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 “Passover”

Everyone Needs A Passover

Tonight, Jews all over the world will sit around the family table (possibly an extended table), recount the story of how our people were emancipated from slavery and eat a meal full of strange dishes. In case it sounds too hellish – we also drink four cups of wine.

While Others Are opressed, The Matzah Should Be Broken

Passover is all about freedom and, as such, has a universal message. It is difficult to celebrate your own freedom when you know that there are others who are still denied theirs. Though it seems to be happening in faraway lands, the interconnectedness of our world makes this premise inaccurate. Many of the clothes and shoes we wear, perhaps even the fancy electronics we need, are made by children, women and men who are little more than slave. Even close to home, human trafficking is happening in each of our cities.

This makes Passover a challenge. It is bittersweet, like the Hillel sandwich that we will eat (a sweet charoseth mix of fruits and honey together with bitter horseradish between two pieces of matzo), and we must strike a balance, remembering those who still strive for the victory and emancipation that we celebrate while enjoying the family-orientated festival with joy, appreciation and laughter. Here is my offering:

Every year, as Passover approaches, we Jews promise not to buy too much matzo. We have to eat it for a week, we don’t want any left over. And every year as Passover comes to a close, we stare at several unopened boxes that sit on the shelf taunting us.

There are, however, plenty of creative solutions. Don’t believe me? Ask talented singer, Michelle Citrin:

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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).

A Look Back At Borders

There is a great article on CNN about the demise of Borders, great as in one of historical value and a look behind the ethos of the company. Although I wrote a tribute to Borders after my final author appearance there, I want to share this story. Employees talk of the pride and mission they felt working there, and the original owners vision.

A sad sight to any eyes

Truth is, I miss my Borders. There were two situated near my home and office respectively, both with convenient parking and I used to peruse when I wanted to buy books for my staff at Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) and Passover. I created a tradition where I give a gift of a book to each of them that I hope will be meaningful or timely for them and I used to deliberating in a store. This year, I did my search online.

But it is my fault that they collapsed. I am the typical customer who rarely purchased a new book. I often picked up something from the bargain bins for myself or a friend, but that never paid salaries. And yes, I admit that I often used Borders to research books that I then bought used, often on Amazon.

Now I have my kindle (or I will when it gets fixed) and I am truly committed to the ebook revolution, primarily for environmental reasons. I believe the most expensive ebook that I have bought new in a while is $7.99. I bought a couple of YA books for my son (Rick Riordan and J.K. Rowlings) new and in tree book form (we are a one e-reader family), but this is not the pace that the remaining bookstores need.

Joe Gable, right, manage a 1st Borders. Robert Teicher, left, the chain's longtime fiction buyer.

Still, though I have no cause to complain, I miss the sensory experience of Borders: the clean store (and bathrooms), the color, choice, smell, armchairs, and conversations with their committed staff (read my son’s Eragon experience – he will remember that moment forever).

As I mentioned, I am firmly behind the ebook revolution, but I will miss the disappearance of the bookstore if this is their destiny. I understand that my children’s life will be more screen based, but I would like them to share this experience. And yes, I get a kick out of seeing my books on their bookshelves.

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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).

Matza, Matza, Matza

Every year, as Passover approaches, we Jews promise not to buy too much matza. We have to eat it for a week, we don’t want any left over. And every year as Passover comes to a close, we stare at several unopened boxes that sit on the shelf taunting us.

There are, however, plenty of creative solutions. Don’t believe me? Ask talented singer, Michelle Citrin:

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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).

The Non Kosher Passover Plate

I couldn’t resist this great article/initiative from Paul Greenberg in the New York Times today. He put an oyster on his Seder plate. Now Jewish social activists often add a symbol for their cause to the ceremonial plate. But oysters are considered trief (not kosher) and Jews who observe our dietary laws do not eat seafood.

This is what makes the notion so radical and outrageous, except the rage is directed at the oil spill in the Gulf Coast (exactly a year ago) and the astonishing news that BP are continuing to economically thrive, while leaving a community absolutely devastated.

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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).

Why This Night Is Different

Tonight, Jews all over the world will sit around the dinner table and participate in a ritual thousands of years old. Two weeks ago, I joined a number of Jewish colleagues to question what is Jewish peoplehood. One answer is that it is the sharing of a collective memory. There is perhaps nothing as powerful to illustrate this as the Passover Seder (the ceremony). We have been doing this for a few thousand years and, hopefully will continue for a few thousand more.

Passover commemorates the exodus from Egypt of the Israelite slave nation. It is essentially a celebration of freedom. This year has been different. Many peoples, in the Middle East, are seeking their freedom. Some have paid for it with their lives, others have seen their homes and neighborhoods destroyed. What is so awesome is that many are trying to realize their freedom through non-violent methods.

Some will succeed, others won’t this time. When the Israelites were freed, it still took 40 years to create our peoplehood. Casting off the chains of our oppressors is one thing, but it is what we do with this freedom that defines who we really are.

At the Passover Table tonight, let us lift a fifth glass of wine for the people in the world who have freed themselves, or who are trying to free themselves. Let us offer up a prayer for their futures, that we may create a world where human rights and freedom are the only options.

And let us toast freedom for all – Le’chaim!


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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).

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

 

 

 

 

 

Happy Passover/Easter/Family Gathering

It has become easier to talk about my upcoming book release and my aspirations to be a known author when talking to workmates and strangers. So why is it still so difficult when it comes to family?

It’s Passover and Easter, and common to most religions, the family gathers. They ask different questions: more probing, analytical, and in the author’s view, more judgmental.

We could avoid it: talk about the kids, the economy, sports, anything, but we feel a need with this group more than any other, for approval. They see the new website but you note that they go straight to the bio and comment on the family photo. Their eyes glaze over when you try and launch them into the blogosphere.

Why do we crave their encouragement? We’re adults, having left the nest decades ago. They probably won’t even buy the book since we’ll feel obliged to gift them. Perhaps it is us who are out of step. Why should they have to oblige us by following every baby step we take? They probably see this as our latest craze (admit it – there have been a few)?

Ironically though, there is only one person who has read my newest, unedited manuscript from beginning to end – my Mum. She cannot always be counted upon for blind support (she hated my 2nd novel – the one that will probably never see its way into the public arena – no connection, I’m sure!). Others have read the first 50 pages or so, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, but my Mum loved the book and I feel on fire with my latest creation.

Perhaps these family gatherings that religious and state holidays afford us can serve as a reminder that the most important person who must approve of our work is actually ourselves.

Good Writing,

Alon

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