortune shone on me that summer. While my job will never make me rich financially, it feeds my family and my soul. I have the good fortune to work with Jewish college students, helping them find their individual path in the world and enriching their Jewish campus experience.

Fortune did not shine on others during the summer of 2005, and as  I settled my family into our little apartment in Berkeley, we watched in horror as New Orleans was ripped apart. “Where is this happening? Is this Africa? India?” my then 6-year-old son asked. “America,” I replied. He looked at me wide-eyed. “Our America?”

His America had so far been the beach, beautiful parks and elegantly manicured lawns. “Yes,” I replied and reached for a map to show him.

Another scene – this time of the New Orleans Superdome packed with people. “Daddy, why are all the black people trapped?” my son had asked. “Why aren’t we doing anything about it? Why aren’t we helping?”

I silently promised him and myself then that we would do something about it.

Why aren’t we doing anything about it? Those words haunted me as I began my new job as a Hillel director working on the San Francisco campuses.

There is nothing as I work with Jewish students that gives me more satisfaction than recruiting and taking them to New Orleans to volunteer to help rebuild the city and the community. This will be my 6th trip and it never gets old. We not only help physically, but we show we care and that we have not forgotten.

Most importantly perhaps, we bear witness. And maybe, seeds are sown in these students not to accept social apathy and irresponsibility. Social Justice is a central tenant, an obligation, of Judaism – I want my students to experience the responsibility.

On Sunday, I will take 20 students, who will give up their spring break to help the crescent city. Over the next week, I want to share some of the experiences of our group, of groups I have taken in past years, and of the people we meet. Some of these will be posts from past years in case there is no time as this week can get so intense.

A couple of years ago when I went to pick up my son from school after just having returned from such a trip, the teacher stopped me. “He has been telling us all week of the work you do on the Gulf Coast. He is very proud of what you do.”

I thought back to August/September 2005 and the promise I had made to both of us. Seven years have passed, but the struggle of New Orleans goes on, and it is the struggle of American society’s claim to be one nation.

I don’t want the next generation – the millennials – to make the same mistakes that we made. Or my sons, if I can help it. Maybe by being a role model, by each of us doing something, we can change the world – one person at a time.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

Smart Girls are at a Disadvantage

I am male and a manger. When I am not writing the next New York Times bestseller, I am running a non profit in which part of my job is to hire, train, coach and evaluate my staff. I take this very seriously and put a lot of thought into each staff member’s professional journey and how I can empower and help them to reach their full potential.

The nature of the non-profit world means that I am often working with young people who are in their first full-time position. They will most likely stay a few years as they learn skills and garner experience that will help them leverage a better paid job. To do all this while working in a nurturing and ideological environment is an attractive initial proposition. After a while, however, they are seduced by either higher salaries or more responsibilities.

Our national organization, Hillel FJCL, prides itself on equal opportunities, with zero tolerance for a situation whereby anyone experiences discrimination because of their religious beliefs, sexual preference, or gender. Recently, one of my female employees shared her concerns about being able to advance in the non-profit world because she is a woman.

Is the Milennial woman still held back at work?

She shared an article by Heidi Grant Halvorson, the author of Succeed: How We Can Reach Our Goals. The article itself appeared in the Huffington Post.

Succeed: How We Can Achieve Our Goals

While the article talks of the messages transferred to a girl in the home and classroom, Dr. Grant Halvorson also suggests that women might hold themselves to a higher standard than men, that they are more self- critical than their male counterparts.

Quoting studies from the 1980’s by psychologist Carol Dweck (author of “Mindset“) she suggested that girls are less likely at the 5th Grade level to believe they can improve themselves. Couple this with the other well-known factors – teachers give boys more time, turn to boys to answer questions first etc., then the image projected is that boys experience a more empowering environment at school, university and in the workplace.

Girls are more likely to let a boy answer a question, even if she knows the answer

I am not sure that the millennial, brought up on a mega dose of entitlement necessarily falls into this hole, but there are definitely those who are not seeking the higher status (and high compensation) professions, even though they have the ability. There are still far more young women who are prepared to make compromises and sacrifices to follow their partner than their male counterparts.

Whatever is holding the millennial female back from challenging for equality in the classroom and the workplace troubles me. I cannot influence them growing up at home or in the lecture hall. I can only offer the best possible nurturing working environment.

But whenever one of these young women leave, whether for a new experience, more money, or professional advancement, I can’t help feeling a wave of protectiveness. It doesn’t happen to me with the fine young men who pass through our organization, so there must be something there.

Are woman still held back in the workplace? Please share your views, experiences, and solutions.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

Socially Responsible Investing – Some Reading Material

Yesterday, I began a series on Socially Responsible Investing. Whenever I encounter a new topic, I look for books to provide a basic level of information. This is, I realize very different from the millennials with whom I work. They worship at the keyboards of the Goddess Google and pick up an initial picture with amazing ease. If you are considering investing and want to consider companies that live up to a level of responsible business principles, here are a few suggestions.

I generally love the For Dummies books. They give you a clear foundation for whatever topic they chose. There is no need to read in chronological order and the information is very clear. Socially Responsible Investing for Dummies, more than anything else, gave me the confidence to take a first step and begin investing.

The second book I used is Green Investing. This book profiles about 100 companies with an environmental emphasis. I used this book to decide on 12 companies that I was going to focus on. I did my due diligence by checking websites with more recent news or commentary, but the book gave me somewhere to start.

If you do decide to try investing in socially conscious companies, these are solid books to begin with. There is so much information out there that it can be daunting. The volatility of the market as we have witnessed is scary and, as most investors write on their site, you should not be exposing money that you cannot afford to lose. However, if you decide to invest, this is investing in the future. For many of these companies, without serious investment, they will not be able to research and market their products and we will remain with products that are not sustainable. If we are to move the economy on, it will be done by the grassroots decisions of millions of people who care.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/

 

 

Another Ebook Success Story

I’m excited. I’m stoked. You might recall how ecstatic I was to hear of an author (fiction) who is  making a comfortable living from e-books. Well, after I declared this to the world, the majority of comments I received was along the line of: “so what, you’ve found one.”

Now J.A. Konrath, who surprised the publishing world money by announcing that he was making a good living from e-books and that he is making his money selling inexpensive e-books ($2-$3 as I recall).

Now the writing world is excited by Amanda Hocking, who sold over 450,000 copies of her e-books in January alone, mostly priced between 99 cents and $2.99. Ms. Hocking joins the short list of authors who are millionaires. What is even more cool about this 26-year-old, is that she is a self-published author.

But Ms. Hocking made one thing very clear and, I think, feels she has a point to make. Her success is a product of very hard work. Not only is she an incredibly productive writer, she spends several hours, let me stress that, several hours a day marketing herself and her books.

The truly succesful author of the 21st Century, of the digital age, will combine great writing, excellent marketing, and will understand the need to fuse writing and business. Ms. Hocking is, we should acknowledge, a product of the millennial generation, comfortable on multiple screens, and extremely good at it.

Good luck to you, Ms. Hocking.  And in response to a comment you made on your blog (not directed at me, I might add) – I am not jealous of you, I am full of admiration. You have set the bar for those of us who want to succeed as writers need to aspire to.

The only thing missing is the ‘How To’ book. I’ll be the first to buy it!

Oh, and yes I know that I put in way too many graphics (Ms. Hocking’s book covers), but they are works of art. No apologies offered.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

 

People Making A Difference: Michelle Citrin

Last month I highlighted a song posted on  You Tube by Michelle Citrin. I want to show a few more. She is a great singer, songwriter and entertainer. But I want to highlight something else that Michelle achieves through her artistic expression.

Michelle writes some of her songs to ignite an interest among young Jews about their religion and culture. Judaism, like many other religions, needs to find innovative ways to attract the millennial generation. We all do, whether selling a product or promoting a cause.

All expressions of art are a great tool to do this. I write to motivate people to act against a social injustice. Others use art, music and acting.

Michelle is doing a great job. My staff and I often promote her songs to generate an excitement when we near a particular religious festival or event. Last week, I showed her Pass the Candle song, but Citrin also gets involved in activist gatherings. Here she is at a 9/11 benefit concert.


While Michelle is writing some powerful songs not about Judaism, her music reminds my wife of the Indigo Girls – and that is a serious endorsement. Please check out (and purchase) more of her music at her website.
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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at www.alonshalev.com

 

 

 

 

 

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