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”

National Sax Day – Joshua Redman

Three weeks ago, November 6th, was National Saxophone Day but we can be excused for being just too distracted. Here is my tribute to the day, better late than never, recognizing a great Left Coast local boy.

I have always prided myself with enjoying more than one genre of music. It seems a waste. I have my favorite heavy metal groups, punk, soul and R&B. I have flirted with country and now, with my son’s guidance, am tentatively learning to enjoy rap. Somehow, until I came to live in Berkeley, jazz just passed me by. So it is fitting that the first jazz artist that I learned to admire is Berkeley born and bred.

Joshua Redman is both African American and Jewish American. I have no idea how this fusion affected his music, but I am aware that African American Jews have additional obstacles within even the liberal Californian Jewish community. When it is only a second glance born out of reflex, it is still one glance too many. Sometimes it is more and I have had the misfortune to witness this while working with an African American Jewish student at the San Francisco Hillel Jewish Student Center.

According to his biography Redman was exposed to many kinds of music at the Center for World Music in Berkeley, where his mother studied South Indian dance. He graduated from Berkeley High School [1], class of 1986 (my eldest son will study here next year). In 1991, Redman graduated summa cum laude with a degree in Social Studies from Harvard University, a path I would be happy for one of my boys to emulate.

Redman won the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Saxophone Competition, also in 1991, and began focusing on his musical career. I am not qualified to judge his music; I can only say that as a consumer, I have become captivated by it. When I return home from work, tired and facing making dinner and helping the kids negotiate their homework, Redman’s sax is often in the background.

Redman was an inaugural member of the Independent Music Awards’ judging panel to support independent artists. Unfortunately, with the decline of session studio work Redman’s contributions are gradually being replaced with computer-based synthesized music. While again claiming no musical talent or judgment, I have to share that I find the rise of computer-based synthesized music to be disturbing. If I can claim to play music because I own a certain computer program, then Houston we have a problem.

My youngest recently told me that he can choose a new instrument and can’t decide between a number of instruments including trumpet and sax. I thought of Joshua Redman and fired up my favorite Redman album, Freedom in the Groove, onto my stereo system. No pressure there, son.

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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 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 www.alonshalev.com

Surviving Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday and Buy Nothing Day

It’s got very confusing. I don’t know anyone who is not aware of Black Friday, Cyber Monday, or any of a number of other crazy sales days or anti-consumerism initiatives.

I have to admit that I have stood in line in past years and exploited the opportunity. I feel okay with this because I have always bought something that my family ‘needs’ (let’s not go there, okay), and would have bought anywhere. The self-righteous like to point fingers at the fanatics, the violent, and the irresponsible. Fair game. But, as Eugene Cho commented a year ago, this is often the privileged who can afford to buy these items year round.

So the question is: do we throw the baby out with the bath water? Answer: only if there is a special deal on babies or bath water – check out Bed Bath and Way Beyond.

But here are five steps to embrace Black Friday and not feel like you sold your soul to consumerism.

1) Decide on a number of items that you want to buy, how much you are going to spend, and only buy these.

2) Bring an extra cup to share that hot chocolate you have to avoid hyperthermia and share with the person in front of you.

3) Support Small Business Saturday by patronizing a local family-owned shop, also for something you need.

4) I’m impressed with the idea of Buy Nothing Day. I think it is something incredibly powerful and educational. The kids will love you for it!

5) Take a portion of the day and do something for charity. Maybe donate what you bought last year at Black Friday to Goodwill or Out of the Closet. You need to donate something of worth. Those stained, musty t-shirts don’t count.

6) There is no No. 6 – we are sticking to a plan and the plan was 5 ideas, remember? You alway want more than you set out for, looking for the extra deal and value. What do you think this is? Black Friday?

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. His next novel, Unwanted Heroes, is due out in early 2013. 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).

Oh Florida

Admittedly, this post is being written before the end of election day, so there is still time for other states and polling stations to screw up. But Florida, really? Again? And Ohio: did anyone tell you that the whole nation is watching you?

Now I have organized big events, though nothing on the scale of an election for a state. I have also made mistakes, but I have tried to learn from them. Florida – you embarrassed us all in 2000 – could you not be bothered to learn something from it and try to improve your performance? 

Already, accusations of fraud, misconduct, and six-hour waiting lines have dominated the news of electoral procedure from your state. Reports of voters (your employers) having to wait for several hours and cast their vote at 2.30am is not only intolerable, but abusive.

A line of early voters snakes around a parking lot at a voting location in Columbus, Ohio. (Michael Finnegan/Twitter)

Readers of Left Coast Voices know me for a man who doesn’t need too much encouragement to entertain a juicy conspiracy theory, but it is either considering electoral tampering, or gross mismanagement on a scale that is harder to swallow than Area 51.

It is not just the people on the ground who oversee the complicated process of facilitating a line of voters who put a cross on a piece of paper fold it and put in a slot…and then counting them afterwards. It goes right up to the top of their organization, no doubt led by people who hold degrees in organizational management and earn a good salary.

Perhaps we need to hand this task over to Event Planners. I attend a few conferences and weddings every year and they flow without a hitch. I know, an election is more complex, so take the best and brightest from the field. At least there is no drunk uncle making a toast or bridegroom having cold feet at the last-minute.

In fact, there is little that cannot be anticipated four years ahead. So Florida, Ohio et al: start planning now for 2016. If it truly is a matter of having the best organizational minds running the show, then do it. Democracy is too important to be abused and the voter is the foundation stone of democracy. 

Otherwise, we conspiracy theorists might just start suspecting.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. His next novel, Unwanted Heroes, is due out in early 2013. 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).

Ann Bear – Another Angel In Heaven

Yesterday, a dear friend, mentor and philanthropist, Ann Bear, lost her struggle with cancer, and passed away.

Jewish texts teach of thirty-six light-bringers who wander the earth sharing love and compassion with all. Ann Bear was one of those people. After I got to know her better, I would watch her as she worked the room at a philanthropic event. She would leave a trail of positive energy in her wake.

I got to know Ann closely after her husband, Irwin, passed away. Irwin had been the President of the Board of Directors at San Francisco Hillel Jewish Student Center, where I work.

I happened to meet Ann on two consecutive days at Jewish events and then bumped in to her as I entered, and she exited, the building of the SF Jewish Federation. I was on a low professionally, and quite surprised when I blurted out how amazing she is to be all the time working for philanthropic causes.

She looked at me in astonishment. No, she told me, she is blessed to have a partner in Irwin who can put her in this position and who encourages her to spend her time in this way.

Anyway, she said, I am the one who is amazing, and went on to tell me of the important work I am doing and how inspiring I am to her.

I walked away, my body straighter, with a big smile on my face.

That is the effect that Ann had on many others and me. It is for us to learn and emulate the way in which she lived her life. It is what I believe she would most want.

I visited Ann last week and spent almost four hours with her. She insisted that we focus on a project that she was helping me with. When I kept asking if she needed to stop to rest, she refused. She felt a sense of urgency and the need to give as much as she could while she still could. She lived her life for others right up until the end.

We must celebrate her life and continue to walk in her path. There is no greater way to pay tribute.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. His next novel, Unwanted Heroes, is due out in early 2013. 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).

 

Halloween in Berkeley

As a newbie in this fair land, there is much I love about America. I say this because so many of the blog posts that I, and my esteemed colleagues at Left Coast Voices, are critical of one thing or another. I love the freedom, liberty and Halloween. 

I know this ancient, spiritual festival is now commercial, sugar and additive prone. I know these are the hazy remnants and perhaps denigration of the customs and culture of a downtrodden religion. But I love how everyone throws on a costume for a few hours, get all excited and friendly, and for a few hours share the sandpit together without squabbling over toys or elections … and I enjoy the kids doing it too.

Perhaps it’s living in Berkeley (I have no experience outside of cold, awkward England), but when whole streets get into the swing together, something very special happens, if only for an evening.

My first novel, A Gardener’s Tale, illustrated the struggle between the Pagan religions and Christianity in rural England. It follows two years in the lives of the villagers and a mysterious stranger who comes into their community. One of the elements felt by the villagers is the breakdown of their community, how they are becoming increasingly estranged from their neighbors.

Through reigniting the Pagan religion that once united them, the protagonist offers an opportunity to reclaim their community. We need this today more than ever. How many of us really know our neighbors and those living across the road? My neighborhood began a community initiative to get to know each other after a woman was attacked by a man who tried to steal her purse. As she screamed for help, there was a spontaneous outpouring of people from their houses. Out of nowhere, that street became a community. But it lasted only a year or so and we returned to our own little connected/unconnected worlds.

We need Halloweens to bind us together rather than crimes. With so much violence and conflict in the world that sees to revolve around religion, perhaps we also need the gentler, older religions. The earth certainly does.

So here’s to candy and spontaneous celebration. Happy Samhain, everyone. And I know that a week before the Presidential elections it is probably a relief to read something that is politic-free, but I couldn’t resist the pumpkin below. After all, this is Halloween in Berkeley.

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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).

In Praise of Editors

I have adapted this post from my elfwriter blog because I am aware that a large proportion of the faithful from Left Coast Voices are either writers or people interested in the writing world. I have made a few adaptations from the original post. 

No blog post this weekend. 

Two weeks ago, I received the manuscript to At The Walls of Galbrieth, my first foray into the world of Young Adult Epic Fantasy, back from my editor. Like many authors, I thought I had sent her a pretty clean story. I had gone over it several times myself, had it scrutinized by the venerable Berkeley Writers Group, and put it through the laundry with softener (I think you get my point).

At first, I was a bit dismayed to see all those little boxes in ‘Track Changes’ fighting each other for space along the right-hand side of my page. But after following and accepting her changes for the first three chapters, I am in awe of what an impact the eye of an independent professional can have, how much s/he can discern, how a few changes can add such clarity.

My last novel, The Accidental Activist, is a social justice-themed novel that fictionalized the McDonalds libel trial in England in the 1990′s. To show how thwarted and depressed my protagonist felt, I had used an English soccer game of my favorite team, Arsenal, as an analogy. My editor had written to me and, while expressing that she did not follow soccer, had researched a bit and thought that I could use an actual game from 2004. She had been right. The game was perfect.

With Tourmaline Press working hard with a gifted cover artist in St. Louis, an ISBN number (or three) assigned to the book, everything is taking shape. On Friday, I wrote the dedication at the front of the book with tears in my eyes. But that is a story for another time.

This update is just to let you know why there is no blog post this weekend. Here let me click the button…. Okay – posted!

Have a great weekend and if you know an editor – give ’em a hug.

Elfwriter

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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 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).

50 Years of Jazz Despite Everything

The Preservation Hall Jazz Band have seen it all – war, segregation, hurricanes – they may have closed the band down, but in the name of jazz and New Orleans, they rose each time stronger than ever. There is something about New Orleans resilience that keeps me coming back every year since Hurricane Katrina to help rebuild something that must not be lost. 

So it is that we are celebrating a half century of one of jazz’s landmark institutions. Last month, NPR paid tribute to the band and I want to add my admiration for their talent, freedom of expression, and their resilience. Good music can’t be kept down. You don’t have to be a jazz aficionado to appreciate the fusion of talent and energy when this band is on stage.

Big jazz bands are not necessarily the choice of music of the younger generations, but I have seen my sons join me at the screen and admire the vibrancy they saw before them. There is nothing technological, no slick videos or lyrics, which attract my boys and their friends, but they can understand what I feel. They are touched. Seeds are sowed. Jazz will live on. So will The Preservation Hall Band. Below is a short but wonderful tribute.

Happy 50th Anniversary.

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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 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).

Litquake – When Literature Shakes/Shapes A City

Today kicks off Litquake, a week of literary readings, panels, workshops and talks, that has become a tradition of San Francisco. This week, there are 160+ events with 850+ authors presenting. 

The climax is a crawl around the city to famous literary landmarks with events along the way. If you are interested (and it’s not like theres Fleet Week, or a free music festival to attend), you can pick up details at the Litquake website.

Hope to see you somewhere along the hilly streets of our fair city.

Alon

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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 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).

 

Guest Blogger – Suzie Thornton

Suzie Thornton is the female protagonist in The Accidental Activist. Being a fictional character has never stopped her expressing her own opinion.

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I couldn’t help myself. I couldn’t stand by and watch big business trample over individuals, communities, and villagers. Someone had to stand up to the multinational corporations and who better than me? Well many people actually, who are smarter, more articulate and strategic. But back then I was a young, single woman, with no assets that anyone could threaten to take from me. I was working part-time in a bookstore. And maybe, just maybe, I was looking for a fight.

Or so I thought.

Helen Steel – the real heroine

No one suspected that the Oilspill court case would become the longest in British history. No one imagined that I would be denied legal aid and forced to defend myself against the most accomplished lawyer in British libel history. It took a huge chunk of my life away from me, something I will never get back. But I had to do it. I simply wouldn’t be me if I had ignored or buckled to the threat. And I got to know Matt in a way that I doubt would have happened.

It’s funny but one of my friends who read The Accidental Activist claimed that it is a romance novel. Of course it isn’t (and don’t tell the author – he might try and sell more books this way). The Accidental Activist is a courtroom drama wherein a multinational corporation tries to crush a tribe in South America and anyone who tries to stop them, or highlight their injustices.

I studied Political Science at London University, but I never learned as much as I did taking on the big guys. You can never understand how the legal system helps the multinationals until you are on the inside. And then it is simply frightening.

I’m glad that The Accidental Activist focuses on Matt. He was an unsung hero, a man who not only changed the outcome of our court case, but changed the face of political advocacy. I’m glad Alon Shalev was able to get inside of Matt’s head and show his transformation from a self-absorbed yuppie to a man who was ready to harness his talents to fight social justice.

But the sex! Did you guys have to get so explicit about it? You know my mother will read the book, right?

This blog post is dedicated to Helen Steel – the real heroine in the real McDonald’ Libel case upon which The Accidental Activist is based.

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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).

 

Guest Post: Matt Fielding – The Accidental Activist

The following post has been written by Matt Fielding, the fictional protagonist of The Accidental Activist. The struggle by two young people not to cower to the bullying of a multinational corporation (the real McLibel trial) upon which the story is loosely based, is as relevant today as it was 15 years ago.

Over to you, Matt.

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Thanks, Alon. I am truly humbled that an author would stil feel so connected to his characters years after he finished writing The Accidental Activist. I feel that after the Democratic Party Convention (and the Republicans, last week) that our message is just as important today as then.

Don’t get me wrong. When the multinational sued my girlfriend, Suzie, and her colleague, Bill, I was stunned. How could the British judicial system not protect their rights, not provide legal aid,  not come to their aid. The reality is that this astonishingly became the longest trial in British history because many, many people got involved. This was always a grassroots campaign.

Shalev saw fit to make me his protagonist, not just because my role as the web designer was significant (the Oilspill.com website was probably the first ever interactive advocacy website, a conduit for the free flow of information on a global level,  that enabled Suzie and Bill to act and respond at the necessary legal level without any formal training), but because of who I was – a regular guy, just like you.

The real website – McSpotlight.org

Let me be honest: Before meeting Suzie, I couldn’t have told you the names of our government’s cabinet members. I knew more about Arsenal Football Club’s reserve side than our shadow cabinet and, being in opposition meant Chelsea, Manchester United, Barcelona, and Liverpool, not the Conservatives, Liberals or the Green Party.

I only got involved because I fancied Suzie (love came along, but much later) and wanted to date her. I can’t tell you at what point I became politically aware, or at what point it went beyond personal, but it did.

This reckless multinational corporation, like so many today, hurt many people I loved and respected. My friends became victims to a business model fueled by the pain and destruction left in its wake, the devastating effect these companies have on the individual who willingly or unwillingly gets in the way of their profit margin.

I admit I was a self-absorbed yuppie out to get laid. But it was when I read The Accidental Activist that I understood the personal transformation that I underwent. And if my story can in any way help someone else make the personal changes necessary to help this embattled world of ours become a better place, well, I am proud to have been the protagonist of The Accidental Activist.

The conventions were pretty, slick, and occasionally amusing. But they were made for TV, for the passive viewing of a population who have become desensitized to real advocacy and are willing to allow the politicians and mass media to spin whatever message they want. Accountability is almost non-existant as politician after politician,  who in any other work sector would have been fired a long time ago, continue to pass the blame and hide behind pretty rhetoric. The debt crises didn’t happen last night, neither did the social security fiasco, diminishing education and healthcare and…well you get the picture.

And the media lap it up. Why not? It makes their life easier. The Internet offers a chance to break this conspiracy. It has helped bring down dictators – it can change the face of our political system – but only if we the people want it bad enough.

The Accidental Activist is as relevant today as it was in the 90’s.

Matt Fielding
Oilspill.com Webmaster.

The real heroes – Helen Steel and Dave Morris

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

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