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 “Israeli”

The End of the Melting Pot

The concept of a society being a melting pot is something that strongly resonates for me. My family has never put down roots for more than a couple of generations. I myself have made two major moves and lived in three continents.

The idea that an ethnic group moves to a country and tries hard to become part of that society is a rich element in literature, movies and music. It is a symbol of a country’s ability to be accepting and absorb different people into its social fabric. It sees the intrinsic value of adding another rich layer of culture, food, costume and language.

There is also an oft-irrational drive on the side of the immigrant. After living in Israel for two months, I refused to speak English (it’s amazing what you can stutter through with a hundred words or so). I only listened to Israeli music, and sought Israelis to hang out  with, even though I was often a wall flower since 90% of the conversation passed me by.

When I moved to America, I immediately adopted the local basketball team, becoming a passionate Golden State Warriors fan (never easy – ask those fans who have followed them all their lives). I have goggled tailgaters, researched the Super Bowl party protocol (still more excited about the game than the ads and half-time show), and learned to look knowledgeable when wine tasting. I studiously watched The Daily Show and Colbert, okay – and the Simpsons.

I work with students on the San Francisco State University campus, a rich and diverse community from all over the world. The cultural richness is stunning and the programs offered impressive. There is an impressive statistic for how many students are first-generation to graduate high school and go on to university (I’m thinking 40%, but please correct me if I have it wrong).

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I recently used the term melting pot in front of a colleague who is also an alumna (yes I checked it to make sure!) of SFSU. I meant it in a complimentary way to express how comfortable students feel to openly express their cultural and ethnic roots.

This colleague, a millennial, baulked at the use of the word. She responded that it is derogatory and suggests we all need to strive to be the same, that there is an intense pressure to conform to whatever the dominant culture demands.

It got me thinking. I desired to fit into the culture around me because I wanted to be accepted. But I never lost sight of my roots. I was always the Englishman in Israel and my friends never lost an opportunity to poke fun at my accent, the Queen, or to accept my undisputed authority on the noble topics of soccer and beer.

I understand why the term melting pot is problematic. Often the liquid in the pot is fermented by racist connotations. But melting pot does not have to mean only one soup with only one taste. Perhaps a tapestry is a better term. Many different colored strands weave together to create a beautiful work of art.

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The millennial baulks every time that the ‘adult’ society tries to define it, put it into statistical graphs and research projects. The millennial doesn’t spend time pondering whether s/he is a Jewish American or an American Jew.

S/he is comfortable with multiple identities. Have you ever watched a millennial working on their desktop (it doesn’t work so well on phones)? They have a dozen windows open at any one time and flit from one to another like a humming bird on speed. It is the same with their identity. They are comfortable being Jewish here, gay there, a jock in one place, an intellect in another. It is natural and easy.

But there is a generation even more exciting than millennials following them. A while ago, my youngest son met three classmates at the park. The fathers stood together and looked on. One was Israeli, another Palestinian, a third from India, and the fourth from Pakistan. While the kids had fun on the wooden playground, the fathers fidgeted, discussing the weather, house prices and the 49ers. The fathers are all good men, wanting a peaceful world and a just society to live in for their families. We were all happy to stand there in that park playing fathers.

But what was amazing was that our sons were perfectly comfortable. They played together because it was simply fun to hang out. I am sure they each have an understanding of their roots and often hang out with people of their own ethnic background but do not feel a need to be defined as such.

The biggest problem I feel with the melting pot is that it is/was deemed necessary. The millennials will treat it with vague intellectual curiosity and the next generation won’t even know what it was – like a pay phone or record player.

And that is what gives me hope for a better world.

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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 At The Walls Of Galbrieth. Alon tweets at @alonshalevsf and @elfwriter.   For more about the author, check out his website.

Kicking The Oil Addiction

As an environmentalist who drives around in a car for 2-3 hours a day, I hold my hand up and admit my hypocrisy. My job requires a car and I can justify why my family lives in one place and I work in another with a big city in between. I have made it my space – audio book, coffee, snacks – between the intensity of work and the push to get the children’s homework finished, I have a little space just for myself.

We have discussed the electric car on this blog a few times and the conspiracy theory that it is big business and oil conglomerates that have kept us pumping oil into our cars instead of cheaper, more sustainable alternatives.

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Eyal Aronoff, co-founder of Fuel Freedom Foundation, fascinates me. An Israeli who is deeply committed to the US, a country that gave him everything, he is spurred by the tragic loss of two family members in the 9/11 attacks. He believes that it is not a question of technology, but politics  and it is a politics that makes the US globally vulnerable, the world choke on pollution, and keeps a small elite rich while the rest of us pay a heavy financial price.

“He finds that the lack of alternative energy sources to fuel our vehicles jeopardizes U.S. national security, bankrupts our economy and forces us to pay more at the pump. Alternative fuels, such as ethanol, methanol, natural gas and electricity, are the immediate solution to ending our nation’s oil dependency.”

“The Fuel Freedom vision seeks to reignite the American dream by encouraging competition and sparking innovation.” For more information, check out http://www.fuelfreedom.org/get-involved to understand more.

I am beginning to wonder whether it is an addiction issue. There are better models of life out there and yet many of us continue to smoke, drink, take drugs etc. Often, perfectly intelligent and functional people, make irrational decisions and build up a wall of excuses to justify it. Like the guy whose 2nd-hand smoke is killing his children and neighbors, our irrational addiction to oil is killing our planet, keeping many of us in poverty, and leading us into the next war.

It is time to kick the habit.

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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 At The Walls Of Galbrieth. Alon tweets at @alonshalevsf and @elfwriter.  

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A Place At The Table – David Waksberg

Tonight is one of the most powerful nights in the Jewish year. The Passover Seder is traditionally seen as a family event. David Waksberg, CEO of  Jewish LearningWorks, offers a beautiful, universal perspective.

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God created humans, Elie Wiesel suggests, because God loves stories.

At no time do we tell more stories than at the Passover Seder, and above all, the story of the Exodus, the master narrative of the Jewish people.

All of us are commanded to participate in the telling. Everyone who tells the story is praised. And each of us is commanded to make the story our own – as if we ourselves came out of Egypt. In making the story our own, each of us is invited to make OUR story part of the master story, to fit our unique puzzle piece into the great jigsaw puzzle of the Jewish people.

There is a place at the Seder table for all of us. No wonder more Jews gather for a Passover Seder than for any other Jewish activity. 

 “Let all who hunger come and eat,” we say. Everyone is welcome.

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Never before have so many Jewish leaders voiced the desire to “reduce barriers to participation” in Jewish life. And yet, so many feel left out, as if their puzzle piece can’t fit. Jews with learning differences that are not accommodated in schools; LGBT Jews who don’t feel welcomed in some institutions; multi-racial families, told they don’t “look Jewish;” interfaith families, seeking inclusion.

And the list goes on – Sephardi and Ashkenazi, observant and secular, Russian, Israeli…so many ways we can divide ourselves and so many ways we’ve found to feel alienated, uncomfortable, “other” in Jewish settings.

Most everyone means well, one parent told me, “but good intentions are not enough.” If we wish to reduce barriers to engagement, we need to let go of the notion that Jews must look or sound or act in accordance with a set of images we grew up with.

Jewish peoplehood does not mean we are all the same. It means that across a wide spectrum of diverse culture, language, ethnicity, politics, sexual orientation, physical abilities, and yes, even beliefs, we share a common bond. How wonderful, and how much richer is that bond for the diversity that informs it?  Jewish comes in many flavors and until we truly understand, celebrate and institutionalize it, those barriers to participation won’t come down. 

Next week, the multi-hued mélange that makes up the Jewish people will gather around Seder tables around the world to celebrate our story of liberation and redemption. The Seder exemplifies our diversity, both in the story we tell and in the multiple ways we tell it. At our Seder table, an array of customs and practices – melodies from Poland, Lithuania and Turkey, customs from Iraq, Afghanistan, and North America, recipes from Syria, Spain, and the Bronx – coalesce around a common theme, story, and set of rituals and symbols.

Twelve tribes left Egypt. Twelve tribes remained, and, paradoxically, one people emerged. 

Not every Israelite left Egypt. But all were invited to make the trip.

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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 At The Walls Of Galbrieth. Alon tweets at @alonshalevsf and @elfwriter.  

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Forgot my Birthday?

Last year, my birthday fell during the once-every-four-years World Cup (soccer). I thought I could slow the aging process down by deciding that, like the World Cup, I would have a birthday once-every-four-years.

A great tribute to the peaceful South African revolution

So what do I want for my birthday? Something between my own house, world peace, and one of my books becoming a New York Times Bestseller. If you can arrange any of those three, please do. If you feel you have to prioritize (really, how long have we been friends?) then I suppose world peace comes first,

Otherwise, I am going to list 10 organizations that I have highlighted over the past year. Instead of buying me a fine bottle of wine or a box of chocolates that will have me working out for hours at the gym (after thoroughly enjoying them), why not consider donating the exorbitant amount of money you were going to splash on me to one of these great organizations. Please click on the link to the organization that catches your fancy.

1. The Lower Ninth Ward Village – a community center that will provide the only way to keep children in a safe environment over the summer.

2. Save A Child’s Heart – a hospital in Israel that gives free medical heart procedures to children from any country or religion in the Middle East and beyond.

3. One Voice – helping Israeli and Palestinian youth demand a non violent and just solution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

4. Jewish Funds for Justice – sending students to work in disaster-struck areas of the world and teaching the value of social justice.

5. World Reader – providing sustainable e-book solutions to children in Africa and other poor regions, allowing them to grow through reading and education.

6. Habitat for Humanity – a community helping to provide people with homes.

7. Jewish Heart for Africa – leveraging sustainable Israeli environmental technology to help the poorest rural African communities.

8. Darfur & The Berkeley Stove – providing stoves for women in Darfur, thereby avoiding the need to put themselves in violent situations.

9. Project Homeless Connect – offering bi-monthly services to the homeless of San Francisco.

10. Kiva Loans – a micro-loan organization that helps people create businesses to lift themselves out of poverty.

They are all good causes and I know there are many more. But it is amazing how just a small gift can save or change a person’s life. What a way to celebrate your birthday!

Thank you. Wanna slice of birthday cake?

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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).

Bridge to Peace

After writing a somewhat negative post about the Israel/Palestinian conflict a few days ago and yesterday’s post about bin Laden, I feel a need to come back with something positive, something that can give us hope that the extremists won’t win.

Save A Child’s Heart is an amazing organization that enables children from countries without facilities for heart disease treatment. Many of these children are Palestinian. Money is raised around the world, particularly from Jewish donors, that help pay for everything including travel, medical procedures, and rehabilitation. There are volunteers that help prepare the paperwork and deal with the bureaucracy and the logistics.

Doctors evidently do not distinguish between children of different races, religions, or economic capacity.  A child in need is a child in need is a child in need.

Maybe the political leaders should step  aside and let the doctors lead the way to a peaceful and sustainable reconciliation.

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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).

Juliano Mer-Khamis R.I.P

Juliano Mer-Khamis was the son of a Jewish-Israeli father and Christian-Arab mother. He declared himself 100% Israeli and 100% Palestinian. He was a highly successful film actor (see a list of his movies and a bio of his life here) and could be forgiven for sitting back and enjoying the fruits of his success.

Instead, he sought to produce documentaries and films to help each side understand the other. Five years ago, Mer-Khamis  created a team that included Zakaria Zubeidi, a former military leader of the Jenin Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, Jonatan Stanczak, Swedish-Israeli activist, and Dror Feiler, Swedish-Israeli artist. Together they established The Freedom Theatre.

The Freedom Theatre remains today a community theater that uses drama to develop skills, self-knowledge and confidence for the children and youth of the Jenin Refugee Camp, through  using the creative process as a model for positive social change.

On April 4th, masked gunmen shot and killed Mer-Khamis in front of The Freedom Theatre. PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad condemned the killing saying that “We cannot stand silent in the face of this ugly crime, it constitutes a grave violation that goes beyond all principles and human values and it contravenes with the customs and ethics of co-existence.”

There are simply not enough men and women willing to stand up for a peaceful resolution to the conflict. The students who I blogged about a month ago that are trying to create a peaceful solution were beaten and had their Tent of Peace burned, all while police watched from the side, only interceding to have the extremists wait for three students to leave the tent before allowing them to set it on fire.

World media barely mentioned it. It barely acknowledged the murder of Mer-Khamis. Until governments and activists around the world show support for the moderate majority in Israel and Palestine, they will not believe they have the support to create a sustainable peace.

Sometimes it takes more than Facebook.

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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).

The Orange: A Woman’s Issue

Last night millions of Jews and their friends sat around the Passover Seder table. At the center of the table is a Seder plate. Jewish tradition is very particular about what one puts on the plate

However, Judaism has survived (I know there are many who I’m about to annoy) because even our traditions have evolved. In the 1980’s, a certain famous Israeli Orthodox rabbi was asked what he thought of women becoming rabbis. His response was that there was as much chance of this happening as an orange appearing on a Passover Seder plate.


An Orange on the Seder Plate

Since then, the orange has become a symbol of woman’s rights and equality within the progressive Jewish religion. The rabbi of my congregation is a woman and I work in an organization that embraces women rabbis, many of whom serve as role models and sources of inspiration for me.

The orange has made our world a richer place…and don’t get me started on the benefits of Vitamin C!

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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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