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 “Rosh Hashanah”

A Year of Peace

Tonight Jews all over the world will come together to welcome in our new year – Rosh Hashanah. It is a sweet occasion and we eat apples and honey to celebrate. But Rosh Hashanah is also the start of 10 days of introspection that culminate in Yom Kippur, a day of fasting and supplication that climaxes with the final blow of the Shofar, the ram’s horn, that signifies the closing of the gates of Heaven.

Zelig Golden of Wilderness Torah

Zelig Golden of Wilderness Torah

There are three levels of sins and forgiveness: the sins against G-d, those against our fellow humans, and those against the world.

Heavy stuff, but it is a great time for some soul-searching and an opportunity to mend bridges with people we care about. But what I love about this period is that, no matter how badly you have sinned against G-d, if you are genuine in your repentance, then you get a clean slate to start the new year.

However, you cannot ask G-d’s forgiveness for sins against your fellow men and women. Only the person you have wronged can forgive you and you need to approach them with a genuine desire to confess and be forgiven – tweets don’t count.

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Finally, a person cannot find peace with G-d unless it is found with our fellow humans, and peace cannot be attained within, unless there is peace in the world. There is something very humbling and holistic here. Above all, it is something very powerful.

There is so much to learn from this period of time. But it is also a time to simply celebrate life and our relationship with one another. Michelle Citrin, a great singer, sums it up in her song: Gotta Love Rosh Hashanah

Wishing all my Jewish friends a Shana Tova, and to everyone a year of health, happiness and peace.

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, Wycaan Master Book 1 and The First Decree, both released by Tourmaline Books. Ashbar – Book 3 – is due for release in October 2013. 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).

Imagine No Religion

I am writing this post on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. It is a festive occasion, but I am having trouble getting in the mood, despite the beautiful service, music and wise words of our leaders.

 Last week was a shitty week. While addressing a group of students on Friday night at Hillel (SF Jewish student center where I work), I found myself talking about the violent events that were still going on as I spoke.

We have enough to worry about in this world – overpopulation, global warming, violence, hunger, natural disasters… do we really need to intentionally add any?

That  a few people made a movie that they knew would be deeply offensive to a large group of the population is plain stupid. It is okay to be controversial if you have a point that needs to be made, but there are some lines that don’t get crossed.  Anyone associated with this movie and intentionally knew of its controversial nature have blood on their hands. I hope they are not sleeping at night. 

I understand that many of those involved did not know what they were participating in. Here is a link to a statement made by actress, Anna Gurji on Neil Gaiman’s website (thanks to reader Christopher Wright).

It is natural to be angry when your religion has been deeply offended and to express that anger in demonstrations, but to take the steps needed to violently attack and kill a fellow person, innocent bystanders who are there to create bridges of understanding with your people, shows a woeful lack of comprehension of your own religion’s teachings. Where were the religious teachers teaching the sin of violence and murder? If religious men were leaving their mosques in an angry and violent mood, bent on murder, what were their Imams preaching? And if they were preaching peace, understanding and taking the higher moral road, why weren’t they being listened to?

Finally, the rumor, no – the lie – that this movie was produced and funded by Jews was not only baseless, but anti-Semitic. It traveled around the Internet at an intense speed, and took a long time to be disclaimed. It was too easy.

Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people living life in peace

In times like this, John Lennon’s lyrics make sense, but it doesn’t have to be like this. I want to live in a world where we celebrate diversity and without everyone being the same. I want to celebrate Chanukah, and join my neighbors for Diwali, and my good friends around their Christmas tree, secure in my own religions identity. I want my Israeli-born son to continue sitting at the same school table with the Palestinian child, and I would prefer that child bring his own food to my son’s birthday party, rather than not come at all because his parents fear offending me.

Last week, Muslims were offended, Christians murdered, and Jews blamed. It is not a question of moving on: we must learn the lessons that have haunted and tainted all our histories.

There is no religious justification for hate, violence and murder.

Wishing everyone of all races and religions, a peaceful and hate-free new year.

Shana Tova L’Kol Bnei Adam.

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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).

 

Happy New Year Everyone

Last night and today, Jews all over the world come together to welcome in our new year – Rosh Hashanah. People seem to dig out all kinds of ritual and traditions. It is both a time of introspection (the 10 days leading up to the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur) and a tine of hope.

We need both.

Five  years ago, we began a new tradition (can a tradition be new?) that has become a part of the SF Hillel Jewish Student Center year. We meet for a festive dinner and then many students take advantage of the generosity of local synagogues who have offered students free tickets for services. Others stay at the Hillel House for an alternative ceremony one that focuses on goals and aspirations for the new year.

By nature, I am an introspective person all year round.  So I think this is why I am drawn towards the need to set new goals, dream new dreams, hope for a better future for all.

Like Michelle Citrin, I love Rosh Hashanah

Wishing all my Jewish friends a Shana Tova (a good year), and to everyone a year of health, happiness and peace.

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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).

 

Happy New Year

Tonight Jews all over the world will come together to welcome in our new year – Rosh Hashanah. People seem to dig out all kinds of ritual and traditions. My new experience is only four year old but already part of our Jewish Student Center tradition.

We will meet for dinner and then some students will go to the various synagogues who have generously offered them free tickets for services. Others will stay with me at the Hillel House for an alternative ceremony to welcome in the new year with a discussion, a chance to blow the Ram’s Horn (the shofar) and to set goals and aspirations for the new year.

Like Michelle Citrin, I love Rosh Hashanah

Wishing all my Jewish friends a Shana Tova, and to everyone a year of health, happiness and peace.

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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).

Accusing From Afar

Living in England, you learn that the British Empire was something positive. It brought roads, education, medicine, and culture to the masses. You see movies of the aristocratic class in India, Africa, and just about everywhere else. “The sun never set of the British Empire,” was said as an expression of pride, if not wistfulness, as I grew up.

One of the biggest shocks to my social conscience occurred when I began studying sociology at London University. I had been political as a teenager, advocating for human rights in the Soviet Union, Tibet and South Africa. I was about to receive a rude awakening.

I arrived late to university as the semester opened on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. The class was discussing a book, A Savage Culture, by Remi Kapo. A black, English sociologist was describing how many of the violent, classist, and racist facets of British society, were entrenched as part of the psyche of the British Empire, even though the British Empire was now a largely inactive Commonwealth.

I thought I was just missing something. I raised my hand and asked whether his premise was that the British Empire was wrong and evil. You could have cut the tension with a chainsaw.

The professor looked at me for a moment trying to decide, I imagine, whether I was being a smartass. Seeing that I was trying to disappear from embarrassment, he took pity and explained everything, feeding off my willingness to be honest about what I had learned growing up.

I remember wanting to tell him and the other students how I considered myself a political activist and brag about the campaigns I had participated in. This was a group of very politically aware students and it was a while before they accepted me as a friend.

It is easy and convenient to see evils from afar and confer rapid judgment on what others are doing. Here on the Left Coast we are especially good at doing this. However, are we doing this to feel good with ourselves because we are unable to solve the injustices in our own backyard? Does it not feel more righteous to accuse others (usually well-deserving), rather than admit when we fail to achieve the values and ideologies that we preach?

The age of the Internet has made it possible to help others in any part of the world. My novel,  The Accidental Activist, tells this very story, highlighting how the Internet was utilized by a small group of activists to fight a multinational corporation in court (It is based on the McDonald’s libel trial in England in the 1990’s).

But while today there is no excuse for being uninformed about world events, it also makes it easier to avoid injustice on our own doorstep. It is simply more convenient to go online than onto the streets.

When I look at the inequalities here in California and the potential that we have to correct them, I wonder whether we can perhaps teach the greatest lesson by being the greatest example. ——————————————————————————————————-

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

 

 

 

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