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 “bin Laden”

Reflections of Heroes – Joshua P. Smith

Alon’s Introduction: I met Joshua P. Smith through the epic fantasy network. Joshua is the author of the upcoming Aelathia Chronicles.  He is currently completing the first novel, Weaving and Musings of Essencers.  You can follow him at www.aelathianovels.com and at https://twitter.com/AelathiaNovels or contact him at aelathiajpsmith@gmail.com.

He wrote the following article last week. I had planed for it to follow my own 9/11 tribute. Reading Joshua’s post, I can’t help feeling the greatest way we can honor the heroes of 9/11 is to emulate their bravery and sense of honor, and apply it to our own lives. Thank you, Joshua.

 Reflections of Heroes – Joshua P. Smith

Heroes aren’t just found in books. We learned that lesson twelve years ago after terrorists struck the Twin Towers in New York, the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania, hijacking airplanes to cause mass casualties and creating a day that none of us will ever forget.

It was the heroes as well as the victims who stood out to us, like the emergency responders who rushed into crumbling towers to guide survivors out. Or the men and women on Flight 93 that realized the terrorist’s intent for their airplane, and fought back — a horrific sacrifice that saved untold lives and helped change the fate of America and other countries.

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Heroes. Every day we can see them, police officers, firemen, doctors and nurses, EMTS, our military men and women. It seems in a time of tragedy that we really focus on the people who stand out, who sacrifice to make a difference. Why?

I believe there’s something inherent in human nature that drives us to look for the remarkable, for people to be our role models. Heroes are people we long to emulate but sometimes are afraid to. Though we identify with the person “standing in the gap” to help those who cannot help themselves, we often throw up barriers to our ability to step up. We give excuses thinking that someone else will do the job, why should we step forward? Passivity can be worse than manacles connected to an iron ball at our feet. So, when we see someone doing something remarkable, out-of-the-ordinary, we cheer for them. We applaud and laud their work—because they broke a cycle of passivity, they remained cool under pressure, they sacrificed something so utterly dear to themselves that they earned the right to be heroes.

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What if more of us were to emulate them? What if we faced our fears, whether in the office or in church, in the factory or classroom as they face them on the field of action every day? What if we consistently decided to make not just the right decisions, but the good and just ones? What if we stood up to corruption, to evil, to injustice?  What if we deterred the bully? What if we helped someone in need? What if we sacrificed an hour or two of our time to help someone with a problem, or cook dinner for a sick neighbor? What if we learned to control our anger and seek peaceful resolutions to our familial strife, marital discord, and disagreements between friends? What if we decided to put others’ needs ahead of our own?

Wouldn’t that make us, in some small way, a hero too? We don’t need the lights, the cameras. We don’t need a parade. Sometimes we’ll never know if what we did had lasting impact on those we helped, but we can only hope. We can hope in some small way that we were a hero, and that someone else may want to emulate something from us, some small piece of good, so they can become a hero too. Consider how the world would change if each one of us decided, that for the good of humanity, we decided to make the right decisions, the good decisions, the self-sacrificing decisions. The type of action or situation where risk is high, where obstacles are threatening, where victory isn’t wholly certain, and fear is great.

If you’re in a situation like that, and it may be nothing like 9/11 or Iraq or Afghanistan, consider your options. Consider your decisions. The whole world may not be watching you, but someone is, even if it’s one single child.

Today, I’m thinking about heroes. Let’s join their ranks. 

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, Wycaan Master Book 1 and The First Decree, both released by Tourmaline Books. Ashbar – Book 3 – is due for release in October 2013. Shalev is also the author of three social justice-themed novels including Unwanted Heroes. He swears there is a connection. More athttp://www.alonshalev.com and onTwitter (@elfwriter).

9/11 Lest We Forget

They say that time heals. It doesn’t. It simply numbs.  Along with time, the killing of bin Laden, the winding down of the wars on Afghanistan and Iraq (at least from an American perspective), the rituals that we all recognize by now, there seems to be a certain nonchalance creeping in.  

But it is not, and will never, become just another memorial day:  not for the thousands of people who lost someone dear to then, not to the 9/11 responders who ran into the fire to try to rescue the people trapped inside.

As we remember those who died at the hands of people who would deny us our freedom and reaffirm our fight against terrorism, we need to ensure that we provide comfort and aid to those left behind. I doubt there is anything substantial that we can offer a spouse, parent or child who will miss their family member for the rest of their lives, but at a minimum, we must ensure that they do not lack financially for their loss. This is something concrete that we can offer.

The terrible treatment of 9/11 responders who had to wait to receive the help they needed, is a shame on all of us, a national disgrace. I know that since last year, steps have been taken, but until every responder is receiving the help they need, physically, psychologically, and financially, we should not rest. It is no different from the war veterans who are waiting for their country to stand good on its promises.

There was something very poignant in the togetherness that we all felt after the attack. In the smoldering ashes were the potential for a society to bind together. We did for a few days, but like the smoke, it dissipated. I mourn this as well.

Once again, I will leave it to Bruce offer a fitting tribute.

Time doesn’t heal. It only numbs. If you were a victim in any way, tell those around you. If you were not a victim, you still have role to play – to listen, to hug, to be there – for those who will relive that terrible day for the rest of their lives. 

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, Wycaan Master Book 1 and The First Decree, both released by Tourmaline Books. Ashbar – Book 3 – is due for release in October 2013. 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).

9/11 Still Empty Skies

Tomorrow is 9/11. It feels different this year as though the killing of bin Laden has offered some closure. It hasn’t though, not for the thousands of people who lost someone dear to then, not to the 9/11 responders who went into the fire to try to rescue the people trapped inside.

As we remember those who died at the hands of people who would deny us our freedom and reaffirm our fight against terrorism, we need to ensure that we provide comfort and aid to those left behind. I doubt there is anything substantial that we can offer a spouse, parent or child who will miss their family member for the rest of their lives, but we must ensure that they do not lack financially for their loss. This is something concrete that we can offer.

Moreover, the terrible treatment of 9/11 responders who are not receiving the help they need, is a shame on all of us, a national disgrace. I know that since last year, steps have been taken, but until every responder is receiving the help they need, physically, psychologically, and financially, we should not rest.

Once again, I will leave it to Bruce offer a fitting tribute.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available oKindle) 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).

Real Men Don’t Cry

This is how we are brought up. Men used to wander around with a club, bringing down mammoths and dragging a female back to the cave. We have progressed a bit since then, what with vegetarianism and on-line dating, but there are certain mores that we don’t expect to cross. 

I’ve done the ‘man’ things – play and watch sports, hit the gym, enjoy beer, fish, served in a combat unit, wooed a beautiful woman, and fathered two wonderful boys. I have a good job and plenty of friends.

Last month, my eldest son had his bar mitzvah and put on a flawless display of teaching, chanting, and schmoozing. He stood before our community and talked about the need to educate and not punish, to pursue social justice, and his desire to make the world a better place.

He was great and I am very proud of him. He worked very hard for two years to reach the level in which he could achieve this. Then it was time for his parents to bless him.

My wife won the toss (soccer reference) and chose to go first, knowing that I am confidant and used to standing before an audience and speaking into a microphone. Her blessing was modest, genuine and heartfelt, a reflection of her as a mother, wife and friend.

Over the hump, right? Wrong. I had written my blessing for him a while ago. I told him meaningful the project we had pursued together (we wrote the first Wycaan Master novel together) and then imparted how I saw him as our coming-of-age protagonist. And then I choked up…and cried. When I stopped and stole a sip of his water bottle, he leaned over and gave me a hug.

The first thing that went through my mind was shock. I hadn’t expected this, even though I have been known to cry at a Simpson’s episode (another story). I actually wasn’t embarrassed for myself: I was embarrassed for him. I struggled through and he still talks to me. Moreover, many people came up to me and gave me loving reinforcement.

But it was the comments from the men that I remember. There were some who admitted to shedding a tear themselves, others who said that I had done something they would like to be able to do. Some admitted they could never allow their mask to come down like that in public, or maybe any time. 

In the struggle for equal rights between the sexes, we have seen a necessary push for women – equal opportunities, equal pay, and legal protections. All this stems from societal mores that favored men and allowed us to exercise a ‘power over’ that is unacceptable in a modern society.

But we, as men pay a price. Most of us still shoulder most of the burden of material provision, or at least feel we should even when our partners are better qualified and can pursue better jobs. We are mostly the warriors from defending our country to our family,

We all respected George Bush for shedding tears at 9/11 but we still expected him to go blow someone up as a consequence for us being attacked. President Obama’s status rose when we took out bin Laden. He did not gather the intelligence or undertake the mission, but in making the decision, he became a warrior chief.

I have worked closely with my son over the past few years, preparing him for this rite-of-passage, and I will continue to work with him, preparing him to enter society as a man.

To ignore our role as the hunter/gatherer would be foolish. To ignore our rights as men to be sensitive and nurturing would be sad.

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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).

To Our ‘Gay’ President

Dear President Obama,

I have to admit you are full of surprises. As I am sure you are aware from your daily perusal of our humble blog, I am critically supportive of you. I worked for your election, cried when Jon Stewart called the election for Obama as part of The Daily Show and Colbert Report’s special live coverage of Indecision 2008, keeping the live show going a few more minutes in order to announce your/our victory, and praised your Obamacare, even if it was far from perfect.

I didn’t expect you to be so deadly cool and take out bin Laden like you did, when many hawks would be squawking at their roosts deciding if to or not.

Still, you will excuse me if I don’t jump up and down on your decision to support gay marriage, or the tribulations that have followed. You see, Mr. President, you simply did the right thing. That’s it.

I appreciate you having the guts to do it in an election year, but the President should do the right thing. You are the President of everyone – the blacks, the Jews, the Hispanics, the whites, the card-carrying NRA members, the religious and the secular. And you are the President of the gay community. You did the right thing.

So to thank you, here is a song that was brought out when it was difficult to come out as gay in Britain, sung by a singer who is not (I think) gay. But Billy Bragg wanted to be a representative of all progressive people and so he challenged us all with this song.

By the way Mr. President, I chose this version because it features the late Kristy MacColl who tragically died 12 years ago.

Thank you for reading this, sir. Always a pleasure. Here’s to another four years.
Alon

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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).

A Serious Economic Agenda

I think I was exposed this weekend to the so-called Weekend Chat Shows. I won’t do it again (though I’m most perturbed that the soccer season is over and the NBA is coming to a close). I’m fed up with the way that we, the so-called informed population, allow our politicians and pundits to play out whatever fictional version they advocate to promote their own agendas.

Blaming President Obama for the economic meltdown a month or so after he took office is obnoxious – that many of the public bought it is truly stunning. Even today, when the President is still basking in the public’s praise regarding the assassination of bin Laden, a Republican politician, when asked if this gives Obama the Presidency in 2012, said Obama still has to account for the state of the economy.  As if these Republicans weren’t around for the previous eight years, or for that matter, in power.

I do not believe that the recession is about everyone having a hard time. Houses in Berkeley are selling quickly and financial coaches all agree that there is money to made in a recession. A recession is more about a sharpened distribution of wealth than wealth disappearing from the economy.

Neither do I think it is about Republicans or Democrats. There is a structural problem in our economy that needs and can be addressed quickly. Over the next couple of weeks, I want to focus on some of the following aspects.

1. Education  – a 21st century economy requires a 22nd century education system. It begins with creating a work force that is competitive and highly esteemed. The average teacher in California earns just under $69,000. I don’t believe they work more or less than the rest of us. Their challenges and pressures are simply different.

2. Taxes – Everybody pays their taxes and they are proportional to how much each person earns. There can be some flexibility for differing circumstances, but to allow the rich to pay less taxes proportionately than the poor is absurd. The fact that so many of the working and middle class accept this is unfathomable.

3. Energy – Moving away for an oil-based economy, or at least cutting it drastically has repercussions not only on energy, but also foreign policy. As the head of the multinational oil company said in The Accidental Activist – true change will only come when the public are challenged at the pumps.

We might not hold all the answers, but our worst enemy is apathy. Let the discussion begin…

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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).

Bridge to Peace

After writing a somewhat negative post about the Israel/Palestinian conflict a few days ago and yesterday’s post about bin Laden, I feel a need to come back with something positive, something that can give us hope that the extremists won’t win.

Save A Child’s Heart is an amazing organization that enables children from countries without facilities for heart disease treatment. Many of these children are Palestinian. Money is raised around the world, particularly from Jewish donors, that help pay for everything including travel, medical procedures, and rehabilitation. There are volunteers that help prepare the paperwork and deal with the bureaucracy and the logistics.

Doctors evidently do not distinguish between children of different races, religions, or economic capacity.  A child in need is a child in need is a child in need.

Maybe the political leaders should step  aside and let the doctors lead the way to a peaceful and sustainable reconciliation.

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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).

bin Laden Thoughts

I wanted to wait until the dust settled, at least somewhat. Like most people I felt a wave of euphoria when the news came through. I immediately googled the President’s announcement and waited with anticipation to watch The Daily Show live.

I dismissed the ethics of targeted assassinations, of whether we should have tried to capture him, and what the implications would be for world peace. I just wanted to bathe in the relief that the bad guy had been taken out and that the good guys had finally won. Most of all as I watched the reactions of people on TV, I felt that just maybe, those who have lost loved ones in the 9/11 attacks and other attacks perpetrated from this man and his terrorist organization, could find some quality of closure and be able to move on in their lives.

But now, less than a week later, I want to share five concerns.

1. It’s not over. Al Qaeda seems far too extensively organized to suddenly disappear because their ailing and sick spiritual leader of several years is dead. The money, fear and ideology is probably still there, and  the top-tier of management might not be anticipating a career change.

2. Targeted Assassinations – this is sticky. It is generally condemned by many who hold the political views of our readership. Where do you draw the line? In Judaism when someone approaches with the intention of killing us, we are commanded to strike him down first. Still, it is easy when clear-cut, but how often is that the case?

3. The media are going to milk this news-byte and as they do, the American people will become more divisive and our enemies will exploit this to revive extremism.

4. The end of terrorism depends on the outright rejection of extremism in whatever political and religious guise. As long as we turn a blind eye to poverty, exploitation and the materials being taught to millions of children in schools, we are allowing the next generation of terrorism to be bred.

5. The most effective players to counter religious extremism are the moderates of that religion. The moderate majority of Muslims, Christians, and all religions where there are extremists (probably most), must become more active and empowered in setting the limits of what is acceptable in the name of their religion.

I appreciate your skepticism when most of my political commentary is gleaned from The Daily Show and the wisdom of car bumper stickers. So I shall turn to another philosophical well of wisdom: Star Trek.

In one of the Next Generation movies, the Enterprise goes back in time to about 20 years in our future (it  seemed much further in the future when the movie came out a few decades ago!). Earth is reeling from nuclear war and environmental devastation. Commander Riker describes to a disenchanted man  how a few centuries later the people of earth all enjoy peace, freedom, have clean water and nutritious food, good education and health care, and a world free of NFL and NBA labor disputes (my artistic license, but you get the point).

The disenchanted man, staring at the devastation around him,  asks how they achieved this and Riker replies that everyone was made to see that this was the right way. This scene has always made me think – how did they do that? Sure, many saw the light, whatever that light is, but what about those who couldn’t be nicely persuaded? 

I believe in self-defense. I have justified serving in an army as the way to protect my family, my people, and my beliefs in freedom and democracy. I cannot tell you specifically where the line should be drawn wherein it is justified to use violence, but there are too-often occasions where I am sure the line has been crossed.

bin Laden crossed that line and we ended his life on Sunday. This is one such occasion where the line was clearly crossed. Let’s leave it there and focus on the future – offering positive options to those who choose peace and a clear, firm message to those who don’t.

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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).

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