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 “AJWS”

Why Me: First Speech For Global Justice

This week I passed the 100-day mark as executive director of American Jewish World Service, San Francisco and the Western Region. To officially welcome me, the community held a meet-and-greet reception at Perry’s in the City. I want to share the text of my speech (though I probably didn’t keep on script as I spoke) as it felt like an opportunity to tie a number of loose threads from my life into an order. It is also a genuine expression of my love for the work and the organization I represent.

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After I told my mother-in-law that I had accepted a position with the American Jewish World Service, she went online to see what this organization was all about. She later told me that she felt as if someone had created this organization specifically for me.

I have been deeply involved with social justice all my life. I made my first political protest and speech at age eight when a teacher told me to remove a Free Nelson Mandela sticker from my pencil-case. When I refused, and I was a well-behaved student, she said I could keep it provided I stand in front of the class and explain who Nelson Mandela was and why he should be freed. I probably described him in superhero terms, but I hope for all of us that my oratory abilities have improved since.

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I am 100 days into this new position and feel deeply privileged to have such an exciting responsibility. What I am most proud of is the principle by which AJWS does not tell people in developing countries what they need, what we will build for them, but listens to and guides grassroots organizations who understand the needs of their own people. As you can hear from my accent, I herald from the most colonialist country in history, so you understand why I find such a principle most refreshing. 

I just returned from a Study Tour to India with a number of our donors and our president, Ruth Messinger. I was proud to present to a group of Muslim girls and women in Calcutta, most of whom had never interacted with Jews, how it is our Jewish values that compel us into action against injustices: how we believe all people are made in the image of God and that every person has the right to live in freedom and dignity.

AJWS has committed itself to help a broad coalition end child marriage. In India it is against the law to marry before the age of 18, yet 48% of girls reach that age already married, often with terrible consequences. Throughout the world, there are over 10 million child brides a year… 10 million…a year. Such statistics seem daunting that there is so much injustice in the world and it is so easy to burn out and walk away.

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But our Jewish sources also teach that while it is not for us to finish the task, neither are we free to desist from it. 

If you are new to the organization please take an annual report from the info table. It is the most concise and up-to-date reflection of our work. If you are interested in getting involved as an activist, please join Erica and our Action Team at 7pm in our office next door.

Thank you for the taking the time to come tonight and welcome me into the AJWS family as we strive together to create a better world for all people. But more important. thank you for supporting AJWS with your financial generosity and your precious time. Each and every one of you make all that we do possible.

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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. His latest novel is Sacrificial Flamethe fourth in the series.

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+

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To India and Back Again

In just over two weeks, I will travel with a group of global activists to India to see projects funded by American Jewish World Service and hear the stories of our grantees, their challenges and vision. To help prepare myself, I just finished reading Katherine Boo’s Behind The Beautiful Forevers. I admit I do not often read  non-fiction, but Ms. Boo truly brought the people she followed to life as though they were characters straight from a classic novel. I felt the same regarding setting and even plot (the individuals’ stories). This book has made me reevaluate how I feel about the genre. If you write or read non-fiction, this book is well worth picking up. If you don’t read non-fiction – it is still worth the read and is so accessible in Ms. Boo’s writing. I listened to the audio during my commute and walking my dog – it is a superb rendition.

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Ms. Boo follows the lives of a number of people who live in Annawadi, a makeshift slum that is both side-by-side and overshadowed by beautiful, pristine hotels and the Mumbai international airport, all within a stone’s throw of each other. Their stories reflect everything that seems so wrong in India, but it is told without condescension and judgment. Crime and corruption live alongside hope and the driving desire for dignity. 

The dichotomies are everywhere. As Patralekha Chatterjee shares on DNA India: ”More Indians have access to a mobile phone than to a toilet. Everyone knows that. The issue became a major talking point in 2010 when a report by the Ontario-based UN University’s Institute for Water, Environment and Health pointed out that while India had roughly 366 million people with access to improved sanitation in 2008, a far greater number, 545 million, had cell phones.”

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It is the irony and frustration of a beautiful land and incredible people, more a continent than a country, several nations under one flag and within one border. But everywhere you go, you find a society immersed in a deep history, rich philosophies, and pulsating culture. I spent several months there when I was younger and, in many ways, I never left.

While the memories have faded, the sensory assault dulled, Katherine Boo brought me back to the streets of India, even as I negotiated the BART public transport commute and long walks with my dog along the water looking out at the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz . Back in the early 90’s I was a tourist on a spiritual journey to India to find myself. Two decades later, I prepare to return as a global human rights activist, working for a transformational non profit organization, and traveling with inspiring philanthropists driven to help make a better world for those most marginalized.

To read about AJWS work in India, please click here. One of our main projects is the struggle to end child marriage. Despite a law making it illegal, 47% of girls in India are married before they reach 18. 

Shashi Tharoor summed up best what I am feeling: “India shaped my mind, anchored my identity, influenced my beliefs, and made me who I am. … India matters to me and I would like to matter to India.”

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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. His latest novel is Sacrificial Flamethe fourth in the series.

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+

Global Human Rights

I have been somewhat quiet on Left Coast Voices of late. This is, in part, due to a change in employment. I am now the executive director of American Jewish World Service, San Francisco and the Western Region.  The AJWS works to realize human rights and eradicate poverty in the developing world. The best way to explain this transformational organization is to introduce you to Ruth Messinger, our president, as she addressed a group at Google last year.

If you are inspired about this work and would like to learn more, please consider joining Ruth and myself for a study tour to India in November, Details can be found here.

Travel to India

Happy to answer any questions and field any comments.

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, and three more Wycaan Master books. Shalev is also the author of three social justice-themed novels including Unwanted Heroes and The Accidental Activist. He swears there is a connection. More at http://www.alonshalev.com.

 

 

 

 

 

Open Letter to Hillel Students and Alumni

Dear Students & Alumni,

As you have probably heard by now, I have left my position as executive director of San Francisco Hillel. After nine amazing and challenging years, I am moving on to new challenges, heading the Western Region of the American Jewish World Service, an organization that, inspired by Jewish commitment to social justice, works to realize human rights and end poverty in the developing world.

I want to take the opportunity to share a few thoughts. For many of you, I was a familiar face at Hillel, working behind the scenes to raise the funds necessary to run the organization, and often dealing with managerial issues and politics, whether on campus or in the Bay Area Jewish community.

For some, I had the honor to lead you on birthright trips, alternative breaks, and to conferences such as AIPAC Regional and Policy Conference. These were the times when I had an opportunity to cultivate a deep relationship with many of you, one that stretched over several formative years for each of us.

I treasure the conversations we had as we grappled with our Jewish journeys, our relationship to Israel, and our shared desire to strive for a more just world for all. You helped me form and change my opinions, and create a personal values-based platform with which to lead my life. I thank you for this and hope that I was there to help you grow as well.

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For many we bantered about the Warriors .v. Lakers/Clippers, or my beloved Arsenal (English soccer team), and I hope I enriched your language levels with my British English.

For others, I was that crazy bloke who rapped his speech at the Final Shabbat dinner, the guy who joined conversations about politics, campus life, relationships, or whatever you wanted to share around the coffee machine. I truly treasured those moments and will hold them forever in my heart.

 

I wish you the best as you continue along your chosen life path. Last month I turned fifty, and want to share that we never stop exploring our values, beliefs and life dreams. I hope you grow, seeing Hillel as a positive and integral part of your life. I hope you will continue to explore your connection to Judaism and the Jewish people, to the State of Israel, and to strive to create a more just society in the US and the world.

If you are still a student, please continue to take advantage of the opportunities that Hillel provides, to help create a vibrant Jewish campus community, to stand up for Israel, and enjoy the alternative breaks, conferences, and birthright, with the wonderful staff that continue to work at Hillel.

If you are an alum/na, I hope you find your place in the Jewish community and continue to be an activist in whatever cause/s resonate with you. I hope you can take the values you honed at Hillel and integrate them into your own life. Please join and support the alumni network so that those who come after you will be able to enjoy the same benefits that you had. No one appreciates the value of a Hillel more than alumni. Become a mentor for a current student, help them to negotiate college life and prepare for graduation. Stay involved, even if it is only a $5 monthly gift, it is important.

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I want to thank the wonderful staff that made my time at Hillel so special. In particular, Rachel, Shushannah, Sima, Charlotte, Heather, and Yochai, all of whom helped make Hillel a family, not a place of work. Please welcome Ollie, my replacement (also a Brit, sorry!), and Omer, the amazing new Israel Fellow, and help them grasp the complexities and the vision we share for Jewish campus life.

Finally, thank you for being such an exciting part of my life. Please feel free to stay in touch via email (alshalev@yahoo.com) or look for me on Facebook and Twitter. I am sure our paths will cross again.

Good luck in all you pursue for a happy and meaningful life.

L’shalom (to peace),

Alon

Masada 2014

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, and three more Wycaan Master 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.

 

Forgot my Birthday?

Last year, my birthday fell during the once-every-four-years World Cup (soccer). I thought I could slow the aging process down by deciding that, like the World Cup, I would have a birthday once-every-four-years.

A great tribute to the peaceful South African revolution

So what do I want for my birthday? Something between my own house, world peace, and one of my books becoming a New York Times Bestseller. If you can arrange any of those three, please do. If you feel you have to prioritize (really, how long have we been friends?) then I suppose world peace comes first,

Otherwise, I am going to list 10 organizations that I have highlighted over the past year. Instead of buying me a fine bottle of wine or a box of chocolates that will have me working out for hours at the gym (after thoroughly enjoying them), why not consider donating the exorbitant amount of money you were going to splash on me to one of these great organizations. Please click on the link to the organization that catches your fancy.

1. The Lower Ninth Ward Village – a community center that will provide the only way to keep children in a safe environment over the summer.

2. Save A Child’s Heart – a hospital in Israel that gives free medical heart procedures to children from any country or religion in the Middle East and beyond.

3. One Voice – helping Israeli and Palestinian youth demand a non violent and just solution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

4. Jewish Funds for Justice – sending students to work in disaster-struck areas of the world and teaching the value of social justice.

5. World Reader – providing sustainable e-book solutions to children in Africa and other poor regions, allowing them to grow through reading and education.

6. Habitat for Humanity – a community helping to provide people with homes.

7. Jewish Heart for Africa – leveraging sustainable Israeli environmental technology to help the poorest rural African communities.

8. Darfur & The Berkeley Stove – providing stoves for women in Darfur, thereby avoiding the need to put themselves in violent situations.

9. Project Homeless Connect – offering bi-monthly services to the homeless of San Francisco.

10. Kiva Loans – a micro-loan organization that helps people create businesses to lift themselves out of poverty.

They are all good causes and I know there are many more. But it is amazing how just a small gift can save or change a person’s life. What a way to celebrate your birthday!

Thank you. Wanna slice of birthday cake?

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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).

Proud to be Jewish and not Jewish

This January, I took a group of students to New Orleans for a week. We volunteered with the Jewish Funds for Social Justice which is affiliated with the American Jewish World Services.

This is an amazing relief organization. If you don’t believe me, ask these guys. They are celebrities, and some of them are even Jewish. (BEWARE: some of their endorsements are rather irreverent).

But it sure makes you proud to be Jewish … even when you’re not!
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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

Organizations That Matter: The Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA)

The Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA) was founded in 1999 to create “an authentic progressive Jewish presence in the campaigns for social justice in Southern California.” The PJA has a double agenda.  Within the Jewish community (the LA Jewish community is the second biggest in the US) they serve to invigorate and motivate the Jewish social progressives. As a Jewish organization they serve as a vehicle to educate, advocate and organize around a broad array of issues including diversity, equality, justice and peace. In February 2005, the PJA opened a San Francisco Bay Area chapter, which is proving just as impressive.

Why do we need a Jewish progressive organization? Why not just join up with activists of all races, religions, and classes? I believe the answer lies in honoring our own rich heritage of social activism. Jews have been involved in high proportions in the anti-Apartheid movement, the civil rights struggles and the democratic agenda in almost every country where Jews can live freely and openly.

Jewish identity, whether from positive or negative angles, is strong within our psyche. Jewish tradition teaches that we have an obligation to work for Tikkun Olam (fixing the world). As the PJA bumper sticker says: to kvetch (complain) is human, to act…divine.

As a minority, even the tolerant climates of California, Jews gravitate towards Jews. For those of us who do not bond in the prayers, study and rituals of our religion, the drive to fight social injustices can be a rallying cry. The synagogue, the foundation of Jewish fabric for so many generations can be replaced for many by such agencies as the PJA, the American Jewish World Service and Jewish Funds for Social Justice (more on these great organizations another time).

We fight for economic justice by educating Jews about our obligation to stand with the working poor, and then we organize the Jewish community to join in campaigns to improve working conditions and secure a living wage for low-wage workers.  We work to reform the criminal justice system and to promote a more just and humane system of restorative, rather than retributive, justice through a ground-breaking program that trains volunteers to mediate between non-violent juvenile offenders and their victims throughout Los Angeles.  We work to promote understanding and tolerance by facilitating several tracks of Muslim-Jewish dialogue.

Through organizing around the values of tikkun olam, through encounter with Jewish sources and learning, and through strategic social justice work, we work to create a Jewishly-literate membership that examines core Jewish values in a new way, and to “bring back” to Jewish communal life many individuals who would be otherwise disconnected.  Under the rubric “tikkun ha ir, tikkun olam(repair of the city, repair of the world), we also participate in the broader community coalitions working to build a better California (and America) for all of its inhabitants.
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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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