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 “homeless”

Two Birthday Wishes

Today is my 49th birthday and what better way to spend it than blogging! Okay, I have other plans, so I have lifted from a post I wrote a couple of years ago. Forgive me.

I have two requests for you to consider on this auspicious day – one self-serving and the other philanthropic:

1) If you have read any of my novels, please pop over to Amazon.com (or Amazon.co.uk if you reside over the pond) and leave a review. I am less than 100 days from the release of my next epic fantasy novel so any review for Books 1 or 2, or my social justice novels, would help lay a great foundation for my next launch.

The First Decree-hi resolution

2) Consider a small investment at KIVA, a micro-loan non-profit that empowers the most impoverished to climb out of the poverty spiral in a sustainable and successful way. It truly is a remarkable agency. Below is an edited version of what I wrote a while back.

We can change the world. The problem is that there is so much to do, it can just feel so overwhelming. A few weeks ago my eldest son (then 11) and I saw a newspaper article with a multimillion dollar lottery winner. “Imagine how that could change your life,” I muttered.

My son decided to fantasize what we would do with a few million dollars. Admittedly, owning our own house, replacing our shuddering geriatric car, and a basketball backboard came first.

But then he began talking of projects to help people. We had recently met someone who runs a bakery on the East Coast that employs homeless and impoverished people. My next novel, Unwanted Heroes, is about homeless war veterans and my son began to describe how we could create a similar project for such people in San Francisco. As all youngsters do, he soon got caught up in the details.

I told him how a learned Jewish medieval scholar, Maimonides, had created a pyramid of different levels of giving. Providing someone with a skill and a means to support themselves and their family is considered the highest form of giving in Judaism.

This brings me to KIVA, a non-profit micro-finance bank that raises money through small gifts to help people invest in family or community enterprises. These are essentially loans, though the donors often reinvest the money back into Kiva. For more on the mechanics of micro-finance, click here.

For just $25, you can help a father of four in Tanzania set up a coffee shop, or a woman in India establish a juice bar. It is truly inspiring. Recently, I was invited to two birthday celebrations. The celebrants requested either not to receive gifts, or to donate to a charity in their name. I had a great time investing in Kiva on their behalf.

Join me to help change the world – one birthday gift at a time. Thank you.

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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 the 2013 Eric Hoffer Book Award for YA – At The Walls Of Galbrieth. Alon tweets at @alonshalevsf and @elfwriter.   For more about the author, check out his website.

 

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.

Unwanted Heroes – Released Today In Ebook!

Now that’s what I consider a great Thanksgiving gift!

Three Clover Press announced that Unwanted Heroes is now available on Kindle and Smashwords. The paperback will be closer to the expected January date.

They generously agreed to price the ebook at $2.99 for the present. I would like to take the opportunity to thank Lloyd Lofthouse, a fine author and a war veteran, who personally deals with and writes about P.T.S.D on The Soulful Veteran blog. I am sure it was not easy for him to edit my novel.

Lloyd has overseen the project throughout the various stages and provided me with both honest feedback and tough love.

Here is a quick synopsis:

Unwanted Heroes brings together an old, battle weary Chinese American war vet and an idealistic and somewhat pretentious young Englishmen, who share a love for San Francisco, coffee and wine. They soon discover they share even more when repressed memories bring them together, finding in each other, an unlikely ally to free themselves from the tragic past that binds them both.

Set in beautiful San Francisco, this novel is a tribute to the city, its people and those who sacrificed so much to keep it and America free, as seen through the eyes of a young struggling writer from across the Atlantic, who brings more baggage than just his shiny laptop and romantic ideals.

Unwanted Heroes follows two other social justice-themed novels, The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale, that were both placed in my native England. This novel is the first of three that will be situated in San Francisco, the city I have grown to love and dare call my home. Unwanted Heroes focuses on the issue of how we treat our war veterans and the homeless. The two future novels will deal with other issues relevant to the US – gay rights and gun control. After that, who knows?

But right now, I am very proud to share Unwanted Heroes with you. If you would do me the honor of reading it, please take a few minutes to post a review on Amazon.com or Smashwords. Reviews are playing an increasingly critical role in guiding readers to purchase a book.

Thank you.

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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).

Can Fantasy Be A Vehicle For Social Change?

I believe passionately that writers of fiction can ply their craft to help effect positive social change and offer a platform for values and principles. The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale both reflect this and I have a series of books focusing on social issues in the US (all based in San Francisco) beginning with Unwanted Heroes which will be released by Three Clover Press later this year and highlight the way we treat war veterans and the homeless.

I was delighted when Kaitlyn Cole from Online Universities shared a list that their faculty had put together entitled: 50 Best Novels For Political Junkies.

Kaitlyn wrote: “True story: Some of the best political novels aren’t explicitly about politics. Yes, some of the books on this list deal directly with governments and politicians, with laws and the ways they’re made or abused, and with the peril and promise inherent in every governing body. But some of them use adventure, parable, or satire to subtly explore our political system with a depth that wouldn’t be possible any other way.”

Great point and relevant to those of us who write political fiction. But how about fantasy? Is there room to use our elves and dwarves to promote social injustices or causes? 

Over the last three summers I was blessed with the amazing experience of writing three fantasy novels together with now 13-year-old son. While I have read a few fantasy novels, I had no idea about the “rules” of the genre.

Writing with my son, however, compelled me to include moral issues such as racism, dictatorship and freedom, as well as the values of friendship and inclusiveness. I was writing for my son and there are plenty of swords, quests, elves, dwarves etc., but as I watched him read and listened to his feedback, I waited for his comments about such issues and derived huge satisfaction when he brought up issues.

In setting my goals for an exercise at Author Salon, I wrote:

“I have seen the impact of the Harry Potter series and Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance series on my son and his friends. I want to help shape the landscape of the next generation’s imagination and maybe even the society they strive to create.”

 My lack of knowledge regarding fantasy leads me to ask the question: Can fantasy offer a vehicle to discuss political and social injustice? I would love to hear your answers.

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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).

List of Shame: The 1%’ers Who Dodge Taxes

Let me be clear from the start: this post is not about all those who occupy (excuse the pun) the top 1% of our nation in terms of wealth. This is about those who pay taxes annually to the tune of $1. There are many who worked hard to amass their wealth and are incredibly philanthropic. As the director of a non-profit, I have been honored with many opportunities to meet and work with such people.

These generous people are propelled by a moral code and take a meaningful portion of their money and time to promote social justice issues, to support those in our society who need help – the elderly, the poor, the homeless etc., and provide cultural and educational opportunities that might not be business-viable without such support. This article is NOT about them. I am sure they pay their taxes, understanding that the services they receive – an army to defend them, a police force, fire and emergency response force, the roads they drive on, the street lights…do I need to go on?

But unfortunately there are those billionaires who seem to take pride out of not paying their taxes. These people manage to show a salary of $1. They include such individuals as Eric Schmidt and Larry Page (both Google), Steve Jobs (Apple) from 1997 until his death last year, Larry Ellison (Oracle) and Meg Whitman (Hewlett-Packard). And apparently, recently wed and start-up-turned-public Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook) is about to join this shameful club.

Ironically, these ‘poor’ folk might actually be eligible to receive the kind of government aid that is available for low-income populations. If they keep their personal income under $13,000 they would be able to apply for an Earned Income Tax Credit. While I am sure they won’t collect on this, I hope they appreciate that the taxpayers provide this safety net, but they probably won’t.

There are many ways to ensure that you can live the lifestyle of the super-rich, amass wealth, and not pay taxes. One of these, for example is to hold multiple home equity loans, which is (I think) borrowing money against the values of many of your homes and property. This is debt and therefore not taxable, but it is money for them to jet around and live the life they want. In a country where good folk are losing their homes (their only homes) to foreclosure, isn’t this ironic? There are many other ways and I am not the person to expound on them.

Let us assume that one day the Zukerbergs decide to purchase an island in the Caribbean. Most people who show an income of $1 might be more inclined to buy food, clothes, medical insurance etc., but someone with significant net worth need only cash in a few shares (Facebook anyone?) to make the purchase. For sure, he might have to pay 15% capital gains taxes, but ain’t life a bitch.

To be perfectly clear (once again), I do not resent these people their wealth. I have a deep respect for the philanthropists that I have a relationship with. But I believe in paying taxes and I want everyone who can afford it to pay their share and pay it with grace.

Those billionaires who take pride out of cheating (yes, cheating) our society out of their taxes are screwing not only those of us who pay taxes today, but also failing to help prevent the nation accumulate debt that our children will be saddled with.

For some reason, what hurts even more, is that these people are paying more money for financial advice that helps them avoid tax exposure than I earn in a year…before I pay my taxes.

I work hard for my salary and pay my taxes as I should. I have a right to be angry.

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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).

Alienating the Homeless

It isn’t always easy supporting the homeless. Yesterday, I sat with a group of students who care, who are giving up their Sundays and Spring Break to help people in need. Nonetheless, as we took a break, the conversation turned to interactions with homeless people and others who ask for money.

One young woman had been verbally abused after giving a homeless man some change from her pocket. He told her that she should have given more. Another told how a man had asked her for money at the BART station. She offered to buy him a ticket for the train and his response was something like ‘that’s really gonna buy my next hit’. A third woman told how she was approached by a woman who told her she was hungry. Having just left a restaurant, she offered the woman her box of left overs, enough she told us, to feed herself for lunch the next day, and the woman tossed the food on the ground.

How do we deal with these situations? We think we are helping and maybe we are. Perhaps we wonder if we are subsidizing a bad habit, or reinforcing their staying on the street and out of the system.

One way is to support organizations that help the homeless in an organized way. Project Homeless Connect is a great example. Another way is to advocate for social services and enough housing to cater for those who slip through the net.

A while ago, I gave a man enough money for a bus after he told me a long story about being a recovering alcoholic. His sister lived near where we were standing, he was supposed to stay with them for the weekend, and her husband was taunting him by bringing out bottles of alcohol and drinking in front of him. He had to get home. He had run out of her house and left his bag and wallet. He would pay me back if I gave him my address.

I gave him the money and told him to help someone else rather than return the cash to me. I did this, if I am being honest, because I didn’t want to give my address and yet wanted him to feel that I wasn’t giving him charity.

When I entered my house, I told my wife, though the main theme of my story, was had I just been conned. I agonized about it until she told me to decide that I had helped someone and move on. Apparently, since I am telling you this story now, I haven’t.

Finally, a nice story. I often give money to homeless people who are selling the newspaper Street Spirit. I figure that they are trying to earn a living and I want to support their dignity. I gave my sons $1 and told them to buy from a man standing on Shattuck in Berkeley. The man told them that he was a poet and had a poem in the paper. My (then) 7-year-old was intrigued and proudly told the  man that I am an author and we shook hands.

Larry Wyatt selling Street Spirit newspaper

Having seen me sign books for my readers, my son then asked the man to autograph the poem and both their eyes lit up when they did. I wondered if he really had written the poem. I want to believe that he did, that there a moment of magic passed between this old man and my son.

It helps me to continue to advocate or the rights of the homeless and the poor. Perhaps, the magic helped me as well.

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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).

Veteran’s Day 1

In honor of Veteran’s Day, I would like to offer a week focusing on the issue. Here is an excerpt from my latest manuscript, Unwanted Heroes. The novel highlights the way we treat war veterans in the US. It focuses on the struggles of an Asian-American Vietnam war vet who tries to put the voices at bay before his whole life falls apart.  The scene below takes place at the War Cemetery in the Presidio, San Francisco.

Here is a quick intro to the characters.

Narrator – Will – a young Englishman who has come to San Francisco to write. Works as a barista.

James – his girlfriend’s father. Also a war vet and a mentor to Will

Mr. Tzu – Vietnam War Vet. The funeral is for his brother, also a war vet. He never told his wife that he had a brother.

Salvador – a homeless ex-philosophy professor.

****

It is a gray, cloudy Bay Area day in the Presidio: as it should be. James meets me for an early lunch and then drives me to the cemetery. We eat in near silence and I can only imagine how tough this must be for him. But he never hesitated in agreeing to come. James was a soldier, still is.

The nearest I’ve ever come to witnessing military funerals have been Hollywood movies. I’m immediately consumed with the intensity as the honor guard solemnly marches to the graveside. These young men are so polished, so precise. I wondered whether this is a chore for them or whether they truly see it as an honor, a tribute to a fallen comrade they never knew.

The casket is lowered and I glance over at Tzu, his hands deep in the pockets of a thick coat. He stands still, every facial muscle, I think, straining to do its duty. Their children aren’t here. I doubt Tzu even asked them to make the trip. His wife stands by his side, gazing down at the casket of the brother-in-law she never knew existed.

What thoughts are going through her head? Could she have helped? Could she have made the difference, tipped the scales? Could this so easily have been her husband if they had never met? Or at some point in the future?

But all I can see are the heavy lines of Chinese history, lines of suffering etched across her face. As I look, I prefer to picture the laughing Mrs. Tzu, siding with Jane and Tabitha to bully me, and chiding me for not writing to my mother.

The 3 Volley gun salute abruptly jolts me from my thoughts. Birds soar from nearby trees. I cringe with each volley and feel James take my arm. I resist looking at him, he might not want me to, but I make room for his hand on my upper arm and his fingers grip tightly.

The flag is folded with incredible precision and offered to Mr. Tzu. He takes it solemnly, stares at it and then caresses it to his heart. I think I see tears in his eyes, it is hard to be sure: my own are blurry.

And then the bugler plays Taps. His notes ring out, rising to the top of the pines, up into the swollen clouds, and out towards the partly shrouded Golden Gate Bridge. Then, abruptly, it is over. The few people in attendance are all Asian, save for the honor guard, James and myself. We hold back as they pay their respects to Tzu, shaking hands and occasionally a stiff hug.

When only Tzu and his wife are left, I introduce James.

“It was a beautiful ceremony,” I say to Mr. Tzu, “I’m sure your brother was very proud.”

He nods and Mrs. Tzu smiles and thanks me for coming.

Tzu and James exchange words. It’s code to me: battalion numbers, battlefields. Then James glances to the grave.

“You buried him away from the last line. You wish to reserve the adjacent plots?”

“You cannot reserve spots, other than for a spouse,” Tzu replies softly. “But maybe when my time comes, it would be nice to be near him.”

James nods and looks back at the newly dug grave. “I have a friend. I’d be happy to put in a call. Would you mind?”

Mrs. Tzu quickly answers for her proud husband. “Husband appreciate very much, Mr. van Ness. Thank you. You have wonderful daughter. You must be very proud.”

“Oh I am,” James replies and his pride shines through the gloomy weather.

Mrs. Tzu nods theatrically at me. “Just not sure of her taste in men,” she adds raising an eyebrow.

“She gets that from her mother,” his reply is smooth.

As I turn with Tzu away from the grave, the conversation vanishes from my mind.

They stand in two rows, a different guard of honor, wearing uniforms of faded, tattered layers. They leave a corridor for Tzu to walk through. Salvador is first and there are about twelve of them; come to pay their last respects to a colleague, a brother of the street, another homeless hero who fought the good fight for as long as he could.

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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

KIVA: Loans That Change Lives

We can change the world. The problem is that there is so much to do, it can just feel so overwhelming. A few weeks ago my eldest son (11) and I saw a newspaper article with a multimillion dollar lottery winner. “Imagine how that could change your life,” I muttered.

My son decided to fantasize what we would do with a few million dollars. Admittedly, owning our own house, replacing our shuddering geriatric car, and a basketball backboard came first.

But then he began talking of projects to help people. We had recently met someone who runs a bakery on the East Coast that employs homeless and impoverished people. My next novel is about homeless war veterans and my son began to describe how we could create a similar project for such people in San Francisco. As all youngsters do, he soon got caught up in the details.

I told him how a learned Jewish medieval scholar, Maimonides, had created a pyramid of different levels of giving. Providing someone with a skill and a means to support themselves and their family is considered the highest form of giving in Judaism.

This brings me to KIVA, a non-profit microfinance bank that raises money through small gifts to help people invest in family or community enterprises. These are essentially loans, though the donors often reinvest the money back into Kiva. For more on microfinance, click here (http://www.kiva.org/about/microfinance/)

For just $25, you can help a father of four in Tanzania set up a coffee shop, or a woman in India establish a juice bar. It is truly inspiring. Recently, I was invited to two birthday celebrations. The celebrants requested either not to receive gifts, or to donate to a charity in their name. I had a great time investing in Kiva on their behalf.

Maybe we can change the world, one birthday at a time.

——————————————————————————————————-

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 www.alonshalev.com

Heroes – Memorial Day 2009

My latest novel, completed but not finished editing, changes title every few weeks. The current favorite is: Unwanted Heroes. It is a story that highlights the plight of the homeless, and in particular, war veterans.

Today is Remembrance Sunday in the UK and will be Veterans Day on Wednesday here in the US. The following passage from Unwanted Heroes is in honor of our war vets.

***************************************************************************

It is a gray, cloudy Bay Area day in the Presidio: as it should be. James meets me for an early lunch and then drives me to the cemetery. We ate in near silence and I realize this isn’t easy for him. But he never hesitated in agreeing to come. James was a soldier, still is.

The nearest I’ve ever come to witnessing military funerals have been Hollywood dramatizations. I’m immediately consumed with the intensity as the honor guard solemnly makes their way to the graveside. These young men so polished, so precise. I wondered whether this is a chore for them or whether they truly see it as an honor, a tribute to a fallen comrade they never knew.

The wind whistles through the swaying pines. For a moment I fancy I hear a voice: voices on the wind. He was one of us…We are brothers-in-arms and one day, we will all meet here.

The casket is lowered and I glance over at Tzu, his hands in the pockets of a thick coat. He stands still, every facial muscle straining, I think, to do its duty. Their children aren’t here. I doubt he even asked them to make the trip. Only his wife stands by his side; she gazes down at the casket of a man she’d never known existed.
What thoughts are going through her head? Could she have helped? Could she have made the difference, tipped the scales? Could this so easily have been her husband if they had never met? Or some point in the future?

But nothing is revealed through the heavy lines of Chinese history etched across her face. As I look at her, I prefer to picture the laughing Mrs. Tzu, siding with Jane and Tabitha to bully me, and chiding me for not writing to my mother.

The 21-gun salute abruptly jolts me from my thoughts. Birds soar from nearby trees. I cringe with each volley and feel James take my arm. I resist looking at him, he might not want me to, but I make room for his hand on my upper arm and his fingers grip tightly.

The flag is folded with incredible precision and offered to Mr. Tzu. He takes it solemnly, stares at it and then caresses it to his heart. I think I see tears in his eyes, it is hard to be sure: my own are blurry.

And then the bugler plays the Taps. His notes ring out and rise to the tops of the pine trees, up into the swollen clouds, and out towards the partly shrouded Golden Gate Bridge. Then, just as abruptly, it is over. The few people in attendance are all Asian, save for the honor guard, James and myself. We hold back as they pay their respects to Tzu, shaking hands and occasionally a stiff hug.

When only Tzu and his wife are left, I introduce James. I tell Tzu that it was a beautiful ceremony and that I’m sure his brother would have been proud. He nods and Mrs. Tzu smiles and thanks me for coming.

Tzu and James exchange words. It is code to me: numbers of units, of places where they’d fought. Then James glances to the grave.

“You buried him away from the last line. You wish to reserve the adjacent plots?”

“You cannot reserve spots, other than for a spouse,” Tzu replies softly. “But maybe when my time comes, it would be nice to be near him.”

James nods and looks back at the newly dug grave. “I have friends. I’d be happy to put in a call. Would you mind?”

Mrs. Tzu answers for her husband. “My husband would appreciate it, thank you. You have a wonderful daughter. You must be very proud.”

“Oh I am,” James replies and his pride shines through the gloomy weather.

Mrs. Tzu nods theatrically at me. “Just not sure of her taste in men,” she adds lightly.

“She gets that from her mother,” the reply comes smoothly.

As I turn with Tzu away from the grave, the conversation vanishes instantly from my mind.

They stand in two rows, a different guard of honor, leaving a corridor for Tzu to walk through. Salvador is first and there are about twelve of them; come to pay their last respects to a colleague, a brother from the street, a friend who fought the good fight for as long as he could.

——————————————————————————————————

Alon Shalev is the author of 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).

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