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 “Israel”

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).

 

America Wants You – A Call To Arms

I write a lot about war veterans. My next novel, Unwanted Heroes, focuses on the treatment and support (or lack thereof) of war veterans. I lived in Israel for twenty years where there is national service – everyone serves 2-3 years plus a yearly requirement for up to four weeks of training and tour.

Perhaps because everyone serves, there is a national consensus to help veterans when needed. In fact, it is probably considerably a disadvantage when competing for a job if you have not served.

So it is disappointing to hear that US troops are having considerable difficulties finding jobs when they leave the armed forces. Certainly, it is part of an economic climate where companies are loath to hire new personnel, but I can’t help feeling that something more needs to be done to at least level the playing field for those who were defending our country instead of accumulating degrees and internships.

Enter AMERICA WANTS YOU, which is “a unique private sector initiative that is teaming up with corporate America to find job opportunities for those men and women who have served in our country’s military.”

The idea was inspired by an ABC News series called “Made in America,” which promoted US-made products as a way to create jobs for Americans. 

There are many celebrities involved and a groundswell of corporate support. This is an exciting combination and should be an example of how we can lift the entire country out of the recession.

With the politicians too involved in their election cycle, cooperation will need to come from elsewhere.

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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).

Shimon Peres – Rhetorics of Peace

There were a lot of comments about my Rhetorics of Hate blog post and my overriding pessimism. It is a time to be jaded as peace talks take a back seat to what might be a war with Iran.

I have shared in the past that there are some wonderful organizations trying to bridge the gaps and bring about a sustainable peace, often at a very grassroots level. One Voice are an outstanding example.

The day after I wrote the Rhetorics of Hate, I had the opportunity to hear Shimon Peres, the President of Israel, who was visiting San Francisco. As I walked past the demonstrators, I wondered if they even knew who this man is and what he stands for – or is enough to be an Israeli in order to be the enemy. A Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Mr. Peres was reaching out to make peace with Israel’s Arab neighbors, long before anyone else dared risk their political careers to pursue peace.

But Mr. Peres reminded us of what might be his greater contribution to the region. He said (these are my words) that peace in the region will be motivated not by ideology or territorial compromise, but by poverty. With the vast majority of the inhabitants of the Middle East under 25 and, with an increasing number of them having access to the Internet, this is truer today that when Mr. Peres outlined his vision for a New Middle East.

Fifteen year ago, a long time if measured not by history but technology, Mr. Peres pointed out that the Middle East has the resources and technology to become the center of the world economy. Once the 99% (definitely my words now!) realize this, they will demand that their governments broker the necessary accords to allow for an economic entity to be established that will change the balance of wealth on the planet, and allow the people of the Middle East to share a quality of life that they have every right to demand of their leaders.

Speaking in San Francisco last week, Mr. Peres said that peace in the Middle East will be created from the mind not by the military. Possibly the most effective way that we can create that momentum is to get his book, The New Middle East, into as many hands as possible.

To do this we need to harness the technological advances that Mr. Peres spoke of, because the drums of war are pounding again, and they are getting louder.

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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).

Israel Apartheid Week – Rhetorics of Hate

It came and went. Israel Apartheid Week on our university campus. They waved their flags, we waved ours. They chanted, we chanted. They held their signs up and we tried to hold ours higher.

It was so depressing.

Been there, done that, year after year. And as I stood watching, I realized that the language is becoming more extreme with each passing year. A woman recited an emotional poem shouting into the microphone: “I hate you. I hate you, I hate you.”

Why is the language and tactics becoming more extreme?

I would like to tell you that the hard-liners (from both sides) are entrenching themselves as a last throw against the onslaught of the peace process. You would then like to tell me that I am delusional, while subtly putting that almost-empty whiskey bottle away.

Perhaps, on the other hand, it is frustration at the intransigence of the leaders involved and the lack of any kind of serious peace talks.

But the reality is sadly that many no longer believe that a peaceful, negotiated settlement is possible. It is frustrating and dis-empowering. Time passes, another war looms. More people will die and, when the smoke clears, well we will be back where we started, having learned nothing.

So maybe it is just easier to brandish our signs and our flags at each other. We know what to expect. We know it won’t matter. A little chanting can even be therapeutic. And maybe it will help us forget that people are suffering, living in fear, and waiting for a better future.

Except that with each day passing, we move that much closer to war.

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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).

Urban Adamah – Farming and Learning in Berkeley

Urban Adamah is a Jewish urban farm walking distance from my house. I have been there a few times for events and my eldest son goes regularly for a workshop.

As urban as it gets

Adamah is hebrew for earth and when the group received permission to develop the land, earth is one thing they did not find. Instead, the land was full of chemicals and metals from past construction projects. Today, only a year later, there are proud boxes straining with vegetables.

Urban agriculture has been discussed in this blog and I have highlighted another project nearby – Spiral Gardens. I want to share something special at Urban Adamah, an opportunity to participate in a three month fellowship.

For anyone in between jobs, taking a gap year, or needing sometime to reassess, this is a great program. I have spoken with a number of fellows and am profoundly impressed by the depth of their knowledge, enthusiasm and commitment to continue their eco-Jewish journey.

This pretty much reflects the goal of this program: “The Urban Adamah Fellowship is a three-month residential leadership-training program for young adults that integrates urban organic farming, direct social justice work and progressive Jewish living and learning. The fellowship curriculum is designed to equip fellows with the tools to become agents of positive change in their own lives and in their communities.”

Down on the farm at Urban Adamah

There is a similar program at my kibbutz in Israel, Kibbutz Lotan. This is not an urban program (the kibbutz in situated in the Afro-Syrian rift, desert country), but teaches many techniques that can be used in the city.  You actually reside in an eco-campus that previous students built and receive US university credits, and there is an element of conflict resolution built into the program.

The Kibbutz Lotan campus where fellows live and build.

Back to Urban Adamah and they have just opened applications for the next fellowship (I believe there are three a year). I suspect that places fill quickly, a sign that many Jews, myself included, are finding their way back to Judaism through environmental and social justice. And this is good news all round.

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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).

Occupying an Agenda

I have posted frequently about my excitement over the Occupy movement. The ‘uprising,’ if I may use such a term, is both a shift of consciousness and a call for grassroots action. I am proud of those who are creating micro communities on these sites and seeking an inclusive culture that allows for everyone present to feel involved and listened to. I am sorry that the mass media do not seem willing to give this aspect the attention it deserves.

Occupy SF

This is the crux of the movement. What mobilized people is the rising frustration that the vast majority of us are simple pawns in a game played with impunity by corrupt big business principles and a failed political system where those sent to Washington do not represent those who voted to send them (and those who didn’t), but rather represent those who paid for them to get voted in.

People need to feel listened to. They have a right to know that if they work hard, save for retirement, buy a house, and then they will receive a minimal social network. Their children will have a good education, their medical needs will be taken care of, law enforcement are there to protect them, and that they can retire with dignity. If you play by the rules and participate in the system, surely you have entitlement to basic human rights.

The rains are coming and it is unclear how the Occupy movement will cope with the coming winter. What most worries me is that, as far as I know, there is no strategic plan. It is unclear who is the leadership and we will revisit next week on this blog whether there should be an agenda.

Will people come out in the rain?

This past summer, ‘Tent Cities” were created in most major towns in Israel. There was a huge outpouring from a disenfranchised and disillusioned public (many of them under 40) with a myriad of social issues represented. Some were similar to here in the US, others more unique to Israel.

There are many similarities to Occupy. There was no recognized leadership because there was a desire not to exclude anyone and creating a power structure, however open and inclusive, runs the risk of marginalizing people. Furthermore, there was no central agenda, again because of a desire to promote different social injustices and issues, according to those who stepped up to join the Tent City. There were also clashes with police.

Israelis of all ages, ethnic backgrounds and religions came together for a summer.

When the summer ended, the groups slowly lost momentum. I am afraid that without a framework and platform, then it might not be able to sustain itself. I believe the Occupy system needs to decide one of two things:

i) To create an agenda – and they might do well to read Roger Ingall’s suggestions.

ii) Decide to create a leadership structure and strategic plan, or take the momentum into the Democratic Party.

More on this second aspect next Wednesday.

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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).

Jewish Heart for Africa

Jewish Heart for Africa is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization that brings sustainable Israeli technologies to rural African villages. Since its founding in 2008, Jewish Heart for Africa has completed more than 35 solar powered projects, bringing light to schools to improve education, pumping clean water in regions of drought and providing refrigeration for lifesaving medicines and vaccines.

To date, they have brought solar energy to over 150,000 African people, and 12,000 children have been vaccinated with vaccines stored in their solar powered refrigerators.

Here is a 6-minute introduction to their work.

This week, Jewish Heart for Africa is holding it’s main fundraising event of the year. Most of us won’t be attending the event in New York, but we can still help to provide sustainable solutions to provide the poorest people on our planet receive the basics we take for granted: clean water, electricity, medicine, clean energy, relevant food production methods.

It is surprising what a difference $18 or $36 gifts can make. Even if you can’t make the gala, please consider a small gift. And please pass this post on to friends and colleagues. We can defeat poverty. We have the technology and the capability. What’s stopping us? What’s stopping you?

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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 http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

From Stabbing to Soccer

Tomorrow is September 20th, a day billed with controversy as the Palestinians seek a statehood via the United Nations. Those in favor recognize that the Palestinians need a state of their own and are frustrated by the lack of negotiations with Israel. Those against say that a sustainable solution has to come from negotiations between the two sides.

It all looks very depressing as both sides dig in and intransigence seems the order of the day. Perhaps it is best to focus on those organizations that are trying to bring Israelis and Palestinians together in dialog and the creation of relationships. I have already written about One Voice, still one of the most outstanding examples in my opinion.

So it was encouraging to see this article by Dan Goldberg about co-founder and director of the Al-Quds Association for Democracy and Dialogue, Sulaiman Khatib who went to Australia with Tami Hay, director of the Sport Department of Israel’s Peres Center for Peace. They  led a team of 24 Israelis and Palestinians in a unique bridge-building exercise: to compete in an international competition of Australian-rules football. We shall leave  the intricacies of the game, a mix of soccer, rugby, with Gaelic roots, for another time.

Twenty-four Israelis and Palestinians came together as a "Peace Team" to play Australian-rules football. (Jonathan Davis)

Khatib has an amazing personal story. He was born in the West Bank near Jerusalem, and grew up “throwing stones and preparing Molotov cocktails” at the Israeli army.

In 1986, at the age of just 14, he was arrested and sentenced to 10 years in prison for stabbing an Israeli soldier. While in prison, Khatib was exposed to the writings of the Mahatma Ghandi and Nelson Mandela. He learned both Hebrew and English and studied history, in particular other conflicts around the world. This provided Khatib with the basis for what became his philosophy.

“I believe there is no military solution to the conflict,” Khatib, 39, said of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in an interview with JTA while still in Melbourne. “I believe nonviolence is the best way for our struggle, for our freedom and for peace on both sides.”

For the story of how the team came together and became a cooperative group, I would suggest reading the article. The Palestinians who participated were admonished and even threatened, with many seeing them as collaborators. The bravery of these people should be applauded.

One Palestinian participant said: “Many people I know are opposed to my participation in activities with the Israeli side. They do not believe that it can improve the situation or lead to peace. I try to portray the positive things as much as possible.”

Nimrod Vromen, an Israeli player, told one media agency: “For me it’s easy. For the Palestinians, they actually have their lives threatened playing in this team.”

Tanya Oziel, Executive Director of the Australian branch of the Peres Center for Peace, knew there would be massive hurdles when she conceived of the idea of a joint team in 2007. A Sephardic Jew with Iraqi origins, Oziel knew that the Peres Center already had an Israeli-Palestinian soccer team, so she adapted the idea for Australian football and first brought a joint team to Australia in 2008.

“I think because of the power of the story and the impossibility of the story it actually gave me more motivation to make it happen,” Oziel said.

Some of the Palestinian team members are still worried about a backlash once they return home, but Sulaiman Khatib hopes his life experience will help his friends and himself weather such opposition.

“I’ve been in an Israeli jail for 10 years. I do things I believe in and I’m ready to risk my life,” he said. “So I’m not really worried about me.”

During a week when all eyes are on the United Nations, it helps to know that seeds of real peace are still being sown in the Middle East and the real heroes don’t make meaningless speeches but follow a dream. Sulaiman Khatib and his team are heroes.

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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 http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

Israeli Kibbutz Goes 100% Solar

An Israeli solar technology company, Zenith Solar, is about to take a kibbutz (an intentional community) and produce solar energy to satisfy all the kibbutz’s electricity. Kibbutz Yavne is in the south of Israel and enjoys long seasons of sunshine. It is a community of about 250 families.

Zenith Solar is introducing technology that can  can transform 75 percent of the sunlight it absorbs into electricity and hot water at a cost of 8.6 cents per kilowatt hour. In comparison, most solar panels that generate electricity from sunlight do so with less than 15% efficiency, and cost more than double.

Most significant, the company claims that in peak conditions, their technology will provide energy that is competative to costs of traditional fossil fuels. In fact, given the additional costs that we know are necessary for environmental and health damage, this makes Zenith Solar technology the cheaper option and with no negative impact on the environment.

The commercial pilot stands on a half-acre plot at the edge of the kibbutz and will serve as a model for further solar farms that will hopefully be adapted for bigger urban concentrations as well as cheap small units for private homeowners.

Here is a short video on the project.

Please Vote Today. Click Here

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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 http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

Microloans in Israel

I have to say it is too tempting to pass up an article that involves Kiva, a micro loan agency that I have long admired and a window of hope  between Israel and its Arab population. I have written a number of posts about microloans and what they are, so I won’t go into it here.
Desmond Bradley first picked up on this partnership between the Koret Israel Economic Development Fund (KIEDF) and the San Francisco-based non-profit organization Kiva Microfunds. You can read his article here.

This is Kiva’s first venture into Israel, it works in over 50 countries with local microloan agencies, where you can donating as little as $25 via their website. What I love about their system is the way that you can track the progress of the person/business you are helping. But enough about Kiva. As I mentioned, you can read about the organization here.
Israel has struggled since its independence with regard to its Arab and Bedouin population. As in the US, there is also a growing gap between the rich and low-income populations. This program will target Arab, Bedouin and low income Israelis.
The Koret Israel Economic Development Fund (KIEDF) has already loaned more than $177 million to 464,000 entrepreneurs over the past six years. Since 1994, KIEDF has facilitated close to $206 million in financing to almost 8,000 small and micro businesses in Israel, creating more than 40,000 jobs in the process.
Kiva needed to be convinced that Israel was a suitable candidate as it is perceived as a developed economy.
KIEDF managing director Carl Kaplan said  “It took us a couple of years to convince them that not all of Israel is like that. We persuaded them that some sections of Israeli society – notably Arab and Bedouin women – are actually Third World. It’s not a political issue.”
Bedouin woman


“We’ve already facilitated 1,800 loans to Negev businesses, mainly run by women,” says Kaplan, This initiative is sponsored in teh US by California based American Friends of Koret Israel Economic Development Funds,  and in the UK by The Portland Trust, a foundation that promotes peace and stability between Palestinians and Israelis through economic development.

Desmond Bradley sums up micro-financing superbly as “a widely used tool for fighting poverty and empowering women worldwide. Small, family-owned businesses have proven critical to the economic viability of women with limited employment opportunities.”

All  this week we have heard how the US economy is stalled, how there is no growth, how unemployment is rising. Is there a lesson to be learned here? Is anyone in ‘DC thinking outside the box?

Please Vote Today. Click Here

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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 http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

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