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 “Holocaust survivors”

PTSD – The Children Suffer Too.

I have written a lot about PTSD and my own experiences. Unwanted Heroes, my latest novel, focuses on the struggle of a Asian-American war veteran. But, ironically, I have never given serious consideration to the impact on the children.

I once threw my then four-year-old child to the ground and jumped on top of him when firecrackers went off for a funeral in Chinatown. I remember how it took a while for him to begin crying ­– he just stared at me in disbelief that his father would do something violent to him.


There are two chapters in Unwanted Heroes where our protagonist, Will, visits his boss’s children in an attempt to understand their father better. He meets two very different ways of dealing with their father’s illness.

One is galvanized to help him and advocates to help others suffering from PTSD. The result is an incredibly strained relationship which almost estranges them on numerous explosive occasions. The other builds a wall, similar to the one his father has, a tool of defense he deems necessarily to protect himself and his father. Ironically, this drawn line in the sand enables him to maintain contact with his deteriorating father whereas his sister cannot.


It has never occurred to me that the traumas of the father (or mother) transfer in one way or another to the children. I realize it is obvious in retrospect, especially as my generation is the children of Holocaust survivors, and there are many studies, interviews and written accounts by the children.

On one occasion, my eldest (maybe 12 years old then) turned the lights off and jumped out to surprise me when I entered the house. My hand stopped inches from his throat in a move that, I absolutely know, would have damaged him severely. When I realized what had transpired, I screamed at him and he slunk off to his room. I calmed down and we talked. Boys are boys and they still often jump me. Sometimes it is fun and we roll around laughing on the bed or floor in tickling fights, sometimes I push them away and yell at them.


My sons are lucky. Their father might be flawed but he is not broken. He works hard to ensure that they all remain a close and loving family.

The tickle fights are fun. I guess the rebuffs are worth it.


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.  


An Open Letter to Jeff Bezoz, Founder of Amazon.com & the Kindle

Dear Mr. Bezos,

Firstly, thank you for thinking up the idea of Amazon.com. I’m a big fan – I read books that I buy from Amazon, I write books that I sell on Amazon, and I love my Kindle, both to read books and to think of how we are positively impacting the environment. I have just written a number of blog entries on the e-book revolution and also the tragedy of the pulping industry.

I learned that many of the books that are pulped are textbooks because they are constantly being updated. Now I realize that this good for business, but it is bad for the trees (and therefore us). I just can’t get over the images of books being pulped and left in huge garbage tips. Perhaps it is a Jewish thing – I once witnessed a perfectly rational friend totally lose control of himself when he saw someone burning old moldy books.

His parents were Holocaust survivors who had once boasted a house full of packed bookcases. While some of the family survived, his house had been burned with all the books inside. I have since learned that this is a common in many Holocaust survivors and their offspring, as Nazis piled Jewish books in the street and burned them.

I digress. I work with university students, Mr. Bezos, and they are hurting. They are going into debt for their studies, living expenses and textbooks. Their parents can’t help them and more than a few of my students have taken on a second job to send money to their families. This is not some 3rd or 4th world country, sir, it is San Francisco. And I am sure it is all over Depression-hit America.

So here is my idea, Mr. Bezos, and it is win:win, so bear with me.

1. Every student who enrolls in a state-run university or community college (I would like you to consider all colleges and universities if you can) receives a Kindle in their freshman year, for FREE.

2. They receive generous discounts on their textbooks for three years – we can give them a code that expires then. Moreover, they get updated versions of a textbook they purchased for $1.

What do you get out of this?

1. The gratitude of a generation that saw you reach out to them when they were struggling.

2. Hundreds of thousands of loyal customers. These students will get used to purchasing through Amazon. They will get hooked on the ever-evolving Kindle (because you will ensure that it will always be cutting edge) and on the concept of e-books, of which you are the biggest seller in the world.

3. These students will, we assume emerge from school and the depression into young professionals with spending power and disposable income. They will also have a buying habit and brand loyalty.

4. Help stop the terrible waste of resources, of trees being cut down while global warming increases.

5. Help stop the senseless pulping of books because they have been printed without demand and/or have become out dated.

6. Fame and fortune for doing the right thing for the American people when they most needed it.

On behalf of our students and the planet, I thank you for considering this. Here’s to a bright future for us all.


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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