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 category “San Francisco”

Stop and Frisk: Evidence of Class Warfare – Tom Rossi

It’s come down to this: the end of, “innocent until proven guilty.” That principle is not in the U.S. constitution. However, it’s been the policy that has guided law enforcement in this country for decades.

“Stop and frisk” is a practice whereby the police can stop someone in the street for no other reason than he or she “looks suspicious.” It doesn’t matter if a crime has been committed nearby. It doesn’t matter if the person matches the description of an alleged perpetrator. He or she can be stopped and given a body search simply due to his or her appearance.

Who will they stop? Will it be white men in suits, walking into bank’s corporate offices? Well, that hasn’t happened, so far. So far (and this is what the policy is designed for) the people who have been stopped have been people of very little means – people in poor neighborhoods wearing inexpensive clothing.

In 2011, the New York city police stopped people 685,724 times. Many of those were repeats, as some people got stopped multiple times. Of that number, 88 percent were innocent – in other words not carrying any weapons, drugs, nor rhinoceros tusks. Only 9 percent of the total were caucasians, even though causasians were almost twice as likely as other groups to be found carrying a weapon.

Stop and frisk is a policy that betrays the classism and racism of the security hawks, and it’s spreading. San Francisco is now considering making “stop and frisk” policy. Several other cities are either considering it or have implemented it at least to some degree.

Let me be clear. When I say it’s the end of “innocent until proven guilty,” I’m not talking about jail or prison. That goes on, too, but what I’m talking about is the violation of people’s rights to personal self and privacy.

I’m also talking about the “haves” and the “have-nots,” and the differences between the two groups’ experiences of “our” country and democracy. Stop and frisk seems another way to separate those who are valued in our society from those who are unwanted.

The danger, and what allows these policies to take hold, is that “normal,” middle-class, working people will think, “Oh, that won’t affect me. I don’t look suspicious and I don’t hang out in bad neighborhoods.” But in this, winner-take-all economy, so many lines are being blurred. The once-affluent wear out their clothes because they can’t afford new ones. They live in places they would not have considered before. They drive old cars.

But somehow the people who have managed to keep their jobs still have their attitude that, “That won’t happen to me.” As a result, they aren’t too concerned, and feel that the benefits of increased security outweigh the costs – whatever they may be.

I say the costs of an unjust society are much higher than the, “How does this affect me?” paradigm can measure. More and more of us lose power in this society every day. The Citizens United case in the Supreme Court has accelerated this phenomenon.

Take a stand against injustice, now. When the injustice comes into your house, it may be too late.

-Tom Rossi

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Tom Rossi is a commentator on politics and social issues. He is a Ph.D. student in International Sustainable Development, concentrating in natural resource and economic policy. Tom greatly enjoys a hearty debate, especially over a hearty pint of Guinness.

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Kemble Scott – California Writer

I have already written about Kemble Scott and apologize (only slightly) that I am adapting a previous post. If we are celebrating California Writers Week and I am using this opportunity to focus on authors who write about San Francisco, then I think this post is even more relevant today.

SoMa stands for South of Market area. Riding on the riches of the dot com era, suddenly wealthy young people moved into fashionable lofts in a neighborhood that was known for the darker side of life. Many of the side streets are actually named after the prostitutes that frequented them.

SoMa remains an area of contrasts – one street boasting trendy clubs and organic grocery stores, while another is dark and used to sell drugs. Living and cruising the neighborhood are people who are pushing the limits of social norms, in terms of sexual practices and lifestyles and Kemble captures the atmosphere so well.

A different perspective on San Francisco

But Kemble is more than just your average author. If he has an ego from his gleaned success it was never on show when he addressed the California Writers Club. He took the opportunity to share with us his astonishing success as an ebook author and generously offered advice to other writers in a friendly and humble way. He shared his mistakes as well as his successes and I felt it was genuinely important to him to ensure that when someone asked a question that they got the best answer he could give. 

Since his novel, SoMa, was anything but mainstream, Kemble found it difficult to attract reviews. So he came up with this great idea to post short clips on You Tube of the different areas in San Francisco that the book explores. The 25,000 views of these clips helped create a following so when the book was launched it went straight into the Bestseller lists. Here is Chapter One. Be prepared – you will probably want to check chapter 2, 3 and so on.

Kemble often mentions his writers group helping to keep him real. When he told his group that people advertise in Craigslist’s Bay Area ‘roommate wanted’ section to meet prospective partners, two members of the group admitted that they had found their partners in this way.

SoMa can be hard reading. What keeps you involved is the knowledge that these fictional characters exist, and exist in our city. It is the story of desensitized people who are searching for emotion, and they need to seek this in ever increasingly challenging and dangerous ways. It recognizes that this generation is overloaded with choice, with communicating through screens multitasking and absorbing images and data.

Kemble has another similar novel that challenges our views of sexual practice. The Sower, like SoMa, is really well written, with characters that stay with you long after you finish the final pages. His writing also helps paint another layer in the many textures of the San Francisco tapestry.

Here is Kemble’s speech to Google employees.

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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).

Christopher Moore – As Left Coast As They Get

When Christopher Moore offers a book signing in San Francisco, people flock to hear and meet him. When he launched his last novel, Fool, more than 300 hundred people lined up around the perimeter of Books Inc eager to have him sign copies of their books or to exchange a word. I had gone hoping for a little chat…some chance!

But Moore didn’t become a cult hero in San Francisco because of his parody of Shakespeare (Fool) or even the book that launched him, the irreverent and hilarious tale at the first 30 years of Jesus’ life (Lamb). What has enabled Moore to gain such status here are his three books about vampires in San Francisco.

The Man – as funny in person as on the page.

Please don’t bother if you want to be terrified, or if you seek Stephanie Meyer romance. Christopher Moore wrote the book (excuse the pun)  on how to create characters, bind them to a city, and have people begging for more. This is why I chose to write about him during California Writer’s Week and on Saturday for my “Writer’s Corner.”

At the book launch that I just mentioned, the questions were not about either his latest book or Lamb, it was all about the books that bound him to our city, and why we claim Christopher Moore as one of our authors, even though he lives in SoCal.

A Dirty Job, Bloodsucking Fiends – A Love Story, and (after he released Fool) Bite Me, all contain three vital ingredients: a vivid city, engaging characters, and that extra ingredient – in Moore’s case, his wicked sense of humor.

With such a combination, Christopher Moore came up from Santa Barbara and conquered the heart of our fair city. He deserves his place in my California’ Writer’s Week.

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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).

Sightseeing in San Francisco?

I have blogged in the past that I am partial to a good sax. The Bay Area can boast a number of great musicians such as Joshua Redman, but what can be better than strolling along the Embarcadero and just by Pier 39 you come across a street musician who can simply blow the spirit of San Francisco.

I often throw a dollar bill into their hat, but this is the first time that I impulsively bought one of his CD’s. I was not disappointed and now own a few. Stephen Dreyfuss is an icon on the SF scene.  I have mentioned his name to friends more cultured than I and they all nod with reverence.

Below are two videos. The first is his “official” video which slickly illustrates his various influences. But if you only have time for one, see the second, which is a bootleg of him playing at the Pier.

Better yet – go out and enjoy some clam and sourdough and see him live. There is something very vibrant, very raw, about seeing a really polished musician playing music on the streets.

And Stephen is just another gem that makes up our sparkling City by the Bay.

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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).

Happy Pride Day

June is Gay Pride month and, not surprisingly, San Francisco knows how to celebrate.  All of June down Market Street, flags have been flying in the breeze, adding color to the majestic buildings. Most of the people who walk past and notice the flags are probably straight and the flags serve as the only reminder of Gay Pride Month.

Flags Fly on Market Street

The first time that I went to the Pride Parade was during the height of the Prop 8 battle (not sure ‘height’ works here as the struggle continues). I was worried about just being a gawking onlooker even though I marched with the Jewish community’s float in support of gay marriage. While I am sure that I probably did my share of gawking, I felt every part of the celebration.

so cool!

So I want to give a shout out to those of my friends and colleagues who are celebrating today and highlight four areas.

1. Same Sex Parents – I am honored to have met many friends who are parents of children that my sons are friends with. It would be wrong to suggest that they and their children will not face issues and have discussions that my family unit won’t have to deal with. But there is nothing stronger than a family who base their relationship as a family unit on commitment, cohesiveness and communication.

Proud Parents

2. The San Francisco Giants – I talked in a previous post about our baseball team being the first professional sports team to make a video highlighting the issue of young gay people who face bullying.

3. The SowerKemble Scott. This is a great novel, based in San Francisco, that has a strong gay, ethical theme. Kemble has also written another great novel, SOMA, that also illustrates a certain gay lifestyle.

The Sower and SOMA - Kemble Scott

4. Finally, Fernando and Greg – They host a morning radio show on 99.7FM. My eldest son and I listen and laugh when I drive him to school. We’ve had many conversations because of some of the things you guys said and I really appreciate it.

Fernando & Greg - the perfect wake up without the caffeine or calories

So whatever you are doing today – parading, parenting, watching a game, or reading a book – Happy Pride Day – and maybe this open celebration is something we can all be proud to be a part of.

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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).

Left Coast Authors: Kemble Scott

I have already shared my love for San Francisco on this blog. It is a city of so many different aspects: a city that can be described as eschewing the alternative. There is nothing more alternative, more San Francisco than SoMa, the novel.

I first met Kemble Scott when he addressed the California Writers Club about his astonishing success as an ebook author. He was one of the first authors to be sold by Scribd. He is a generous man who is happy to offer advice to other writers in a friendly and humble way. He edits the SoMa Literary Review that helps promotes writers in the Bay Area.

Since his book was anything but mainstream, he found it difficult to attract reviews. So he came up with this great idea to post short clips on You Tube of the different areas that the book explores. The 25,000 views helped create a following so when the book was launched it went straight into the Bestseller lists. Here is Chapter One. Be prepared – you will probably want to check chapter 2, 3 and so on.

SoMa, by the way, is South of Market area. During the dot com era, suddenly wealthy young people moved into fashionable lofts in a neighborhood that was known for the darker side of life. Many of the side streets are named after the prostitutes that frequented them.

It remains an area of contrasts – one street boasting trendy clubs and organic grocery stores, while another is dark and used to sell drugs. Living and cruising the neighborhood are people who are pushing the limits of social norms, in terms of sexual practices and lifestyles.

Kemble often mentions his writers group as a source to keep him real. When he told his group that people advertise in Craigslist’s Bay Area ‘roommate wanted’ section to meet prospective partners, two members of the group admitted that they had found their partners in this way.

SoMa can be hard reading. What keeps you involved is the knowledge that these fictional characters exist, and exist in our city. It is the story of desensitized people who are searching for sensation, and they need to seek this in ever increasingly challenging and dangerous ways. It recognizes that this generation is overloaded with choice, with communicating through screens multitasking and absorbing images and data.

Kemble has another similar novel that challenges our views of sexual practice. The Sower, like SoMa, is really well written, with characters that stay with you long after you finish the final pages. His writing also helps paint another layer in the many textures of the San Francisco tapestry.

Here is Kemble’s speech to Google employees.

——————————————————————————————————

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

 

Project Homeless Connect™

Volunteering at Project Homeless Connect™ is always challenging. Every two months, dozens of support agencies gather under one roof to provide a broad array of services and counseling to the homeless of San Francisco. I love the fact that the auditorium is next to the Civic Center, right within view of the city legislators. I also deeply appreciate the commitment of Mayor Gavin Newsom, who was one of the initiators of the project. He has come every time that I’ve volunteered to thank the volunteers and talk to some of the homeless.

I once told him how much I appreciate his support and commitment. He didn’t bat an eyelid as he reached for my hand and said: “Oh no. I appreciate your commitment.” Yes I know he is a politician, but I really believe he meant it, that he is genuinely passionate about Project Homeless Connect.

For those volunteers who are not part of an agency, our jobs involve interviewing, data tracking and accompanying homeless people to the different agency areas. I usually do the latter where an important element is to just listen to their stories. I rarely leave at the end of the day without hearing something that is deeply moving. I return to my warm home, my loving wife and sons, knowing that tomorrow because I am healthy, I will hit the gym before heading to a job that I love. I am not rich or famous, have not realized my dream of becoming an author of social commentary, but the experience reminds me that I am a darn lucky man.


“The mission of Project Homeless Connect™ (PHC) is to connect San Francisco’s homeless with the system of care that will help them move off the streets and into housing.” (From the PNC website).

Just over five years ago, the mayor and about 300 volunteers surveyed the homeless in the Tenderloin, one of SF’s poorest neighborhoods. From their responses, Project Homeless Connect™ was born.

Again from the website: “Widespread foreclosures, the demands of returning veterans, and the reduction of federal funding for affordable housing create constant challenges in a declining economy. Dealing with the vexing problem requires intervention not only by government but also the community at large.

Today, over 1,000 community volunteers partner with government agencies, nonprofits, and the private sector every two months to provide a one-stop shop of health and human services for homeless San Franciscans. During PHC’s events, participants are able to accomplish in one day what might normally take eight months.

Hundreds of corporations, nonprofits, and government agencies provide PHC and its clients with services such as dental care, eyeglasses, family support, food, HIV testing, housing, hygiene products, medical care, mental health services, substance abuse treatment, SSI benefits, legal advice, California identification cards, voice mail, employment counseling and job placement, wheelchair repair, methadone, needle exchange, and more.
As of February 2010, 20,292 volunteers have provided services to more than 30,844 homeless and poor San Franciscans.”

Finally, the federal government’s Interagency Council has declared Project Homeless Connect™ a National Best Practice Model on Homelessness. If this isn’t validation enough, PHC is being replicated in over 200 cities across the United States, as well as in Canada and Australia.

I’m proud to be a San Francisco-ite.

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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

Movies That Matter: MILK

I love everything connected to San Francisco. I never thought that I would fall in love with a city but I have. The reasons why are a matter for another post. MILK is about Harvey Milk and gay rights, but it is also about San Francisco.

When I went to see MILK, I was visiting with family in Southern California. Part of the ritual is that my in-laws kindly take our children out to the latest Pixar movie, allowing my wife and I a rare date – usually a meal and movie.

Being still new to the US, I knew nothing about Harvey Milk or the history of the Gay Rights struggle in San Francisco. But the combination of Sean Penn + San Francisco = our night out.

For a basic synopsis, please see the review from Kathleen C. Fennessy on the movie’s Amazon.com page. Here is the first paragraph.

In 1972, Milk (Sean Penn) and his boyfriend, Scott (James Franco), move from New York to San Francisco. Milk opens a camera shop on the Castro. Though considered a safe haven for victims of discrimination, Milk sees enough injustices decide to enter politics. With each race he runs, Harvey’s relationship with Scott unravels further. As he begins to accrue victories, Milk takes on Proposition 6, which denies equal rights to homosexuals.

What draws me to the character of Milk is the fact that he was not a polished politician, groomed from birth as seems to be the case in so many present day leaders. He can be both intense and funny. He makes mistakes, listens, and takes on the ideas of others.

Moreover, he had the ability to inspire people to get involved in grass-roots activism. We observe Cleve Jones (Emile Hirsch), the ex-street hustler who created the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial. It is a different kind of leadership when you can empower others to take charge of their own lives and effect change.


It was particularly poignant that MILK was released during the struggle for Proposition 8, California’s anti-gay marriage amendment. As Ms. Fennessy concludes: “Milk is inspirational in the best way: one person can and did make a difference, but the struggle is far from over.

My wife and I watched MILK in Ventura. The couple sitting next to me had been there, faces in the crowd. Usually I can’t stand when someone talks during a movie, but there was something magical hearing their reminiscing.

There is a section in the movie where they show a map of California and the gradual election results of Prop 6. When the results were shown for Ventura County, a huge cheer went up around the movie theater.

Very cool.

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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

 

 

 

Help for Homeless War Vets Day 2

Swords to Plowshares is a not-for-profit organization that was founded in 1974. It provides “counseling and case management, employment and training, housing and legal assistance to veterans in the San Francisco Bay Area.” In addition, they work to promote and protect the rights of war vets through advocacy, public education and partnerships with local, state and national entities.

From their mission statement: War causes wounds and suffering that last beyond the battlefield. Swords to Plowshares’ mission is to heal the wounds, to restore dignity, hope, and self-sufficiency to all veterans in need, and to significantly reduce homelessness and poverty among veterans.

This exciting announcement came from their website.

Homeless Veterans May Get A Place Of Their Own

In what looks to be a win-win proposition for San Francisco, the Planning Commission has cleared the way for conversion of a surplus city building into a permanent living space for homeless veterans.

If all goes as planned, the historic-but-underused property will be used to get 76 older veterans off the streets and into a home where, as one project backer said, “they can age in place.”

The nine-story building at 150 Otis St. was the city’s first Juvenile Hall and Detention Center when it was built in 1916. From the 1950s through the 1980s it was used as office space for the Department of Human Services. Since the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, it’s been little more than a storage space and temporary seasonal homeless shelter.

Plans by the Chinatown Community Development Center and Swords to Plowshares, a veterans’ support group, will convert the building into permanently affordable studio apartments, with space for a resident manager and a variety of on-site veterans’ services.

Swords to Plowshares runs a similar property at the Presidio.

The commission unanimously agreed to allow the affordable housing in an area previously zoned for public use and recommended that the Board of Supervisors approve the plan.

Plans call for renovation of the building to begin this November, with the first tenants arriving in summer 2012.

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The concept of men and women who fought for their country  struggling for their own basic needs is hard for me to understand. I lived in Israel for two decades, a country in which every man and woman serves in the country’s defense forces. Citizens wounded in service to their country receive the best medical and psychological help available, as well as an array of social services. Perhaps this is one of the few advantages of national service. When everyone serves, it is inconceivable that your country’s heroes are left by the roadside begging for a dollar.

Hopefully, thanks to organizations like Swords to Plowshares, this shame will become a thing of the past.

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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

Veteran’s Day 1

In honor of Veteran’s Day, I would like to offer a week focusing on the issue. Here is an excerpt from my latest manuscript, Unwanted Heroes. The novel highlights the way we treat war veterans in the US. It focuses on the struggles of an Asian-American Vietnam war vet who tries to put the voices at bay before his whole life falls apart.  The scene below takes place at the War Cemetery in the Presidio, San Francisco.

Here is a quick intro to the characters.

Narrator – Will – a young Englishman who has come to San Francisco to write. Works as a barista.

James – his girlfriend’s father. Also a war vet and a mentor to Will

Mr. Tzu – Vietnam War Vet. The funeral is for his brother, also a war vet. He never told his wife that he had a brother.

Salvador – a homeless ex-philosophy professor.

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It is a gray, cloudy Bay Area day in the Presidio: as it should be. James meets me for an early lunch and then drives me to the cemetery. We eat in near silence and I can only imagine how tough this must be for him. But he never hesitated in agreeing to come. James was a soldier, still is.

The nearest I’ve ever come to witnessing military funerals have been Hollywood movies. I’m immediately consumed with the intensity as the honor guard solemnly marches to the graveside. These young men are so polished, so precise. I wondered whether this is a chore for them or whether they truly see it as an honor, a tribute to a fallen comrade they never knew.

The casket is lowered and I glance over at Tzu, his hands deep in the pockets of a thick coat. He stands still, every facial muscle, I think, straining to do its duty. Their children aren’t here. I doubt Tzu even asked them to make the trip. His wife stands by his side, gazing down at the casket of the brother-in-law she never knew existed.

What thoughts are going through her head? Could she have helped? Could she have made the difference, tipped the scales? Could this so easily have been her husband if they had never met? Or at some point in the future?

But all I can see are the heavy lines of Chinese history, lines of suffering etched across her face. As I look, I prefer to picture the laughing Mrs. Tzu, siding with Jane and Tabitha to bully me, and chiding me for not writing to my mother.

The 3 Volley gun salute abruptly jolts me from my thoughts. Birds soar from nearby trees. I cringe with each volley and feel James take my arm. I resist looking at him, he might not want me to, but I make room for his hand on my upper arm and his fingers grip tightly.

The flag is folded with incredible precision and offered to Mr. Tzu. He takes it solemnly, stares at it and then caresses it to his heart. I think I see tears in his eyes, it is hard to be sure: my own are blurry.

And then the bugler plays Taps. His notes ring out, rising to the top of the pines, up into the swollen clouds, and out towards the partly shrouded Golden Gate Bridge. Then, abruptly, it is over. The few people in attendance are all Asian, save for the honor guard, James and myself. We hold back as they pay their respects to Tzu, shaking hands and occasionally a stiff hug.

When only Tzu and his wife are left, I introduce James.

“It was a beautiful ceremony,” I say to Mr. Tzu, “I’m sure your brother was very proud.”

He nods and Mrs. Tzu smiles and thanks me for coming.

Tzu and James exchange words. It’s code to me: battalion numbers, battlefields. Then James glances to the grave.

“You buried him away from the last line. You wish to reserve the adjacent plots?”

“You cannot reserve spots, other than for a spouse,” Tzu replies softly. “But maybe when my time comes, it would be nice to be near him.”

James nods and looks back at the newly dug grave. “I have a friend. I’d be happy to put in a call. Would you mind?”

Mrs. Tzu quickly answers for her proud husband. “Husband appreciate very much, Mr. van Ness. Thank you. You have wonderful daughter. You must be very proud.”

“Oh I am,” James replies and his pride shines through the gloomy weather.

Mrs. Tzu nods theatrically at me. “Just not sure of her taste in men,” she adds raising an eyebrow.

“She gets that from her mother,” his reply is smooth.

As I turn with Tzu away from the grave, the conversation vanishes from my mind.

They stand in two rows, a different guard of honor, wearing uniforms of faded, tattered layers. They leave a corridor for Tzu to walk through. Salvador is first and there are about twelve of them; come to pay their last respects to a colleague, a brother of the street, another homeless hero who fought the good fight for as long as he could.

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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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