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 “Jewish identity”

The Menorah and The Xmas Tree – The Perfect Opportunity

Last night was the first night of Chanukah, a Jewish festival celebrating freedom. Since the Jewish calender is lunar, this year Christmas and Chanukah fall at the same time. Even when they are not close together, these two highly visual festivals throw up many challenges for children of Jewish parents – decorations, gifts, commercialism, I’m different from my friends etc.

But with half American Jewry in mixed marriages (only one of the couple is Jewish) this offers different challenges. I meet a lot of students from mixed marriages as well  as members of my synagogue community, and I hear the stories. Such couples really have three options:

1) to follow one religion.

2) to follow no religion.

3) to celebrate both religions.

It is not for me or you to pass judgement on any of the three options. Each couple or family have their own unique factors to consider when deciding. I am not going to talk about how a Jewish couple deal with their child wanting a Christmas tree because his friend has one. This is all about Jewish identity and I feel that the stronger the family’s Jewish identity, the less threatening such discussions are.

I want to strengthen the families who offer both religions. The child will decide when they grow older which spiritual path they choose to walk. These couples offer knowledge and experience in both religions and often have a richer spiritual household for doing so. As this winter semester ended and Christmas decorations were springing up all over San Francisco, I participated in a number of discussions with students at San Francisco Hillel (the Jewish student center) and heard some wonderful and some painful stories.

I wish every couple who must deal with the dilemma of the menorah and Christmas tree will be empowered to enjoy the freedom of however they choose to express their spirituality. I hope those of us who light the menorah will invite our non-Jewish friends to join us. In a couple of days, I will drive my family to join dear Christian friends who have invited us to share their joy. We go as proud Jews: proud of our heritage and proud of our friendships.

Most of all, I am feel blessed to live in the Bay Area and proud to live in a society that can celebrate diversity. The Irish comedian, Dave Allen, who sadly passed away a few years ago, would conclude his TV show for years with the word: “Good night and may your God go with you.”


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).

Two Worlds Converge

Tomorrow I will be selling my book, Oilspill dotcom, at the San Francisco Jewish Community Center Book Festival. I am excited. The festival is about Jewish literature, and not Jewish authors, and since Oilspill dotcom doesn’t have any Jewish content, I count myself lucky to be there.

I have been allowed in through the back door because my full-time job is as the head of a Jewish non-profit which is seen as a vital component in the Jewish Community – The San Francisco Hillel provides educational opportunities and support for Jewish students in a part of the US where it isn’t always easy to be openly Jewish on campus.

My claim with the bookseller at the festival is that I am a recognizable figure and plan to hang out by the book table.

This is true. But it also brings up another issue. I have never exploited this circle of influence to market myself as an author of political fiction. When I launched the book, I certainly told everyone and have received varying degrees of support from students, fellow staff and stakeholders. I could have pushed for more coverage, for readings, and included more plugs in my correspondents and updates.

But generally I have kept the worlds apart. I’m not sure why. I doubt that even those who might take issue with my view of multinational corporations would hold it against me in my work at SF Hillel.

I do believe that part of my drive to write novels that spotlight and challenge social injustices comes from the emphasis that Judaism puts on Tikkun Olam – fixing the world.

So on Sunday I will wear my smarter work clothes to ensure I am recognized and will discuss political literature alongside Jewish identity, look for common ground, and hopefully sell a few books in the process.

Good Writing,

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