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 students”

My Hero Died Yesterday

I can’t really think of anything that can truly reflect how I am feeling as I write this.

I spent the day yesterday embroiled in a political rollercoaster of hope and despair, discussion and vitriol, hugs and finger-pointing. I work with students at SF State where the relationship between Jewish and Palestinian students is so often strained and where many of us try desperately to lift ourselves from the accusations and blame to the listening and reaching out.

At some point in the afternoon, I mentioned to a frustrated group of students that it is possible for two peoples who have such a history of conflict to put it behind them if they truly desire peace. It has happened, I said, in South Africa, in our lifetime, under the visionary leadership of Nelson Mandela.

There was nodding, but then one student looked at me, sensing that I did not know: “He just passed away,” she said quietly, and I needed a moment to compose myself. I knew such news was to be expected, had been preparing myself for months, but it nonetheless knocked the wind out of me.

I REMEMBER as a 10 year-old, I had a sticker on my pencil-case – Free Nelson Mandela – his incarceration was the first political campaign I took on. A teacher told me that I should not have a political sticker in the classroom and then seemed to relent and told me I could keep it if I told the class what the sticker represented. I remember standing before my class, but not what I said. Still I guess it was my first political speech.

I REMEMBER when I demonstrated as a teenager in front of the South African Embassy in London (late 1970’s, early 1980’s) and was taken by police when I stood on the embassy steps.  I was half proud of myself, half fearing what my parents would say if/when they found out.

I REMEMBER crying with joy as I watched his release and heard his first speech as a free man.

I REMEMBER watching in wonder as he became the first black President of South Africa and made his inaugural speech.

Whatever else happens, in the many conflicts around the world, in the conflict I am embroiled in, when we need to open our mouths and speak up, we should all take a step back and wonder: What would Madiba say?

I REMEMBER Nelson Mandela and I pledge: I WILL NEVER FORGET his lessons.

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Finally, here is a great 13-minute video of his life with some amazing footage:

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of GalbriethThe First Decree, and Ashbar – Wycaan Master Book 3 – all released by Tourmaline Books. Shalev is also the author of three social justice-themed novels including Unwanted Heroes. He swears there is a connection. More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter). Hang out with Alon on Google+

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It Takes An Unarmed Village

Kudos to President Obama. While everyone else is just talking (or blogging) about gun control, he decided to get the ball rolling with a package that overflows with common sense.

A month after we witnessed yet another horrific massacre, Obama challenged a cowering Congress to pass universal background checks and bans on military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines like the ones used in the Newtown, Conn., school shooting.

imgres-3Fighting words or not, he knows that a deeply divided Congress is an integral partner to pass the most necessary and effective measures for preventing more mass shootings.

“To make a real and lasting difference, Congress must act,” Obama said. “And Congress must act soon.”

Already those brave souls in Congress are burning the midnight candle forcing the NRA to send rational leaders to participate in the debate and selling their shares in the pork industry, fearlessly risking their seats by taking on the special interest groups that put so many of them there in the first place.

Okay I apologize. You probably read that paragraph twice, rubbed your eyes, and vowed to  ditch the decaf and return to caffeinated coffee.

Immediately, the NRA was up in arms: ” “Attacking firearms and ignoring children is not a solution to the crisis we face as a nation. Only honest, law-abiding gun owners will be affected and our children will remain vulnerable to the inevitability of more tragedy.”

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus dismissed Obama’s measures as “an executive power grab.”

imgres“He paid lip service to our fundamental constitutional rights,” Priebus said of the president, “but took actions that disregard the Second Amendment and the legislative process.”

It seems to me that one of two things need to happen and they both require acts of courage by huge numbers of people.

The first is a mass movement of people who are willing to make this the focus of attention until the mid terms. I doubt this is sustainable. There are too many other issues that effect our pockets and we are simply too attention deficit and the media are too deft at facilitating this. 

The second involves an (unarmed) uprising within the NRA. I have already written about the NRA historically leading gun reform policy. The only way this is going to happen is if the moderate majority of NRA members make a stand:

I realize this hope contains too flaws: there might not be  a moderate majority and, even if there is, it might be too intimidated to stand up to the extremists. Secondly, it renders my blog title inaccurate.

As the President said: “Behind the scenes, they’ll do everything they can to block any commonsense reform and make sure nothing changes whatsoever, The only way we will be able to change is if their audience, their constituents, their membership says this time must be different, that this time we must do something to protect our communities and our kids.”

Here is something we can each do TODAY. Find a friend who is a member of the NRA and take them out for coffee. Invite them to raise their voice – make this about background checks and automatic weapons. Reassure them that the gun they feel they need to protect their family is not threatened.

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President Obama is not going to succeed alone. He needs his friends and he needs the moderate majority of the American people. 

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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).

Castles of Glass – Linkin Park

There are many mediums to promote causes. When I recently spoke to a group about Unwanted Heroes – a novel that highlights the plight of war veterans and homelessness – a gray-haired man came up to me, patted my arm and said: “It is a story that must be told.”

He doesn’t read fiction, only non-fiction, but I appreciated his support. He probably isn’t a fan of Linkin Park – a rock band that incorporates a fair amount of rap – but I hope he would appreciate this beautiful song and video.

If you are not into loud music, turn the volume down so you can just hear it while it accompanies the video.

Not the happiest way to enter the weekend, but as the old man said about Unwanted Heroes: It is a story that must be told.

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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).

 

Scapegoat Hunter

Even if you aren’t a big fan of Jon Stewart and The Daily Show, there occasionally comes an episode that is much more serious than usual. Stewart, and his team, know when there is a need for a more cutting-edge episode and, when dealing with the outcry for a debate on gun control, he hit the mark on January 8, 2013.

http://www.thedailyshow.com/full-episodes/tue-january-8-2013-stanley-mcchrystal?xrs=share_copy

You know he hit the mark because of the furor that it stirred up. It is a touch ironic that it takes a comedian to create a debate. It is easy to claim that he showed us the extremists, but these were the heads of the NRA and national TV figures who reach millions each day.

imgres-7But it occurred to me that there must be a large group of gun-carrying people, who are not paranoid that they might need to overthrow the government, and who are not planning to go out and shoot one or many people. There must be a significant number of NRA members who have a gun in their house which they envisage using to defend their family should someone break in.

Where are they? Why are they not speaking up? Is there a fear-factor within the NRA that you can lose your membership, your gun license, or that you might be outright intimidated by the extremists?

No one should have a problem with gun debate. This is a democracy: we all talk, we all listen. No? What is the issue with opening a debate over automatic weapons? What is wrong with looking to how mentally unstable people get their gun license?

imgres-6None of the decisions that might come out of such a rational national debate will affect the average American of good standing and their genuinely perceived need for a gun in their home.

It was interesting that national hero, General Stanley McChrystal, was the Daily Show guest that night. Stewart could not resist asking the general and his answers were so articulate.

imgres-5“You can give the single individual the ability to do extraordinary damage – I just don’t think you can give everyone that ability.”

I want to believe that there are very few members of the NRA who believe a man should be able to walk into a public area and shoot off 30 rounds in 27 seconds, as happened in Aurora. 

Would the rational majority of the NRA please stand up – unless they are the ones feeling intimidated.

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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).

Inauguration Day – Four More Years

It was a tough election, tougher than most outsiders realize. There was a point when I just couldn’t listen to righteous left-wingers who were sitting back drinking their decafs and stating why they couldn’t possibly support President Obama and bringing up all the promises that he wasn’t able to fulfill.

There is a particular radio station that infuriated me. Sitting in their plush studio they rolled out every possible so-called liberal, who were watching from the touchline, their hands deep in their pockets. Every time I got into my wife’s car, I turned the radio off before putting my seatbelt on.

They were woefully irresponsible. They left Obama to stand alone in the gladiator arena for too long.

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There was a point when I would rather speak to an NRA card carrier in a swing state than some family and friends about politics.

I’m not under any illusion that Barack Obama was less than perfect in his first four years. Neither is he. I’m also not under any illusion that many of the activists who helped put him there were seriously missing at the mid-terms and for much of the past campaign – I’ll raise my hand and admit to being one of them.

However, Monday is Inauguration Day and we begin a new chapter. Four more years to put right the terrible damage inflicted by a war-hungry and greedy minority.

Remember this?

Let’s not sit back and make the same mistake again. Game On!

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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).

 

 

Back to Gun Control – Now

I have to admit that I feel a bit intimidated writing this post. The truth is that I started to write it shortly after the Sandy Hook Elementary School. My blog posts on gun control have elicited the most virulent responses, primarily from people who didn’t even bother to read the posts. 

But, as I watched the tragedy unfold on twitter, those who immediately ran to man the barricades shocked me. Most of us were just trying to glean information, to come to terms with what I hope we all see as a pointless and heart-wrenching tragedy.

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My first response to these tweets was that this was not the time: not for those who were inevitably going to call for gun control or those who would defend it. So I held off. In reality, I didn’t feel I could write something rational then either.

I am proud that there are NRA members who, while they disagreed with my previous posts, respected that I was not taking an extremist stand, and joined the debate. These are the rational members of the NRA and they have a voice that the rest of us need to empower so that others will allow them to be heard.

But we need to have the debate and it cannot be held under the shadow of a tragedy. In the same vein, we need to establish parameters for the debate. There are a number of points I wish to make:

1. Historically, the NRA was governed by brave leaders who saw a need for gun control and took the initiative to ensure their members were well represented in policy decisions. As such, they were often a rational and productive voice from within the organization. We need brave leaders in the NRA today. 

2. I recognize the inherent need that many men and women feels to be able to defend themselves and their families. I believe this can be recognized and, as such, relieve much of the anxiety around gun control debates.

3. This debate should focus on automatic firearms (a weapon that will continue to fire bullets as long as the trigger is pressed and there is ammunition in the magazine). It would allay the fears of people who feel the need for a weapon in their house.

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There is room to prevent a person holding a gun that can deliver the carnage we saw in the last few tragedies. It is a beginning and part of a controllable process.

Let’s not wait for the next tragedy to debate whether we should debate gun control. Let’s do it now and come to the table in an environment of listening and willingness to compromise.

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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).

Never-too-late New Year Greeting

I’m still basking in the New Year glow. There is something so hopeful about switching from December to January that every other monthly transition lacks. Maybe this year will be one of peace. Maybe we will discover a cure for cancer. Maybe we can create an environment that is sustainable. Maybe we can help people find a meaningful occupation, true love, safety, hope.

It will happen … One Day…

.. but only when we realize that despite our differences we can only achieve it together.

Happy New Year.

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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).

The Three R’s – Adopt An Author

‘Tis the season of goodwill and I’m thinking we should share the love. 

In Judaism, the teacher Maimonides offered eight levels of giving – the highest being to help a person find a sustainable way to lift themselves out of poverty. I have written numerous times about micro-lending, which I think is an amazing solution, but I want to focus on the world of writers. There are many new authors out there and they need a lift up to be noticed.

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I want to invite you to adopt the three R’s and adopt an author for a few months. Disclaimer – you are about to discover I am dyslexic!

R – Read the work of the author. There is no bigger compliment for someone who has spent years writing a novel than to have others read it. Believe me – when I receive a tweet or email from someone I don’t know and they tell me they are reading my books, I get so excited. 

R – Rite about the person. No put away that athame (Pagan ritual dagger) away, but make your computer your sacred space. (W)rite to friends recommending the author, blog about her/him, or comment on other people’s blogs, take to the twitterverse – it works!

R – Review. Despite the controversy surrounding paid reviews, it is still one of the most powerful tools that helps a person perusing amazon, smashwords, B&N, goodreads, etc.

 

Here are a few other ways to help a struggling author (I couldn’t find an R to begin the sentence!): 

1.     Buy their book, if not for yourself, then as a gift for a friend’s birthday, or instead of a bottle of wine next time you’re invited for dinner. Maybe as a Xmas/Chanukah/Kwanzaa present. Did you know that you can buy an e-book as a gift and send it to your friend’s e-Reader?

2.     Know someone who is in a book club? Suggest that they nominate your friend’s book for the group to read.

3.     Donate a copy of their book in a fundraising raffle or silent auction as a prize. It is great exposure.

4.     Hug an author. It won’t propel them into the New York Times Bestseller list, but it means a lot.

This is my final post for the year. I want to thank each and every one of you for taking a few moments each day and sharing our blog posts, agreeing, disagreeing, laughing and sighing. Thank you to Tom Rossi and Roger Ingalls for offering different voices and enriching the discussion.

Wishing everyone a year of peace and meaning.

Alon 

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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).

 

 

PTSD – Never Leaves You

This is an old blog post, but the subject is very much on my mind with the release of Unwanted Heroes.

I left my office late that damp, foggy San Francisco night. I drove my car onto Junipero Serra, a main street, and then pulled over, needing to wipe the windows for safe visibility. As I worked my way round the back of the car, wheels screeched around the corner behind me. I instantly crouched down low behind my car and my whole body tensed. I was ready. I could feel my heart thumping.

When I saw the joy riders speed past me, their music blaring, I leaped back into my car,  pulled out and followed them. I think my wheels actually screeched. They would stop at the traffic lights a half-mile away and I could ram my car into theirs. I would teach them a lesson they would never forget. I could clearly imagine the crunching sound from the impact of the two cars and the terror they would feel, similar to the terror that I had just felt.

I pulled up behind them, images of my wife and children instantly grounding me. I breathed heavily and scrambled for some familiar radio station as I followed them to the Daly City exit where I would turn off.

When I had served in the army, I drove plain-clothed deep into enemy territory. My role was to protect someone who received information. There were three guards: one entered with the person, the other two stood outside guarding the car and the entrance.

We were undercover, but wore our army boots and carried our distinct semi-automatic rifles. In short, we were sitting ducks for a sniper, or a drive by. When any car approached, either too slow or too fast, we would take defensive postures. When a car’s wheels screeched to accelerate, we hit the ground, in one well-practiced movement.

My hands remained clenched tightly around my Saab’s steering wheel for the whole 45-minute trip home to the East Bay. When I stepped through the door to our apartment in Berkeley, it was time for dinner, kid’s homework, and to hear stories from the schoolyard.

I had made it home today …  but only just.

But there are friends who were not so fortunate. They never made it home. They never got the opportunity to open the door to a loving, if somewhat crazy, family. It’s the difference between choosing to hit the gas or the brake.

As simple as that.

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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).

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