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 month “October, 2010”

Happy Samhain

I love Halloween ever since coming to America. I know it’s commercial, sugar and additive prone, and the denigration of the customs and culture of a downtrodden religion. But I love how everyone can throw on a costume for a few hours, get all excited and friendly … and I enjoy the kids doing it too. Perhaps it’s living in Berkeley (I have no experience outside of cold, awkward England), but when whole streets get into the swing together, something very special happens, if only for an evening.

My first novel, A Gardener’s Tale, illustrated the struggle between the Pagan religions and Christianity in rural England. It follows two years in the lives of the villagers and the stranger who comes into their community. One of the elements felt by the villagers is the breakdown of their community, how they are becoming increasingly estranged from their neighbors.

It is happening today more than ever. How many of us really know our neighbors and those living across the road? My neighborhood began a community initiative to get to know each other after a woman was attacked and a man tried to take her handbag. As she screamed for help, there was a spontaneous outpouring of people from their houses. Out of nowhere, that street became a community.

We need Halloweens to bind us together rather than crimes. With so much conflict in the world focused around religion, perhaps we also need the gentler, older religions. The earth certainly does.

So here’s to candy and spontaneous celebration. Happy Samhain, everyone.

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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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Spiral Gardens: A Call to Action

I am stealing this from the Berkeleyside listserve. I don’t have time tonight to post a blog and this really hits me. I have a blog post ready for the end of November (a week of food justice posts) about Spiral Gardens, where I love volunteering. The produce is sold in an area of low income far cheaper than the farmers markets, and is situated in a neighborhood where there are few options to buy fresh produce. Profits benefit low income senior citizens nearby. Please consider buying some of your produce there on Tuesday late afternoons.


Here is the Berkeleyside post:

Like many nonprofits, it took a while for the downturn in the economy to impact the nursery sales at Spiral Gardens, a community food security project on Sacramento Street in South Berkeley.

But this spring and summer plant sales dropped off dramatically, says co-director Lisa Stephens, and now the nonprofit may be forced to close its weekly produce stand if an infusion of funds is not secured quickly.

The all-volunteer organization is making a direct appeal to residents (striking black and yellow fliers can be found at farmers’ markets around town and at the group’s headquarters).

The gardens are a bright spot in a neighborhood that has seen a spate of violent crimes in recent months, including yesterday’s homicide.

The weekly produce stand offers locally grown, organic produce at cost in a neighborhood where corner liquor stores filled with unhealthy products are a mainstay.

While the stand is geared toward serving low-income residents, it welcomes all comers and only asks that consumers who can afford to pay a little extra when shopping for good quality produce do so.

Still, the Tuesday market, which runs from 3 p.m. until 7 p.m., typically runs at a loss. Up until now, the stand has been subsidized by plant sales.

Stephens says the group needs to raise about $10,000 in the next few months to keep the produce stand afloat. The organization’s operating costs run about $4,000 a month.

To meet their goal the group is running a raffle that will be drawn on the winter solstice (December 21). Prizes include a month’s worth of weekly produce, Ecology Center memberships, a $100 gift certificate from Blue Wind Botanical Medicine Clinic, and posters and books from Inkworks Press.

Readers who want to show their support can send donations to: Spiral Gardens, 2830 Sacramento Street, Berkeley, CA 94702, or swing by the produce stand and pick up some raffle tickets along with their greens.

The nursery is also looking for garden equipment donations to replace aging gear.

The executive director of Spiral Gardens, Daniel Miller, was the subject of a recent Berkeley Bites.
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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

 

 

 

In Memory of Pat Cody

Tomorrow there will be a public memorial service for Pat Cody at 2 p.m. at the First Congregational Church of Berkeley, 2345 Channing Way.

Pat, who along with her husband Fred, built one of Berkeley’s most beloved institutions, Cody’s Books, died Thursday, Sept. 30 at the age of 87.

Perhaps another way to pay tribute to Pat’s work and vision might be to go to your local independent bookstore and buy a book on October 30. Please tell the staff member who takes your money that this is in Pat’s memory. Click here for a list of independent bookstores in the Bay Area.

Cody’s Books was an icon of the literary streets of Berkeley. Together with so many local independent businesses that are part of our community and disappearing, Cody’s  is sadly missed. So will those who pioneered their way.

Here’s to you, Mrs. Cody. I bet there’s a great library of books where you are heading. Enjoy them. ——————————————————————————————————-

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

 

Green Apple Bookstore

When my wife and I used to live in Israel, we would come to California every few years to visit her family. We’d drive up to San Francisco for a few days and do the rounds: Golden Gate Bridge, Chinatown, Lombard Street, Cable Car, and The Green Apple Bookstore.

Now it is not like you couldn’t buy English language books in Israel, even used books. In the later years, we even had something called the Internet and this neighborhood bookstore called Amazon. Yet somehow, we found ourselves drawn each visit to this special bookstore and would inevitably leave with bags of books, worried about our luggage weight restrictions.

I was always mystified why Green Apple had this effect on us. It is a store filled with, um, books, and has the same smell as most bookstores (especially the small, cramped independent ones). Now, five years into living in the Bay Area, when I find myself in the Outer Richmond neighborhood, I can’t help but pop in.

Recently I caught up with co-owner, Kevin Hunsanger.

AS: What value does your bookstore provide for the local community?

KH: In addition to offering a welcoming space to freely browse, to meet with friends and to engage in spirited dialogue, Green Apple also regularly hosts author events of all types, both within the store and off-site, in venues ranging from grade schools to dive bars. We also have a very active used book buy counter where folks can turn their unwanted tomes into cash or trade; if we can’t use the material, customers have the option of feeding the free box, an area directly in front of the store where anyone can have books for free.

AS: Who is the most inspiring author you have met? Why?
KH: I have met hundreds of authors in my nearly two decades of work with Green Apple, but the one most inspiring would have to be Dave Eggers. He has an international celebrity that rivals the most popular rock stars, yet he consistently donates his time, money and imprint for a wide variety of causes in a most unassuming manner. Then of course, there was that one lost weekend with Nick Tosches, which began with clandestine Absinthe and ended with my car being totaled – but that’s another story altogether.

AS: What community events or campaigns has your bookstore been involved in?
KH: Green Apple has regular 20% back to schools weekend fundraisers; we donate boxes of books to The Red Cross; we donate gift certificates to various charitable causes for auction. But the campaign that we’re most proud of was 2008’s ‘Give a kid some credit’ year, when we gave each 4th grade student in SF Public Schools a $10.00 gift certificate, no strings attached! We issued about 4000…

AS: If you were to retire tomorrow what would you most miss from your work?
KH: Without a doubt I would miss our customers and wonderful staff most.

Finally, many in the book industry are extremely apprehensive of the ebook advances. I want to share with you the response of the Green Apple’s staff. Click here (www.greenapplebooks.com) and look under videos (at the time of writing it is in the top right corner of the home page) for the 10-part Book .v. Kindle series. Then sit back with a glass of… and enjoy the show!

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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

 

Fool Me Twice?

This was the title of an editorial in the New York Times last week. In the article, the author refers to a deal made with President Bush’s government in which the multinationals offered to bring back billions of dollars to invest in the US economy, building new plants and stimulating employment.

Congress passed the Homeland Investment Act, which allowed companies to repatriate some $300 billion in 2005 and pay only 5.25 percent in taxes (instead of 35% which is the corporate tax rate imposed on overseas profits when they are brought into the country). The multinationals got their tax breaks: the stimulus failed to happen. Almost all of that money found its way to the shareholders.

Now, according to an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, the chief executive of Cisco, John Chambers, and the president of Oracle, Safra Catz, suggested that American multinational corporations have about $1 trillion stashed abroad and that this money could be brought back for the general good if taxes were again lowered to 5%.

The audacity of big business astonishes me – and I wrote a book about their behavior. I should read it again. That they were able to get away with this in ’05 is hard enough to stomach. But that they feel they can do it again is … well you can slot in the appropriate word.

Many multinationals have large amounts of cash stored in the US should they ever really consider investing into the economy. They do not need to bring money in from abroad. In fact, perhaps tax breaks should be awarded to such companies to bring money into the US after they have invested into the economy, and perhaps there should be a logical link between each sum of money.

It seems that the Obama administration does remember how the government was fooled and is not showing any interest. Fair game, but I can’t help wondering where these multinationals get the chutzpah to even make the suggestion. ——————————————————————————————————-

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

 

Bumper Sticker – A Call to Activism

I love bumper stickers. This one was a no brainer to add to my collection. It is one thing to be apathetic or to bury your head in the sand. But the propensity of people to complain and criticize but refuse to try and do something is truly frustrating.

There is an election coming up. The untruths (I’m being nice here) being thrown out is startling. These candidates rely upon people not really listening to them and just grabbing onto cliches and soap opera-worthy ads.

Whatever your decision in November, be revolutionary and make an informed decision. Just understanding what is really happening is a first step to being an activist.
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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

 

Books that Matter – McLibel: Burger Culture on Trial – John Vidal

McLibel is the story of the remarkable trial wherein McDonald’s sued two young activists for libel in London during the 1990’s and, unlike every newspaper, magazine and TV show, they refused to back down. Due to archaic laws, libel is the one area of law where there is no legal aid offered.

A friend of mine put up what became the first interactive advocacy website at a time when most of us were still using telephones and letter to communicate with each other. Both the David .v. Goliath aspect of what became the longest court case in British history and the role that the website took on, fascinated me.

John Vidal records an accurate account of what transpired in the Royal Courts of Justice in his book – McLibel: Burger Culture on Trial, and there is also a DVD by the same name produced by Geoffrey Giuliano.

KIRKUS REVIEW (McLibel: Burger Culture on Trial)
A lively account of the food fight that became the longest trial in British history. When a flyer entitled “What’s Wrong with McDonald’s” circulated around London, the burger giant took umbrage and sued Helen Steel and Dave Morris, members of London Greenpeace (an environmental group not affiliated with the international organization Greenpeace), for libel… see below for full review.

My latest novel, The Accidental Activist, is a fictional account of the trial. I keep very close to the true time line, but I have substituted an oil company in place of McDonald’s (so as not to get sued for libel myself!). I tell the story from the perspective of the guy who put up the website. I have a common theme throughout my novels to spotlight the transformational potential that we each possess to effect positive change.

A self-absorbed, successful computer yuppie goes out on a few dates with a woman who suddenly gets arrested and charged with libel. He utilizes his talents, initially to help her, but gradually gets more involved in the issues and the need to hold big businesses accountable.

While the court case closely resembles what really transpired, the characters and sex are all from my overactive imagination.

KIRKUS REVIEW – McLibel: Burger Culture on Trial.
A lively account of the food fight that became the longest trial in British history. When a flyer entitled “What’s Wrong with McDonald’s” circulated around London, the burger giant took umbrage and sued Helen Steel and Dave Morris, members of London Greenpeace (an environmental group not affiliated with the international organization Greenpeace), for libel.

Here Vidal, who covered the trial for the London Guardian, recounts some of the issues addressed and the difficulties faced by the two underdogs who, without benefit of a court-appointed lawyer or funds from legal aid, acted as their own attorneys in facing the corporation’s crack legal team in a bench trial (they were denied a jury). British libel law required that Steel and Morris prove the accuracy of virtually every statement made in the flyer.

The company may since have come to regret their suit: The pair, assisted by a network of volunteers, did a very credible job of tracking down information in support of the flyer’s claims. This effort leads Vidal to discussions of the nutritional value of McDonald’s food; whether or not that food contained any beef raised on former rainforest land; the corporation’s treatment of workers; and its reactions to employees’ efforts to unionize.

By the time Vidal is finished with such subjects, the Golden Arches look a little tarnished. But his account would have benefited from waiting for the verdict that was handed down this summer, and from concluding with more rumination on the case and less grandstanding on the evils of multinational corporations. Still, Vidal’s blend of human interest and sheer outrageousness make this a ripping legal yarn. If the case itself hasn’t already given Ronald McDonald indigestion, this book might. (8 pages b&w photos, not seen) — Copyright ©1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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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

 

True Mentor – Irwin Bear

This weekend, Irwin Bear passed away after a long struggle with cancer. He leaves behind a life full of success in his business, his wonderful family, and also a legacy to those whom he mentored.

Irwin was President of San Francisco Hillel from 2006-2009. He stepped into the position when our Hillel was facing many challenges. In his time he was a relentless advocate for the students of San Francisco. He was never afraid to highlight our needs and our achievements and never afraid to push the board and staff along.

Most of all, Irwin was a personal mentor to me. We met frequently and, while he pushed me to move the organization along, he was always a teacher.

Irwin was a proud alum of San Francisco State University and he enjoyed telling students of his experiences and his life story. He never spoke down to them, but sought to inspire through his own example. He often attended events and was a beloved figure in the Jewish student community.

Wishing his wife, Ann, and his family a long and healthy life. Judaism teaches that a man is measured by the good he leaves behind him. Irwin left a lot of good, and his personal example is the greatest lesson of all.
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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

 

The Hazon Food Justice Conference

Hazon means ‘vision’ in Hebrew. It sums up the organization which I will highlight in a food justice week planned for next month. It also sums up my friend, Nigel Savage, who had the vision to create such an organization before the topic was on many people’s radar.

Hazon is hosting a Food Conference here on the West Coast. It will be a unique gathering of hopefully 200 professionals, lay leaders, and foodies (their term, but I love it!) to connect, collaborate, and continue to build the New Jewish Food Movement.

It is surprising how much the food justice movement has captivated the activist mind. I think it is because this is work that can be done at home in your own neighborhood and in Africa. It is a movement which is at once local and global, and you can see results quickly.

The conference will  be December 23-26, 2010 at Walker Creek Ranch in Sonoma. I am taking a group of students there in the spring for a hands-on green experience for the second time. It is an excellent venue, the staff are simply wonderful, and the food is both healthy and delicious.

SessionChevruta

Programming at the Hazon conference will include (I’m quoting from the website):

  • Exploring the rich tradition of Jewish thought on food, agriculture, and consumption
  • Examining the Jewish community’s role to create a socially and economically-just and environmentally-sound food system
  • Networking and regional gatherings for farmers, educators, activists, chefs, entrepreneurs, and other groups of people to collaborate and establish action plans
  • Celebrating a joyous Shabbat

HavdallahBagels

What else would a Jew want to do over Christmas – other than eating at a local, organic, MSG-free, Chinese restaurant?

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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 www.alonshalev.com

 

 

 

A GIANT Step for Left Coasters

This is not a sports blog and I am cruelly aware of the credibility an Englishman lacks passing comment on a baseball game but…there is something magical when a city gets behind its team, when in the midst of an economic depression, in the build up to a mind-numbing mid-term election, and when it has suddenly gone from heatwave to pouring rain...the team delivers!

“The Giants shouldn’t have even made it this far into the post season.”

“They are just a makeshift team of misfits.”

“One bowler is a long-haired school kid who probably arrived at the stadium on his skateboard, another colors his beard.”

Hey who cares! This is San Francisco – take it or leave it. But the Giants are going to the world series.


As Karl Marx never said: Sports are the opium of the people. Fair comment. But right now from this foggy and rainy city on the bay, life looks bright orange. ——————————————————————————————————-

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 www.alonshalev.com

 

 

 

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