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 “secular”

Morsi and Obama: A Tale of Two Presidents

I recently drove past a demonstration outside the Federal building in Los Angeles. A red stoplight had my car idling next to maybe fifty Egyptians and their allies. They were supportive of the army’s ouster of President Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. Their signs showed their anger with President Obama who has called on the army to honor the democratic process. 

I have to admit that I am very torn here. The Egyptians did hold a democratic election. Sure, it might have been flawed with voter fraud, intimidation and other dirty tricks, and this should be condemned, but it was probably no worse than most other countries. Egypt has only just begun to walk the path of democracy. There will be bumps along the way. 

imagesOn the other hand, Morsi has done little to address the major problems facing Egypt such as poverty and the terrible violence on the streets, in particular directed at women, who are then shamed publicly after being raped and beaten. NPR have reported that more than 100 women who were at the demonstrations were attacked and many raped in public. 

President Morsi leads the Muslim Brotherhood, a popular Muslim organization that threatens all who fear religious extremisms and desire to live in a secular country.

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The fundamental question is whether the people (in this case led by the military) can justifiably remove a democratically elected leader if he is not doing his job. President Obama has weighed in and emphatically said no.

I understand his belief that only the democratic process can remove a leader. I think those who suggest that he is supporting a Muslim movement because of his past are being absurd and demeaning.

Many of us are frustrated that countries in Africa, Europe, and most recently in Syria, can destroy and massacre its people, without outside intervention. We draw red lines that are already baffling to the victims and then move those lines when it suits us.

I am not happy with religious extremism in any religion. I am deeply uncomfortable when a religious movement takes control of a country (in any way) and encroaches on the rights of those who do not follow that religion or are not as religious. 

But I am also uncomfortable with our government intervening with the internal affairs of other countries up to a point. I believe the United Nations (I know – I am referring to a fictitious effective organization) should set red lines and intervene when any government crosses that line.

Democracy is important and I believe I would take up arms to protect it. But a democratic government must protect its citizens and allow them to live in freedom, without intimidation or fear.

images-2President Morsi was democratically elected but he failed his people. And this is why he must be replaced. President Obama, who I unequivocally support, should make this distinction. Perhaps there is simply too much gray for us even to get involved.

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Alon Shalev writes social justice-themed novels and YA epic fantasy. He swears there is a connection. His latest books include: Unwanted Heroes and the 2013 Eric Hoffer Book Award for YA – At The Walls Of Galbrieth. Alon tweets at @alonshalevsf and @elfwriter.   For more about the author, check out his website.

 

A Place At The Table – David Waksberg

Tonight is one of the most powerful nights in the Jewish year. The Passover Seder is traditionally seen as a family event. David Waksberg, CEO of  Jewish LearningWorks, offers a beautiful, universal perspective.

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God created humans, Elie Wiesel suggests, because God loves stories.

At no time do we tell more stories than at the Passover Seder, and above all, the story of the Exodus, the master narrative of the Jewish people.

All of us are commanded to participate in the telling. Everyone who tells the story is praised. And each of us is commanded to make the story our own – as if we ourselves came out of Egypt. In making the story our own, each of us is invited to make OUR story part of the master story, to fit our unique puzzle piece into the great jigsaw puzzle of the Jewish people.

There is a place at the Seder table for all of us. No wonder more Jews gather for a Passover Seder than for any other Jewish activity. 

 “Let all who hunger come and eat,” we say. Everyone is welcome.

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Never before have so many Jewish leaders voiced the desire to “reduce barriers to participation” in Jewish life. And yet, so many feel left out, as if their puzzle piece can’t fit. Jews with learning differences that are not accommodated in schools; LGBT Jews who don’t feel welcomed in some institutions; multi-racial families, told they don’t “look Jewish;” interfaith families, seeking inclusion.

And the list goes on – Sephardi and Ashkenazi, observant and secular, Russian, Israeli…so many ways we can divide ourselves and so many ways we’ve found to feel alienated, uncomfortable, “other” in Jewish settings.

Most everyone means well, one parent told me, “but good intentions are not enough.” If we wish to reduce barriers to engagement, we need to let go of the notion that Jews must look or sound or act in accordance with a set of images we grew up with.

Jewish peoplehood does not mean we are all the same. It means that across a wide spectrum of diverse culture, language, ethnicity, politics, sexual orientation, physical abilities, and yes, even beliefs, we share a common bond. How wonderful, and how much richer is that bond for the diversity that informs it?  Jewish comes in many flavors and until we truly understand, celebrate and institutionalize it, those barriers to participation won’t come down. 

Next week, the multi-hued mélange that makes up the Jewish people will gather around Seder tables around the world to celebrate our story of liberation and redemption. The Seder exemplifies our diversity, both in the story we tell and in the multiple ways we tell it. At our Seder table, an array of customs and practices – melodies from Poland, Lithuania and Turkey, customs from Iraq, Afghanistan, and North America, recipes from Syria, Spain, and the Bronx – coalesce around a common theme, story, and set of rituals and symbols.

Twelve tribes left Egypt. Twelve tribes remained, and, paradoxically, one people emerged. 

Not every Israelite left Egypt. But all were invited to make the trip.

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Alon Shalev writes social justice-themed novels and YA epic fantasy. He swears there is a connection. His latest books include: Unwanted Heroes and At The Walls Of Galbrieth. Alon tweets at @alonshalevsf and @elfwriter.  

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To Our ‘Gay’ President

Dear President Obama,

I have to admit you are full of surprises. As I am sure you are aware from your daily perusal of our humble blog, I am critically supportive of you. I worked for your election, cried when Jon Stewart called the election for Obama as part of The Daily Show and Colbert Report’s special live coverage of Indecision 2008, keeping the live show going a few more minutes in order to announce your/our victory, and praised your Obamacare, even if it was far from perfect.

I didn’t expect you to be so deadly cool and take out bin Laden like you did, when many hawks would be squawking at their roosts deciding if to or not.

Still, you will excuse me if I don’t jump up and down on your decision to support gay marriage, or the tribulations that have followed. You see, Mr. President, you simply did the right thing. That’s it.

I appreciate you having the guts to do it in an election year, but the President should do the right thing. You are the President of everyone – the blacks, the Jews, the Hispanics, the whites, the card-carrying NRA members, the religious and the secular. And you are the President of the gay community. You did the right thing.

So to thank you, here is a song that was brought out when it was difficult to come out as gay in Britain, sung by a singer who is not (I think) gay. But Billy Bragg wanted to be a representative of all progressive people and so he challenged us all with this song.

By the way Mr. President, I chose this version because it features the late Kristy MacColl who tragically died 12 years ago.

Thank you for reading this, sir. Always a pleasure. Here’s to another four years.
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 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).

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