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 “Christians”

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 Summer Solstice The Longest Book

The summer solstice is a day of great power in the pagan religions. There was a time when I would gather a few friends and celebrate this festival. I’m not sure if I could really call myself a pagan, definitely not a Wiccan (literally ‘wise one’), but I was fascinated by the religion.

Earth spirituality seemed a natural fusion of my desire for spirituality and a passion for environmentalism. I enjoyed the creative ceremonies that I participated in and the people who gravitated to these circles. They were Jews, Christians, Buddhists, Taoists, atheists and more. What we all had in common was a desire to elevate our own spiritual consciousness and energy together with the energy of the earth.

Exploring the Pagan year and life-cycle became a powerful thread in my first novel, A Gardener’s Tale (2000), which covers the festivals over a two-year period. The novel is also a social commentary on the breaking down of the British urban lifestyle and the demise of the British landed classes, as well as a criticism of how we treat people who are not necessarily gifted academically or ‘fit in.”.

A Gardener’s Tale was a wonderful journey for me. While the writing is rough, as reflects a first novel, it is a passionate description of a world that we are rapidly losing. Our world is vastly different today than it was when the book was written a decade ago, but I still believe that we must chart our destiny based upon a value-based spirituality that is inclusive and welcoming.

A Gardener's Tale - Alon Shalev

Shortly before she passed away, Vivianne Crowley, the famous Wicca leader and then High Priestess of Britain, wrote about A Gardener’s Tale.

“A beautiful and elegiac evocation of a timeless Britain and of a man of the ancient ways of the earth who brings peace and healing where the flames of persecution once burned.”

Though I look back nostalgically on the characters of A Gardener’s Tale with great affection, I cannot help feeling that the need to understand and bond with the world we live in, is as important today as it ever was. Perhaps, even more so.

Happy Solstice to everyone.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at 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).

Black And White

Today is Martin Luther King Jr Day, the birthday of a man who had a vision of a society where race and color would add to an exciting web of egalitarian diversity. We have achieved much since he took up the struggle, but we still have a long way to go.

When the waters rose above the dysfunctional levees of New Orleans, when the storm hit, nature did not differentiate between black and white, Christian and Jew. But the reality is that the areas which have a high percentage of African-Americans, were the worst hit.

When the survivors share their stories, race is almost always in the background and often in the forefront. Many of the travesties recounted by black people who got caught in the storm, when not relating to the wrath of Mother Nature, focus on how they were treated by what they perceive as the white authorities.

I am working in the Lower Ninth Ward. I have been here every year but once, when our group was sent to nearby St. Bernard’s Parish. The Lower Ninth Ward saw the worst destruction and may never recover despite the best intentions.

The Lower Ninth Ward, though mired in poverty, boasts 95% home ownership and has the highest density of African-American home ownership in the country. Those of us who return year after year to volunteer should come regardless of the victim’s skin color. But I would be lying if, as a white Jew, I did not admit to being aware of the race element, and how it strengthens my desire to return and help rebuild these communities.

Martin Luther King Jr had a dream. We all need to help build that vision. There is a Jewish saying: It is not for us to finish the task, but neither are we free to desist from it.

Here is my offering for Martin Luther King Jr’s Day. Thank you to Janis Ian for a timeless song.

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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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