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 “Jew”

The World is Your Facebook – Roger Ingalls

This afternoon I received an interesting email from a friend that contained a PowerPoint presentation showing facts about the world. It proportionally represented the entire population on Earth as if we were only a village containing one hundred people. It made the numbers more comprehensible.

Facebook World

Let’s do something similar and bring the facts even closer to home by making the world our Facebook page. I’d like you to imagine that the only people in existence are also your Facebook friends. The average user has 130 friends. You may have more, or less, but let’s represent the entire human race relative to the average Facebook user. We have demographically shrunk the world proportionally.

Your world, your Facebook:

1)      You have friended all 130 people on Earth.

2)      You are friends with 67 women and 63 men.

3)      Seventy-four (74) of your friends are Asian, 27 are European, 18 are from the Americas (north, central and south), and 10 are from Africa.

4)      You have 43 Christian, 29 Muslim, 18 Hindu, 9 Buddhist and 1 Jewish friend.

5)      While worshipping their God, 60 of your friends live in fear of assault or death.

6)      Fourteen (14) of your friends are gay.

7)      You have 8 very rich friends that control 60% of the world’s wealth.

8)      Poverty hurts 104 of your friends.

9)      Sixty-five (65) of your friends are hungry or malnourished.

10)   Ninety-one (91) of your friends cannot read or write.

11)   One of your friends is giving birth.

12)   One of your friends is about to die.

13)   Only one of your friends has a college degree.

14)   Only one of your friends has a computer.

15)   If you have clothes on your back, sleep with a roof over your head and have food in the fridge, you live better than 98 of your friends.

Proportionally shrinking the entire population down to the size of the average Facebook user’s friendship-reach, did make it easier for me to rationalize the true state of the world. It was a good mental exercise.

I’m fortunate and should be more thankful.

Business Mensch

On Monday, I wrote about taking the Mensch Pledge, a desire to see a new code of business ethics which, had they been in place, might have prevented the current, painful recession we are experiencing. The inspiration for this came from the founder of Noah’s Bagels – Noah Alper – and his book – Business Mensch.

What’s important is providing for your family, conducting yourself with integrity, and living a life of meaning. Noah Alper – Business Mensch.

I am somewhat skeptical when I read memoirs of successful businessmen sprouting ideals and values. Probably I feel a pang of jealousy. It’s easy to take a shot at people who have made it financially – they can afford to take the moral high ground.

I certainly have little time for Sam Walton (Wal-Mart) or Ray Kroc (McDonalds). Exploiting workers, abusing animals, destroying the world or creating unhealthy lifestyles just doesn’t cut it. Perhaps working in the non-profit world balances the lack of acquiring wealth with a healthy dose of narcissistic self-righteousness.

Noah Alper began and built up Noah’s Bagels from a single bagel shop in Berkeley. Having read his book, I think he is different. He instilled a code of values that begins with his own actions. Being an observant Jew, Alper anchors his moral business code in Judaism. This certainly excited me as a Jew. In a time when so many people’s lives were ruined by a greedy and unethical businessman who happened to be Jewish, it is important for a few Tzadikim (righteous men and women) to stand up in the business world.

Since coming to the US I have found my managerial style questioned on a number of occasions. Many times in this thin treatise, Business Mensch, I found myself nodding in agreement with his values and principles and remembering similar scenarios.

I found it strangely validating that Alper, an unapologetic entrepreneur, believes in living by such values in his daily practice. And values are only worth something if they are truly upheld on a daily basis.

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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.

A Zoroastrian Revival

Let’s talk truth. When it comes to the environment, Christianity, Judaism and Islam have failed miserably. These monotheistic religions are not overtly hostile toward the environment but they place humanity in an elitist position, thereby relegating all else to servitude.

Prior to the rise of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, mankind worshipped many gods with a significant portion dedicated to mother earth. The so-called pagan religions respected nature and, in turn, help protect the environment. Then along comes the big three monotheistic religions—endorsing man’s entitlement over all things earthly—and the entire ecosystem begins to progressively deteriorate.

Man has forgotten how to work with nature and now pushes against her, consuming a lot of energy in the process. We are so out of control that we use 10 fossil fuel calories to produce one calorie of food. These fossil fuels—in the form of pesticides, fertilizers and desiel—have turned the soil barren and the skies brown. Take a shovel to any industrialized farm and turn over the dirt. You will not find anything living; no worms, no ladybugs and no beneficial bacteria. It’s all dead. Plants will only grow with more fertilizer and more pesticide—death breeds death.

It’s odd that these three faiths would have such little respect for all creatures and earthly elements when one considers their origin. Christianity, Judaism and Islam are all derivatives of Zoroastrianism. Yes, that’s right, Zoroastrianism is the first monotheistic—one god—religion dating back to 2000 BCE or 4000 years ago.

The three prevailing “one almightly god” religions are fundamentally the same and, for all practical purposes, just copy-cats of Zoroastrianism. However, Zoroastrianism has one major difference. From its inception, it preached ecology and care of the environment with respect and reverence for nature. Zoroastrians must protect the sky, water, earth, plant, animal and fire. At the end of times, when “all things” are harmonious, mankind must give the world back to God in its original perfect form.

The eco-friendly beliefs of Zoroastrians are in stark contrast to the trivial considerations Judaism, Christianity and Islam gives to nature. Imagine what the world would be like today if these three religions also copied the environmental aspects of the original “one god” religion.

Perhaps we need a Zoroastrian revival.

-Roger Ingalls

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Roger Ingalls is well travelled and has seen the good and bad of many foreign governments. He hopes his blogging will encourage readers to think more deeply about the American political system and its impact on US citizens and the international community.

The N Word Revisted

A couple of days ago I wrote about the controversy surrounding the new edition of Mark Twain’s The Adventure of Huckleberry Finn that has changed the N-word for slave.

I wrote that I wasn’t comfortable as it is not for a white person to decide how a person of color feels when they hear the word in the context of literature. I have been thinking about this ever since. Before I share my own thoughts, I want to give the floor to Suzanna La Rosa, co-founder and publisher of NewSouth Books. While admitting their offices have been flooded with negative e-mails and phone calls, she states:

“We didn’t undertake this lightly. If our publication fosters good discussion about how language affects learning and certainly the nature of censorship, then difficult as it is likely to be, it’s a good thing.”

Others, however, have attacked the publishers for “censorship” and “political correctness,” or simply for the perceived sin of altering the words of a literary icon. The hefty “Autobiography of Mark Twain,” published last year, has become a best seller.

English teachers have also expressed their objection to the idea of cleaning up the novel. Elizabeth Absher, an English teacher at South Mountain High School in Arizona, says:

“I’m not offended by anything in ‘Huck Finn.’ I am a big fan of Mark Twain, and I hear a lot worse in the hallway in front of my class.”

Ms. Absher does not teach ‘Huck Finn’ because it is a long book. She does, however teach many of  Twain’s short stories and makes “Huck Finn” available for students.

“I think authors’ language should be left alone,” she said. “If it’s too offensive, it doesn’t belong in school, but if it expresses the way people felt about race or slavery in the context of their time, that’s something I’d talk about in teaching it.”

In another New York Times editorial, That’s Not Twain, the opinion was made very clear.

“When “Huckleberry Finn” was published, Mark Twain appended a note on his effort to reproduce “painstakingly” the dialects in the book, including several backwoods dialects and “the Missouri negro dialect.” What makes “Huckleberry Finn” so important in American literature isn’t just the story, it’s the richness, the detail, the unprecedented accuracy of its spoken language. There is no way to “clean up” Twain without doing irreparable harm to the truth of his work.”

I am not going into the sanctity of literature or the censorship of authors. There is plenty of such reactions on the blogosphere. But, in my previous post, I wrote about how as a white person and even as a Jew, I felt this was for African-Americans to decide. If I am offending them by reading such words and having our children read them.

This is what has been on my mind. As a Jew, I resent when people use the word Holocaust freely. I believe it cheapens what the Nazis did to my people. I think where anti-Semitic words are used in a historical context, I want them to remain so. When my son heard the N-word being used in the audio book I was listening to, he challenged me. What came out of that was a discussion of slavery, of racism, and of the way we can hurt people by using offensive words.

If literature can facilitate such discussions and empower a greater understanding of slavery and racism, I think I side with those who want the N-word left in Twain’s work. Nothing will come out of burying our sins. We need to face them, admit to them, and ensure they will never happen again.
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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

People Making A Difference: Michelle Citrin

Last month I highlighted a song posted on  You Tube by Michelle Citrin. I want to show a few more. She is a great singer, songwriter and entertainer. But I want to highlight something else that Michelle achieves through her artistic expression.

Michelle writes some of her songs to ignite an interest among young Jews about their religion and culture. Judaism, like many other religions, needs to find innovative ways to attract the millennial generation. We all do, whether selling a product or promoting a cause.

All expressions of art are a great tool to do this. I write to motivate people to act against a social injustice. Others use art, music and acting.

Michelle is doing a great job. My staff and I often promote her songs to generate an excitement when we near a particular religious festival or event. Last week, I showed her Pass the Candle song, but Citrin also gets involved in activist gatherings. Here she is at a 9/11 benefit concert.


While Michelle is writing some powerful songs not about Judaism, her music reminds my wife of the Indigo Girls – and that is a serious endorsement. Please check out (and purchase) more of her music at her website.
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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

 

 

 

 

 

One Day – A Message for the New Year

I spent a long time trying to think of a profound message for my top-of-the-year post. I settled for a song of hope, a beautiful accompanying video, and a wish that we can all move towards a transformation – personally and as a society.

Matisyahu is an example of a person who can be what he wants. He grew up in West Chester, Pennsylvania, as a Reconstructionist Jew (more experiential than the Orthodox theology) and found himself moving to the opposite end of the axis as he became an Orthodox Jew.


This never stopped him developing his love for reggae and his ability to feel comfortable as an orthodox Jew and a reggae/hip-hop artist is a lesson for all. This song is his gift to the world.

Wishing everyone a year of peace, prosperity and love. One day…
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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

 

Light A Candle for Freedom

Tonight Jews around the world will light the first candle of Chanukah. For a description of the festival please click on the link. The purpose of this blog is to focus on the theme rather than the ritual. For Chanukah is the Jewish festival of freedom. And freedom is a universal theme.

Over the next week I wish to focus on those who are not free and what we, as activists, can do.

The fact that many religions have a festive holiday deep in the winter is another bond that binds us. Here is my offering to kick off the festive season. It is one of a series of cool, hip Jewish songs for different festivals by a great, rising star.

Michelle Citrin has an amazing voice, an amazing personality and deserves so much more success. So please check her out here.

Anecdote: Actually Ashkenazi Jews (originally from Europe) light the first candle and gradually add an additional one until the menorah is full of eight lights. Sephardi Jews (those originally from Arab and African lands) light all eight and gradually reduce daily until there is only one candle lit on the eighth day. Not many people know that. So if you are lighting the candles with a Sephardi Jew, surprise them.
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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

 

The Hazon Food Justice Conference

Hazon means ‘vision’ in Hebrew. It sums up the organization which I will highlight in a food justice week planned for next month. It also sums up my friend, Nigel Savage, who had the vision to create such an organization before the topic was on many people’s radar.

Hazon is hosting a Food Conference here on the West Coast. It will be a unique gathering of hopefully 200 professionals, lay leaders, and foodies (their term, but I love it!) to connect, collaborate, and continue to build the New Jewish Food Movement.

It is surprising how much the food justice movement has captivated the activist mind. I think it is because this is work that can be done at home in your own neighborhood and in Africa. It is a movement which is at once local and global, and you can see results quickly.

The conference will  be December 23-26, 2010 at Walker Creek Ranch in Sonoma. I am taking a group of students there in the spring for a hands-on green experience for the second time. It is an excellent venue, the staff are simply wonderful, and the food is both healthy and delicious.

SessionChevruta

Programming at the Hazon conference will include (I’m quoting from the website):

  • Exploring the rich tradition of Jewish thought on food, agriculture, and consumption
  • Examining the Jewish community’s role to create a socially and economically-just and environmentally-sound food system
  • Networking and regional gatherings for farmers, educators, activists, chefs, entrepreneurs, and other groups of people to collaborate and establish action plans
  • Celebrating a joyous Shabbat

HavdallahBagels

What else would a Jew want to do over Christmas – other than eating at a local, organic, MSG-free, Chinese restaurant?

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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 www.alonshalev.com

 

 

 

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