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 “Christmas”

Under The Mistletoe – Bay Area Style

Only in the Bay Area can we truly leverage technology and tradition so unpretentiously and flawlessly. Check out when two guys flew a mistletoe drone over Union Square in San Francisco.

Reactions:

Press Release from the White House: No American citizen was targeted on American soil for this initiative.

Dick Cheney responded that we have just spoilt his holiday fantasies.

Fox News: Highlights this as another example of the war on Christmas – no explanation is forthcoming, though it is rumored that Sarah Palin will explain in her new sequel.

Whatever spiritual path you follow, may you always have someone to smooch or platonically hug! Drone or no drone. Happy Holidays.

Original article – http://feedly.com/e/UWgmEkC2 .

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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). Hang out with Alon on Google+

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Possessed By The Muse

After last week’s Eat, Pray, Love, Write post, I realized I had written something similar a while ago. It does suggest a (pathological) pattern, but the first step to healing is to recognize the problem and share with a few hundred on-line friends. No, don’t worry, I’m not subconsciously crying out for an intervention – I have too many stories to write!. Here is the earlier post: 

The scene might be the same in any house mid-week, early evening.

Your partner is rushing to make dinner, still in his/her office clothes. Ten- year-old son is irritable, primarily because he prefers to play wall ball than eat his lunch at um … lunch break…and is now grumpy and starving. He has even pointed out that the First Lady wants him to exercise more (you just lost my vote in 2020 Ms. Obama! Tell him to eat that sandwich we made him). Older son is drowning in homework and needs help. Unfortunately it is not math where he ends up explaining it to a perplexed calculator-wielding father – it is English and father is the fastest typist in the house.

imagesFrom deep within this maelstrom, hassled wife turns around from steaming cooking pots and sees an unset, messy dinner table, a swivel chair, and a writer’s desk. The writer, sitting in said chair, is distinctly facing the wrong direction, pounding his keyboard with a vengeance that clearly indicates he is not helping older son with homework.

Suddenly, she can’t help herself. Forgetting the wooden spoon in her hand (writers notice these details especially when the spoon is being flailed in said writer’s direction), she towers over the writer, hands on hips:

“You’re writing? Now? Man, you’re just possessed!”

When my extremely patient and understanding wife flips out with something like this, it does makes one ponder the extremity of the situation.

The problem is that after a stressful few months, I had a week off over the Christmas break, and kind angels put up our family in beautiful, snowbound Tahoe, 10,000 feet high in the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Already on crutches from a knee operation, I was never going to cut the crisp, fresh snow on virgin slopes (I don’t even when not on crutches – at best I tumble down a 100 feet nursery slope, make sure there are photos, and then slink off for laced hot chocolate).

images-1But here, if only for a few days, I couldn’t help myself. The laptop comes on and a few snow-bound scenes of a new book somehow appear.

Possessed? Moi? Five months and 103.000 words later, despite an intense period at work and many other obligations, I type the final period, click the save command, and stare at the epilogue. Rough first draft of Wycaan Master Book 4 is completed.

Written mainly between 7.00-8.45 am and after the boys go to bed on weekdays, and a couple of hours on the weekend, or random pieces written during odd times. Waiting at the dentist, on the mass-transit BART commuting home, in San Francisco, Washington DC, Ventura, St. Louis, San Diego, and at too many airports.

images-3Possessed? Nah. Possessed would be finishing Book 4 and starting to write scenes of Book 5. Possessed. Out-of-control. Crazy.

I just wrote a few pages, mainly plot threads that I want to develop, characters that need to grow and confront their pasts. There is a bit of world-building with oceans and…

Starting Book Five might just be considered grounds for divorce, need to involve Family and Children Services, or a good psychologist (preferably one who is as much a fan of Tolkien as of Freud). 

Starting Book Five? “Now? Man, you’re just possessed!”

Fair point.

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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).

Survival – No Matter How

Unwanted Heroes was much longer before my editor got his hands on it. A number of chapters were cut because they do not directly move the plot along. They seem to have something in common – my desire to show the many facets of San Francisco. I began sharing these passages with you last Wednesday and would like to share another one here.

There is nothing here that spoils anything in the book – which probably vindicates the editor’s decision to cut them!

Heroes Low Res Finished Cover 11.18

They sit in the corner of our coffee shop every day. They are old and somewhat withered, but they exude a mature and vibrant vitality that has a unique influence on our young staff.

He invariably wears a dark blue woolen hat, sturdy glasses and sports a full gray beard. All this partially hides a wrinkled, weather-beaten face and I fancy he could be a retired captain having spent a life at sea. He wears thick sweaters; today’s is dark brown and his training shoes are white, complimenting his beard.

She also sports gray but wavy hair. She wears comfortable corduroy trousers and often removes her Birkenstocks and curls her legs up under her or folded in front of her. She seems to possess an array of hoodies, all zip-fronted. The frames of her eyeglasses are thin and compliments waves of majestic wrinkles that line her face.

What makes this couple special? It is not that they are regulars, not that they always drink non-fat lattes, always ordered with a request from him to ensure the coffees come hot to which she lovingly rolls her eyes. It is not the single scone they order and carefully share.

It is the dynamics between them: the intimacy, the comfort. I watch as they share photographs. They never sit opposite each other with a table between them, but always gravitate to a corner where they sit on the bench that hugs the wall, close together with their backs on the red wood rest.

She has an arm around his shoulders and they enjoy close conversation. Nothing is forced. If there is silence, it is also shared and comfortable. But they are often talking and laughing. I am sure they have their aches and pains, their trials and disappointments, but there is always time to laugh, always time to share a loving gaze.

How do they keep it up? When does it cease to be new and fresh? They have been together forever, have children, grandchildren and maybe great grandchildren, but their focus is always on each other; their relationship is the anchor, the calm in the eye of the storm.

They have reached Budddahood, perfection. And they have achieved this by simply being together, by sharing the photos, the memories, by sharing the moment.

We are a young staff at The Daily Grind, all single, constantly vigil as we seek our own soul mates. We all observe this couple from behind the counter or when we clean around the café. We know their names and they remember snippets of our lives that they allow us to share with them. We are all silently asking the question.

We are their children, their grandchildren. We can be because they have enough space to share a bit of their Buddahood with every soul they come into contact with.

            *                                    *                                    *                                    *

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It was a rainy day in January. Still no sign, no indication of Spring around the corner. Twain’s coldest winter was a summer in San Francisco, but he never braved a winter by the bay. The wimp! It is a tough time of the year. Christmas is over, gone long enough for people to return to their resilient regimes, but not long enough to forget the season of goodwill. We seek a glint in each other’s eyes, but they are glazed over now.  Eyes open, but shut.

The morning rush is behind us now and the place is completely empty of customers. I wrestle to clean an intricate and generally forgotten part of the Beast – our nickname for the Italian coffee machine that Mr. Tzu is extremely proud of. When he imported it from the old country, it was the only one of its kind in the New World.

I am so absorbed in my struggle that I am not aware of the door opening. Tabitha elbows me hard and I bang my head as I rise sharply. My pain is soon forgotten and the entire staff are now frozen to their spots and watching her.

She approaches the counter slowly, cautiously. Her head is bowed; she is defeated. Tabitha walks around and opens her arms to hug her. No words; it is clear. Their absence had been remarked upon over the last few days, but the inclement weather was assumed to be the culprit.

Now we know the weather is not to blame. I clear my throat. Even the most experienced barista is never experienced enough, but the responsibility falls to me. 

“A non-fat latte, extra hot?”

She nods. Now cones the hardest part. Will she or won’t she? She just takes the latte and shuffles, yes shuffles, to a table in the middle. It is not the one in the corner and it should not be. It was a brave enough act just to enter the store.

She sits and for a moment gazes over to the corner. The she picks up her coffee and sips. Returning the cup to the table, she reaches into a bag and pulls out a book to read. I see a slight shake in her grip that I had never noticed before.

Tabitha takes off her apron and makes herself a coffee. Usually, she would ask me if she could take a break, even this close to break time. But she takes her coffee and a plate, on which she puts a scone and two forks. Then she walks over and sits opposite the old woman.                                                                                                                                               

Words are exchanged and the old woman briefly smiles. They begin eating the scone together and Tabitha is talking. At one point they both go to take a piece of the scone and their forks clash. Her head suddenly sinks. This is the difference. She would always be able to find someone to share a scone with, but after all these years the forks had been synchronized. The synchronicity has gone, forever.

If you meet the Buddha on the road, strike him down. We are deep in the grasps of winter and, even in this most beautiful of cities, it is cold and lonely. Even here, the Buddha has not tarried.

imgres-1I walk over to the table and pull up a chair. I take her hand in both of mine and squeeze gently. I swallow, not sure what to say. I stammer:

“My grandparents were together for more than sixty years. They were very different from you. She always seemed to be telling him off and criticizing him. He had an arsenal of cutting responses. My sister once asked my mother why they stayed together all this time if they couldn’t get on.

“My mother replied that it was just their way of communicating, that they had stood by each other through many crises and upheavals. She told us that they were really very much in love. I tried to understand this, but even as a boy I knew that theirs was not the relationship I would seek.

“When my grandfather died, my grandmother put on a brave face for a few months. But then she withered away, before our very eyes. As she lay on her deathbed, she told my mother not to mourn her as she was going to join my grandfather and was looking forward to seeing him. She was going to let him have it for leaving her behind after all these years.                                                                                                                                    “But it seemed wrong to us. We were kids. It seemed like she was leaving us, leaving her daughters and grandchildren and all those she had touched in her charity work at the church.

“I guess she couldn’t survive without him. I’m just trying to tell you that you have a lot of people here who love you and still need you; your family, friends, us.”

She smiles and squeezes my hand. Then she pulls up her sleeve to reveal her forearm. Her voice takes on a steelier edge.

“I will survive. It is tattooed onto my body, engraved into my psyche. I can do nothing else, for it would betray the memories of my people. We are survivors.”

Then she covers her arm back up and pats my hand.

“And you have a shop to take care of, customers and a lovely staff.” She forces a tight smile. “And this coffee wasn’t hot enough!”

Gloria Lyon, San Francisco resident.

Gloria Lyon, San Francisco resident.

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Alon Shalev writes social justice-themed novels and YA epic fantasy. He swears there is a connection. His latest books include: Unwanted Heroes and At The Walls Of Galbrieth. Alon tweets at @alonshalevsf and @elfwriter.  

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).

 

 

Love Actually – Roger Ingalls

Christmas is a crazy stressful punctuation to the close of a year. Like most, I turn more and more cynical with each passing holiday season. It’s truly a high pressure economic season spun, puffed and sold as a religious event. But…if you look closely, there does seem to be light shining from the hearts of many.

Amidst the hustle and bustle of Christmas chores, my wife arm-twisted me into watching one of those sappy holiday chic-flicks, Love Actually.

The opening dialogue by the leading man, Hugh Grant, really stuck in my head. So much so that I had to go online to find the text:

“Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. General opinion’s starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don’t see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often, it’s not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it’s always there – fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends. When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know, none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge – they were all messages of love. If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaking suspicion… love actually is all around.”

(picture from fanpop.com)

(picture from fanpop.com)

As a blogging activist, the natural tendency is to focus on the world’s wrongs while putting the good in the back pocket. The more I thought about the opening lines in Love Actually, the more I realized that there is a lot of kindness amongst us. Within the past week I’ve seen a policeman roll down his patrol car window to hand a dollar bill to a guy holding a cardboard sign on a corner, a middle-eastern woman take a white homeless-looking kid hanging around the front door of McDonalds inside for a meal, and I a saw a young girl let go of her mother’s hand to run back to a store’s door in an attempt to hold it open for a handicapped elder.

If you look, love is actually all around us. I guess it is my holiday duty to keep a happy heart for, at least, another week or so. And I must thank my wife for making me watch that sappy Christmas love story. Actually, it was a pretty good movie.

Happy Holidays.

May You Have a Peaceful Christmas – Tom Rossi

Danish for Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

Danish for Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

Whether you believe that Jesus was the son of God or not, or whether you think that God even exists or not, or wonder if He has a form not described well at all by our religious dogmata (my own head has been full of blasphemous questions on these subjects since I was 5), I think it’s hard not to agree that Jesus had some pretty good things to say.

Today, we celebrate the birthday of that ancestral hippie who has had so much effect on our world. One of the many things that has made me admire him quite a bit was his, let’s just call it “advocacy,” for peace at various scales.

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On the website christiansforpeace.org is their statement: “It is inconceivable that Jesus would support war.” This is followed by several Bible citations which support the general idea that Jesus was a man of peace, and wanted us all to be, as well.

I’m not really a hardcore pacifist. As I’ve written before, I think that military action is necessary when someone like Adolf Hitler is wreaking havoc on an entire continent. I also think there is nothing wrong with defending yourself or another person against an attacker.

Even this might be inconsistent with the teachings of Jesus Christ, but might line up OK with the part that matches part of the Hippocratic Oath: First, do no harm.

I don’t want to get all preachy, here, about the hypocrisy of Christians who favor bombing people in faraway lands or executing criminals, but I ask all of you out there – please let today be a day where peace lives in your hearts.

At least for today, if that’s all we can muster, let’s imagine a world where Jesus gets his way. At least for today, let’s only grant permission in our heads to thoughts of love, inclusion, and community.

Merry Christmas. And to all of you out there who celebrate some other holiday, my most sincere best wishes for the holiday season.

“And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!'” (Luke 2:13, 14).

-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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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).

 

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).

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