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 “Gulf Coast”

Happy Birthday Pele

I love the summer. We take a family vacation, my work slows, there seems more time to exercise, fish, write, and have quality time with my family. Almost everything I listed (apart from the latter, I do by myself. I work out, fish (usually), and write alone. But the highlight of this past summer was a fusion of two of these pastimes, and it was a treasured experience.

I often wonder how my sons perceive me. I spend long hours away from them during the week, and as they grow up, I find myself competing with their natural desire to hang out with their friends. In fact, during the week we will spend no more than two hours a day together and that is usually reduced to a frenzy of preparing and eating the main meal of the day, pushing them to complete their homework, bathe and go to bed at a reasonable time. They must resent my drive to write and promote myself as an author – an act that necessitates me being absent from home 1-2 evenings a week or on weekends.

So I was thrilled when my eldest son suggested, on the first evening of our vacation, that we write a book together. He devours fantasy novels and this was always going to be our common ground. I am not apathetic to a good sword fight, or a ride on the back of a dragon, and I have only read or watched Lord of the Rings about a dozen times.

It was amazing to sit in a mesh tent, surrounded by majestic redwoods and tap out a story on my noble white steed (a mac book by any other name). We disagreed here, he corrected my word choice there, and though it was me driving the story on, it never ceased to be a collaborative effort.

My sons are aware of my drive for social justice. I tell them when I have volunteered at the food bank, and have heard from other parents and teachers when my eldest has told them about my annual trip with students to help rebuild the Gulf Coast. I refrain (or try to) from lecturing him on such values as I refrain from pushing him to write. I figure that the best I can offer as a parent is to be a role model.  The choice must always be his.

More experienced parents tell me that I will learn to accept his choices as he grows up. I guess it makes it  special when our paths do fuse together, and all the more so when he makes the choice. I have no idea if our fantasy novel is any good. I doubt that Tolkien, Paolini or Terry Brooks need lose any sleep over our creation. But however good it is, it will always be very special for this father. Often the journey overshadows the destination.

Happy Birthday, Pele.

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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

Oilspill / Oil spill

I am passionate about New Orleans as you will know from reading this blog. I organize groups of students to travel to Louisiana for a week of volunteering. I have traveled every year but one, and even that year I recruited students and raised money to help them make the trip. Our program, beyond hands-on work, includes meeting people impacted by the hurricanes and helping to rebuild the community.

So you can imagine how sad I am at the impending disaster to the Louisiana community if and when the BP oil spill reaches the coast, and the damage already done to the seafood industry. I listen to the stories on National Public Radio and my heart goes out to them.

My car sports a magnet on the passenger door with Oilspill dotcom in big black letters and the words: “Maybe there is a way to hold big business accountable for its actions.” In the world of marketing, my book is “trending.” The key words are in the news, on the web and in conversations among activists and concerned citizens.

But I feel bad every time someone comments on my car magnet and rather than lamenting the Louisiana disaster, I direct the conversation to talking about my book, in hope of the next sale. Honestly, I need the sales, the exposure, anything that can help me promote Oilspill dotcom. I want and need to make money from my writing and shouldn’t feel ashamed doing so.

And yet I feel guilty highlighting my needs when perhaps I should be highlighting my passion for a community about to be consumed in its second natural disaster in five years, when it hasn’t even recovered from the first.

Hillel, a great Jewish teacher, has a famous quote.
If I am not for myself, who will be for me?
If I am only for myself, what am I?
And if not now, when?

To me he suggests a balance. So now I alternate, talking one time about my book, the next about the Gulf Coast.

But the community there needs serious help if it is to preserve its heritage, its uniqueness, and its culture. And if not now, when? Now, absolutely now. There may not be an opportunity later. If you are interested in helping, I have worked with this agency (Jewish Funds for Justice) in the Gulf Coast Area since Katrina, and I have great respect for their work.

Good Writing,
Alon
http://www.alonshalev.com/

Speaking on Sunday – Two Worlds Connect

Tomorrow I will be speaking at the Books & Bagels event at the Jewish Community Center (1414 Walnut Street, Berkeley). The event is free and features – well me and the carbs!

It’s always interesting speaking at a Jewish venue. As the director of San Francisco Hillel I speak at various Jewish venues around the Bay Area. Part of my job description is networking and reaching out to students, donors and potential stakeholders.

When I promoted my book at the Jewish community’s annual Bookfest, I felt very aware that my two worlds are intermingling. I met many who knew me as the Hillel director and presented another side of myself.

Prior to that event, I had felt uncomfortable mixing the two worlds. But as I spoke with more people, a mental bridge began to connect them. As a Hillel director, I am deeply invested in prioritizing social justice in the Jewish campus agenda (taking students to help rebuild the Gulf Coast, volunteering at Project Homeless Connect and the San Francisco Food Bank). As an author, I write to promote a better world, to highlight social injustices, and help create Tikkun Olam – a better world.

I don’t know if I will mention my Jewish world when I address the group tomorrow at the Jewish Community Center, but if I do, I will feel increasingly comfortable with the developing interconnection.

If you are around Berkeley tomorrow morning (10.30), I’d be happy to see some familiar faces.

Good Writing,
Alon
http://www.alonshalev.com/

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