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 “Executive Director”

Why Me: First Speech For Global Justice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of GalbriethThe First Decree, and Ashbar – Wycaan Master Book 3 – all released by Tourmaline Books. His latest novel is Sacrificial Flamethe fourth in the series.

Shalev is also the author of three social justice-themed novels including Unwanted Heroes. He swears there is a connection. More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter). Hang out with Alon on Google+

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Open Letter to Hillel Students and Alumni

Dear Students & Alumni,

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

L’shalom (to peace),

Alon

Masada 2014

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

 

Castles of Glass – Linkin Park

There are many mediums to promote causes. When I recently spoke to a group about Unwanted Heroes – a novel that highlights the plight of war veterans and homelessness – a gray-haired man came up to me, patted my arm and said: “It is a story that must be told.”

He doesn’t read fiction, only non-fiction, but I appreciated his support. He probably isn’t a fan of Linkin Park – a rock band that incorporates a fair amount of rap – but I hope he would appreciate this beautiful song and video.

If you are not into loud music, turn the volume down so you can just hear it while it accompanies the video.

Not the happiest way to enter the weekend, but as the old man said about Unwanted Heroes: It is a story that must be told.

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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).

 

Scapegoat Hunter

Even if you aren’t a big fan of Jon Stewart and The Daily Show, there occasionally comes an episode that is much more serious than usual. Stewart, and his team, know when there is a need for a more cutting-edge episode and, when dealing with the outcry for a debate on gun control, he hit the mark on January 8, 2013.

http://www.thedailyshow.com/full-episodes/tue-january-8-2013-stanley-mcchrystal?xrs=share_copy

You know he hit the mark because of the furor that it stirred up. It is a touch ironic that it takes a comedian to create a debate. It is easy to claim that he showed us the extremists, but these were the heads of the NRA and national TV figures who reach millions each day.

imgres-7But it occurred to me that there must be a large group of gun-carrying people, who are not paranoid that they might need to overthrow the government, and who are not planning to go out and shoot one or many people. There must be a significant number of NRA members who have a gun in their house which they envisage using to defend their family should someone break in.

Where are they? Why are they not speaking up? Is there a fear-factor within the NRA that you can lose your membership, your gun license, or that you might be outright intimidated by the extremists?

No one should have a problem with gun debate. This is a democracy: we all talk, we all listen. No? What is the issue with opening a debate over automatic weapons? What is wrong with looking to how mentally unstable people get their gun license?

imgres-6None of the decisions that might come out of such a rational national debate will affect the average American of good standing and their genuinely perceived need for a gun in their home.

It was interesting that national hero, General Stanley McChrystal, was the Daily Show guest that night. Stewart could not resist asking the general and his answers were so articulate.

imgres-5“You can give the single individual the ability to do extraordinary damage – I just don’t think you can give everyone that ability.”

I want to believe that there are very few members of the NRA who believe a man should be able to walk into a public area and shoot off 30 rounds in 27 seconds, as happened in Aurora. 

Would the rational majority of the NRA please stand up – unless they are the ones feeling intimidated.

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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).

Inauguration Day – Four More Years

It was a tough election, tougher than most outsiders realize. There was a point when I just couldn’t listen to righteous left-wingers who were sitting back drinking their decafs and stating why they couldn’t possibly support President Obama and bringing up all the promises that he wasn’t able to fulfill.

There is a particular radio station that infuriated me. Sitting in their plush studio they rolled out every possible so-called liberal, who were watching from the touchline, their hands deep in their pockets. Every time I got into my wife’s car, I turned the radio off before putting my seatbelt on.

They were woefully irresponsible. They left Obama to stand alone in the gladiator arena for too long.

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There was a point when I would rather speak to an NRA card carrier in a swing state than some family and friends about politics.

I’m not under any illusion that Barack Obama was less than perfect in his first four years. Neither is he. I’m also not under any illusion that many of the activists who helped put him there were seriously missing at the mid-terms and for much of the past campaign – I’ll raise my hand and admit to being one of them.

However, Monday is Inauguration Day and we begin a new chapter. Four more years to put right the terrible damage inflicted by a war-hungry and greedy minority.

Remember this?

Let’s not sit back and make the same mistake again. Game On!

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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).

 

 

Back to Gun Control – Now

I have to admit that I feel a bit intimidated writing this post. The truth is that I started to write it shortly after the Sandy Hook Elementary School. My blog posts on gun control have elicited the most virulent responses, primarily from people who didn’t even bother to read the posts. 

But, as I watched the tragedy unfold on twitter, those who immediately ran to man the barricades shocked me. Most of us were just trying to glean information, to come to terms with what I hope we all see as a pointless and heart-wrenching tragedy.

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My first response to these tweets was that this was not the time: not for those who were inevitably going to call for gun control or those who would defend it. So I held off. In reality, I didn’t feel I could write something rational then either.

I am proud that there are NRA members who, while they disagreed with my previous posts, respected that I was not taking an extremist stand, and joined the debate. These are the rational members of the NRA and they have a voice that the rest of us need to empower so that others will allow them to be heard.

But we need to have the debate and it cannot be held under the shadow of a tragedy. In the same vein, we need to establish parameters for the debate. There are a number of points I wish to make:

1. Historically, the NRA was governed by brave leaders who saw a need for gun control and took the initiative to ensure their members were well represented in policy decisions. As such, they were often a rational and productive voice from within the organization. We need brave leaders in the NRA today. 

2. I recognize the inherent need that many men and women feels to be able to defend themselves and their families. I believe this can be recognized and, as such, relieve much of the anxiety around gun control debates.

3. This debate should focus on automatic firearms (a weapon that will continue to fire bullets as long as the trigger is pressed and there is ammunition in the magazine). It would allay the fears of people who feel the need for a weapon in their house.

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There is room to prevent a person holding a gun that can deliver the carnage we saw in the last few tragedies. It is a beginning and part of a controllable process.

Let’s not wait for the next tragedy to debate whether we should debate gun control. Let’s do it now and come to the table in an environment of listening and willingness to compromise.

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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).

Never-too-late New Year Greeting

I’m still basking in the New Year glow. There is something so hopeful about switching from December to January that every other monthly transition lacks. Maybe this year will be one of peace. Maybe we will discover a cure for cancer. Maybe we can create an environment that is sustainable. Maybe we can help people find a meaningful occupation, true love, safety, hope.

It will happen … One Day…

.. but only when we realize that despite our differences we can only achieve it together.

Happy New Year.

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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).

Guest Blogger – Suzie Thornton

Suzie Thornton is the female protagonist in The Accidental Activist. Being a fictional character has never stopped her expressing her own opinion.

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I couldn’t help myself. I couldn’t stand by and watch big business trample over individuals, communities, and villagers. Someone had to stand up to the multinational corporations and who better than me? Well many people actually, who are smarter, more articulate and strategic. But back then I was a young, single woman, with no assets that anyone could threaten to take from me. I was working part-time in a bookstore. And maybe, just maybe, I was looking for a fight.

Or so I thought.

Helen Steel – the real heroine

No one suspected that the Oilspill court case would become the longest in British history. No one imagined that I would be denied legal aid and forced to defend myself against the most accomplished lawyer in British libel history. It took a huge chunk of my life away from me, something I will never get back. But I had to do it. I simply wouldn’t be me if I had ignored or buckled to the threat. And I got to know Matt in a way that I doubt would have happened.

It’s funny but one of my friends who read The Accidental Activist claimed that it is a romance novel. Of course it isn’t (and don’t tell the author – he might try and sell more books this way). The Accidental Activist is a courtroom drama wherein a multinational corporation tries to crush a tribe in South America and anyone who tries to stop them, or highlight their injustices.

I studied Political Science at London University, but I never learned as much as I did taking on the big guys. You can never understand how the legal system helps the multinationals until you are on the inside. And then it is simply frightening.

I’m glad that The Accidental Activist focuses on Matt. He was an unsung hero, a man who not only changed the outcome of our court case, but changed the face of political advocacy. I’m glad Alon Shalev was able to get inside of Matt’s head and show his transformation from a self-absorbed yuppie to a man who was ready to harness his talents to fight social justice.

But the sex! Did you guys have to get so explicit about it? You know my mother will read the book, right?

This blog post is dedicated to Helen Steel – the real heroine in the real McDonald’ Libel case upon which The Accidental Activist is based.

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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 Space Of My Own

I pride myself in telling people I can write anywhere, anytime, anyplace. I write on the BART train, the bus, the airplane, the car (just checking if you are reading!). I can write early in the morning, late at night, and during my lunch break.

My desk at home is in the kitchen. I can swivel my chair and be sitting at the dinner table for a family meal. Usually I can cut myself off from whatever drama is unfolding around me.

This morning, after we dropped my youngest at camp near the Cal campus, my oldest (13) said he wanted to study at Cal. A half hour later we are sitting in a coffee shop at a big table. I am writing this post, my son is reading, and three Cal students are sitting discussing a paper and how to present themselves.

These students are articulate, enthusiastic and, well cool. I notice my son glancing over and wonder what he is thinking. Moreover, I am having trouble concentrating myself (I wasn’t planning on writing a post).

Recently, this has happened a lot, that I am having a harder time focusing. I wear headphones more often and allow the music to isolate me. But at home, in particular, I am more aware that I have a family around me, deprived of their father for long hours because of a demanding job.

I fantasize about owning a house and having my own office with big windows and a comfortable space. I can tell you what desk, chair, speakers, bookcases and filing cabinets I want. The door is closed and I am writing novels at a furious pace.

Stephen King, in his stunning book On Writing described his big, beautiful desk in his office. With the door closed he almost killed himself on drugs and alcohol. His wife kicked him out of the house until he cleaned up his act. She saved his life. He ditched the big, arrogent desk and replaced it with something more modest.

“It starts with this: put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn’t in the middle of the room. Life isn’t a support system for art. It’s the other way around.” 

― Stephen KingOn Writing

Thankfully, I have never experienced the lows that Stephen King had to endure as a child and young man. But I also have a lot to lose. I am keenly aware that now is not the time to hide away in an office. True, every minute is precious to advance my writing career and my books, but a window is closing. My sons want to spend time with me, but already their heads are being turned by socializing, screens, and the fairer sex. It is just a matter of time.

So I will crave my sacred writing space with the big windows, desk and bookcases. But I will adjust my vision … and leave the door open.

Me and my boys writing a novel … really!

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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).

Life After West Wing? Post July 4th Blues

My wife has been an integral part of everything wonderful in my life. But what has she done now? Knowing I am a recovering addict of West Wing, she had no right to send me the following clip. Is anyone watching Jeff Daniels and Aaron Sorkin new series, The Newsroom? How is it? Please share in the comments below for those of us who live without HBO. 

Warning: There is explicit language in the clip.

Is this a good time to mention that I think we watch way too much TV?

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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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