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 “Chanukah”

Shi Tao Released

I have kept quiet about this for a few months to respect the desire of the victim/hero for privacy.

For the last three years, I have dedicated one of my Freedom Hanukkah posts to Shi Tao who was jailed for 10 years for leaking information about Chinese government restrictions to the west, via Yahoo who gave that information to the government to use as evidence in his trial. Here is a 30-second explanation from Amnesty International.

Tao was convicted when he tried to lift the reporting restrictions from coverage of the 15th anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre where the army opened fire on unarmed civilians. The Chinese government claimed that 241 people were killed in the demonstration and subsequent crack-down. Human Rights groups claimed thousands were killed.

If your memories of the uprising have become blurry, perhaps this amazing footage will jog your memory. It is an unforgettable moment in  history.

Yahoo aside, and they really should be put aside for this, Shi Tao became a symbol of writers who are persecuted for wanted freedom and struggle to bring down censorship. Shi Tao  is a member of Independent Chinese PEN Center, which advocates for freedom of speech and in 2007 won the Golden Pen for Freedom Award.

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Shi Tao is now released and at home, after serving time for almost eight years. He is recuperating and not giving interviews, perhaps a condition for his early release. While we must respect his wish for privacy, now is a good time to celebrate, during the festival of freedom, that for those living in darkness, there is always hope.

You are not Jewish Mr. Tao, but Happy Hanukkah anyway.

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

 

 

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The Three R’s – Adopt An Author

‘Tis the season of goodwill and I’m thinking we should share the love. 

In Judaism, the teacher Maimonides offered eight levels of giving – the highest being to help a person find a sustainable way to lift themselves out of poverty. I have written numerous times about micro-lending, which I think is an amazing solution, but I want to focus on the world of writers. There are many new authors out there and they need a lift up to be noticed.

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I want to invite you to adopt the three R’s and adopt an author for a few months. Disclaimer – you are about to discover I am dyslexic!

R – Read the work of the author. There is no bigger compliment for someone who has spent years writing a novel than to have others read it. Believe me – when I receive a tweet or email from someone I don’t know and they tell me they are reading my books, I get so excited. 

R – Rite about the person. No put away that athame (Pagan ritual dagger) away, but make your computer your sacred space. (W)rite to friends recommending the author, blog about her/him, or comment on other people’s blogs, take to the twitterverse – it works!

R – Review. Despite the controversy surrounding paid reviews, it is still one of the most powerful tools that helps a person perusing amazon, smashwords, B&N, goodreads, etc.

 

Here are a few other ways to help a struggling author (I couldn’t find an R to begin the sentence!): 

1.     Buy their book, if not for yourself, then as a gift for a friend’s birthday, or instead of a bottle of wine next time you’re invited for dinner. Maybe as a Xmas/Chanukah/Kwanzaa present. Did you know that you can buy an e-book as a gift and send it to your friend’s e-Reader?

2.     Know someone who is in a book club? Suggest that they nominate your friend’s book for the group to read.

3.     Donate a copy of their book in a fundraising raffle or silent auction as a prize. It is great exposure.

4.     Hug an author. It won’t propel them into the New York Times Bestseller list, but it means a lot.

This is my final post for the year. I want to thank each and every one of you for taking a few moments each day and sharing our blog posts, agreeing, disagreeing, laughing and sighing. Thank you to Tom Rossi and Roger Ingalls for offering different voices and enriching the discussion.

Wishing everyone a year of peace and meaning.

Alon 

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Alon Shalev is the author of three social justice-themed novels: Unwanted Heroes, The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Jewish Student Center, 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).

 

 

Lighting A Candle For Freedom

Tonight Jews around the world will light the third candle of Chanukah. For a description of the festival please click on the link. The purpose of this blog is to focus on the theme rather than the ritual. But what I found fascinating is that American Jewry identify and celebrate Chanukah more than any other Jewish festival by a huge margin. The statistics buck the doom-and-gloom fears of assimilation and I believe there is a good reason for this. Chanukah is the Jewish festival of freedom. And freedom, while something the Jewish people have often struggled for, is a universal theme.

This year, I would like to dedicate Chanukah (not that I own any dedicating rights!) to the Egyptian people, who after demonstrating so bravely to overthrow a dictator, find themselves in Tahrir Square again only a year later. Freedom is worth fighting for … and coming back to fight for it again.

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Tahrir Square this past Friday.

The fact that many religions have a festive holiday deep in the winter is another bond that binds us. Here is my offering to kick off the festive season. It is one of a series of cool, hip Jewish songs for different festivals by a great, rising star.

Michelle Citrin has an amazing voice, an amazing personality and deserves so much more success. So please check out her music here.

Happy Chanukah to All People – Let’s all light the way to freedom.
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Alon Shalev is the author of three social justice-themed novels: Unwanted Heroes, The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Jewish Student Center, 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).

Shopping for the Holidays? Beware the Attack of the Fanboys! – Tom Rossi

People have come to depend somewhat heavily on online reviews of products to help them make shopping choices. Whether it’s a gift or something needed or wanted for ourselves, online reviews can help us to avoid products that are poorly designed or manufactured.

They can also help us to determine whether a product or type of product will do for us what we need it to do. Will this blender crush that dirty chunk of ice that forms under my cars fenders in the winter? Will this electric shaver work on my back? Can this hair dryer double as a hot glue gun? Can i use this vacuum cleaner to enlarge my… well, you get the idea.

Websites like Amazon.com have lots of ratings that customers have posted. Some of these are painstakingly detailed. Some people seem to have lots of free time and use it constructively, maybe in hopes that someone like me won’t buy a Yugo or something. And in addition to the long and detailed reviews, some are concise and to-the-point. These can be almost as informative.

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But then come the spoilers. These come in several forms. One is the fake review: “This is the perfect thing for young couples just starting out!” or, “This book was written by a liberal and I’m sure it has liberal ideas. Therefore I’m giving it one star out of five, even though I haven’t read the book myself.”

But the most dreaded, evil entity, lurking in the reviews, is the “fanboy.” Fanboy (not the cartoon character) is a pop-culture word, and there’s no reason not to suppose a fanboy might be female, but that’s the term. Fanboys cruise Amazon and other sites, looking for negative reviews of some product or brand they are in love with. Then they rate the review, itself, as “not helpful”. It seems these little gremlins probably have multiple accounts, so that they can rate a review as “not helpful” enough times as to make it kind of disappear, especially on sites that have the highest-rated reviews at the top of the list.

Fanboys also write inane, negative comments in response to reviews, ridiculing the original reviewer. They ridicule, write five-star reviews of things that aren’t that great, write negative reviews of competing products, and generally confound the process any way they can. Some fanboys might actually be employees of a company and trying to improve its image, but it probably doesn’t work.

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“Free market” freaks tell us that, without “interference” from government safety or quality regulations, the capitalist market would solve issues of poor quality because, if something isn’t good, people will stop buying it. How is that theory supposed to work with so much dishonesty out there? Fanboys engage in the sabotage of free speech. They use lies and tricks to get people to like (or seem to like) what they like or to buy their company’s products.

What motivates this behavior? In the case of the company employee, it’s pretty obvious. But when it’s a true fanboy, who is simply in love with his Dell laptop, or his Easy-Bake oven, something else is happening.

For some people, it’s very important that their tastes and choices are validated by others. I had a roommate once who recommended a movie for the three of us who shared an apartment in college. He thought this movie was just the best thing ever, and it was, in fact, very good. But just because we knew how easy it would be to irritate our friend, the other roommate and I just said, “Meh. It was OK.”

“Just OK?!?!?! What are you, crazy?!?!?” He practically tore his hair out because we, apparently, didn’t like the movie as much as he did. And I’ve had people try to talk me into changing my taste in food, women, cars, music, you name it, and all so that they can feel validated by my agreement. Likewise I’ve received many approving, sometimes even admiring looks from people I happened to share similar tastes with, in one area or another.

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These feelings are not abnormal, but I’ll say this to the fanboys out there: Grow up! The fact that I like Guinness and you like Coors Light doesn’t make one of us better than the other… Well… yes it does. Bad example. But you get the point. Taste is taste. Let people have their own, and let people communicate honestly about things, so that they can make informed choices for themselves.

-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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Imagine No Religion

I am writing this post on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. It is a festive occasion, but I am having trouble getting in the mood, despite the beautiful service, music and wise words of our leaders.

 Last week was a shitty week. While addressing a group of students on Friday night at Hillel (SF Jewish student center where I work), I found myself talking about the violent events that were still going on as I spoke.

We have enough to worry about in this world – overpopulation, global warming, violence, hunger, natural disasters… do we really need to intentionally add any?

That  a few people made a movie that they knew would be deeply offensive to a large group of the population is plain stupid. It is okay to be controversial if you have a point that needs to be made, but there are some lines that don’t get crossed.  Anyone associated with this movie and intentionally knew of its controversial nature have blood on their hands. I hope they are not sleeping at night. 

I understand that many of those involved did not know what they were participating in. Here is a link to a statement made by actress, Anna Gurji on Neil Gaiman’s website (thanks to reader Christopher Wright).

It is natural to be angry when your religion has been deeply offended and to express that anger in demonstrations, but to take the steps needed to violently attack and kill a fellow person, innocent bystanders who are there to create bridges of understanding with your people, shows a woeful lack of comprehension of your own religion’s teachings. Where were the religious teachers teaching the sin of violence and murder? If religious men were leaving their mosques in an angry and violent mood, bent on murder, what were their Imams preaching? And if they were preaching peace, understanding and taking the higher moral road, why weren’t they being listened to?

Finally, the rumor, no – the lie – that this movie was produced and funded by Jews was not only baseless, but anti-Semitic. It traveled around the Internet at an intense speed, and took a long time to be disclaimed. It was too easy.

Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people living life in peace

In times like this, John Lennon’s lyrics make sense, but it doesn’t have to be like this. I want to live in a world where we celebrate diversity and without everyone being the same. I want to celebrate Chanukah, and join my neighbors for Diwali, and my good friends around their Christmas tree, secure in my own religions identity. I want my Israeli-born son to continue sitting at the same school table with the Palestinian child, and I would prefer that child bring his own food to my son’s birthday party, rather than not come at all because his parents fear offending me.

Last week, Muslims were offended, Christians murdered, and Jews blamed. It is not a question of moving on: we must learn the lessons that have haunted and tainted all our histories.

There is no religious justification for hate, violence and murder.

Wishing everyone of all races and religions, a peaceful and hate-free new year.

Shana Tova L’Kol Bnei Adam.

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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).

 

The Internet Cost Him His Freedom

My novel, The Accidental Activist, illustrates the empowerment of the Internet in the face of great power. Unfortunately, in the real world, it doesn’t always work that way. Though the two individuals who stood up to McDonald’s in England (the real story that The Accidental Activist is based upon) were able to use the Internet to defend themselves, it can be a double edged sword.

Shi Tao, a journalist in China discovered that and is still paying the price. Here is his story in 30 seconds.

In 2004, Shi Tao sent details of government plans to restrict the activities commemorating the 15th anniversary of the pro-democracy rally in Tienanmen Square. Apparently he sent the information through his Yahoo email account, and Yahoo gave the information to the Chinese security forces. Shi Tao is now in prison for 10 years.

In 2007 he received the Golden Pen of Freedom award by the World Association of Newspapers. Tao’s family is apparently suing Yahoo and they are not the first. While I wish to condemn Yahoo, we do need to focus our attention on China and freeing Shi Tao.

Suggestions of how to help can be found at Shi Tao’s Amnesty International page. I plan every year, during Chanukah, the Jewish festival of Freedom to blog about Shi Tao until he is released. I ask that you help because the only hope that Shi Tao has is that we do not forget him.

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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).

Holiday Escapes – Tom Rossi

Good escapes and bad ones.

Ahhhh. Christmas was yesterday and we are in the midst of what most can agree to call, “The Holiday Season,” which includes Chanukah, Kwanzaa, Ramadan (in some years), and maybe others I don’t even know about. The winter holidays afford us an escape from the rat race. While it’s true that, for many, the year-round rat race is just exchanged for the holiday rat race, it still represents a change from the monotony.

If you’re lucky, the holidays are a chance to reconnect with family and friends. Planning these rendezvous can be stressful in and of itself, but hopefully they are worth it. The chance to hug your mom for the first time in months, to watch your new nieces and nephews play with new toys, and to catch up with siblings, cousins, friends, and the guy who has stood on the corner every day for 17 years hitting himself in the head with a dead chicken can be priceless.

This time of year presents the opportunity to revel in all that is really important and good about this human existence. It isn’t required that you go all Norman Rockwell on us, just smile, talk, eat, sit next to a fireplace with loved (or liked) ones, and maybe even get out and hike or ski among the trees (if you can find some snow, somewhere). This is positive escapism.

Positive escapism isn’t an escape from reality – it’s a temporary escape from certain, tiring elements of reality – the commute, the office politics, the everyday drudgery.

In contrast, everyday escapism is one of the things that, in my opinion, contributes to the deterioration of our socio-economic structure. It’s great to watch a movie or a hockey game or maybe play a video game, but if all of your free time is dedicated to things like this, you can basically tune out real information or just never notice it in the first place.

I think this is one explanation for people saying things like: “It was cold at my house last night, so there’s obviously no global warming going on.” If you spend all your free time entertaining yourself and you stop learning, you can just keep thinking whatever you want, right or wrong.

So again, sorry for this brief interruption to your holiday. Please go on laughing at the same jokes your father has told 175 times. Drink an egg nog (with rum or without). Cherish the great gifts that you have. It took a trip to death’s door to wake me up to what a great family I have and what great friends. I’ll spare you the details, but I’ll just say again, Happy Holidays.

-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.

Tom also posts on thrustblog.blogspot.com

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The Menorah and The Xmas Tree – The Perfect Opportunity

Last night was the first night of Chanukah, a Jewish festival celebrating freedom. Since the Jewish calender is lunar, this year Christmas and Chanukah fall at the same time. Even when they are not close together, these two highly visual festivals throw up many challenges for children of Jewish parents – decorations, gifts, commercialism, I’m different from my friends etc.

But with half American Jewry in mixed marriages (only one of the couple is Jewish) this offers different challenges. I meet a lot of students from mixed marriages as well  as members of my synagogue community, and I hear the stories. Such couples really have three options:

1) to follow one religion.

2) to follow no religion.

3) to celebrate both religions.

It is not for me or you to pass judgement on any of the three options. Each couple or family have their own unique factors to consider when deciding. I am not going to talk about how a Jewish couple deal with their child wanting a Christmas tree because his friend has one. This is all about Jewish identity and I feel that the stronger the family’s Jewish identity, the less threatening such discussions are.

I want to strengthen the families who offer both religions. The child will decide when they grow older which spiritual path they choose to walk. These couples offer knowledge and experience in both religions and often have a richer spiritual household for doing so. As this winter semester ended and Christmas decorations were springing up all over San Francisco, I participated in a number of discussions with students at San Francisco Hillel (the Jewish student center) and heard some wonderful and some painful stories.

I wish every couple who must deal with the dilemma of the menorah and Christmas tree will be empowered to enjoy the freedom of however they choose to express their spirituality. I hope those of us who light the menorah will invite our non-Jewish friends to join us. In a couple of days, I will drive my family to join dear Christian friends who have invited us to share their joy. We go as proud Jews: proud of our heritage and proud of our friendships.

Most of all, I am feel blessed to live in the Bay Area and proud to live in a society that can celebrate diversity. The Irish comedian, Dave Allen, who sadly passed away a few years ago, would conclude his TV show for years with the word: “Good night and may your God go with you.”

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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).

Help A Struggling Author

Left Coast Voices takes great pride in championing the poor, the downtrodden and the exploited. We try and keep it positive by emphasizing organizations and individual who are trying to make a difference and help create a better world.

This post is not one of them. But since it is the season of good will and many of us are considering what gifts we want to buy friends and how to put some good out in to the world, I am going to allow myself a mild dose of narcissism. Actually, I would like you to consider helping a struggling author. It doesn’t have to be me, but if you insist…

Here are 10 ways to help a struggling author:

1.     Post a review of their book on Amazon.com. This is very important and influential. Add some helpful tags or add them to your listamania.

2.     Buy their book, if not for yourself, then as a gift for a friend’s birthday, or instead of a bottle of wine next time you’re invited for dinner. Maybe as a Xmas/Chanukah/Kwanzaa present. Did you know that you can buy an e-book as a gift and send it to your friend’s e-Reader?

3.     Mention the author’s website or blog on whatever social networking sites you are active. Spotlight them on your blog.

4.     Go to the public library. If their book isn’t there, request it. If it is there, take it out. Even better – reserve it. Why? Libraries track book movement. If a book is in demand in Northern California, the libraries in Southern California etc. might order some copies.  

5.     Mention their book on Goodreads.

6.     Know someone who is in a book club? Suggest that they nominate your friend’s book for the group to read.

7.     Donate a copy of their book in a fundraising raffle or silent auction as a prize. It is great exposure.

8.     Attend their book readings. Ask questions that make them look good and/or authoritative. Answering questions from someone you know helps the author relax and build confidence.

9.     Link your website and their website. Subscribe to their blog.

10.  Hug an author. It won’t propel them into the New York Times Bestseller list, but it means a lot.

This list took me less than 10 minutes. I’m sure there are many other ways that I haven’t thought of. If you can think of any, please add them in the comments below. This is all about win:win. In the middle of a recession, and a ruthless industry that is in involuntary transformation, win:win is something we could all do with in the season of good will.

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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).

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