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 “Tikkun Olam”

Organizations That Matter: The Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA)

The Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA) was founded in 1999 to create “an authentic progressive Jewish presence in the campaigns for social justice in Southern California.” The PJA has a double agenda.  Within the Jewish community (the LA Jewish community is the second biggest in the US) they serve to invigorate and motivate the Jewish social progressives. As a Jewish organization they serve as a vehicle to educate, advocate and organize around a broad array of issues including diversity, equality, justice and peace. In February 2005, the PJA opened a San Francisco Bay Area chapter, which is proving just as impressive.

Why do we need a Jewish progressive organization? Why not just join up with activists of all races, religions, and classes? I believe the answer lies in honoring our own rich heritage of social activism. Jews have been involved in high proportions in the anti-Apartheid movement, the civil rights struggles and the democratic agenda in almost every country where Jews can live freely and openly.

Jewish identity, whether from positive or negative angles, is strong within our psyche. Jewish tradition teaches that we have an obligation to work for Tikkun Olam (fixing the world). As the PJA bumper sticker says: to kvetch (complain) is human, to act…divine.

As a minority, even the tolerant climates of California, Jews gravitate towards Jews. For those of us who do not bond in the prayers, study and rituals of our religion, the drive to fight social injustices can be a rallying cry. The synagogue, the foundation of Jewish fabric for so many generations can be replaced for many by such agencies as the PJA, the American Jewish World Service and Jewish Funds for Social Justice (more on these great organizations another time).

We fight for economic justice by educating Jews about our obligation to stand with the working poor, and then we organize the Jewish community to join in campaigns to improve working conditions and secure a living wage for low-wage workers.  We work to reform the criminal justice system and to promote a more just and humane system of restorative, rather than retributive, justice through a ground-breaking program that trains volunteers to mediate between non-violent juvenile offenders and their victims throughout Los Angeles.  We work to promote understanding and tolerance by facilitating several tracks of Muslim-Jewish dialogue.

Through organizing around the values of tikkun olam, through encounter with Jewish sources and learning, and through strategic social justice work, we work to create a Jewishly-literate membership that examines core Jewish values in a new way, and to “bring back” to Jewish communal life many individuals who would be otherwise disconnected.  Under the rubric “tikkun ha ir, tikkun olam(repair of the city, repair of the world), we also participate in the broader community coalitions working to build a better California (and America) for all of its inhabitants.
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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

 

 

 

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Speaking on Sunday – Two Worlds Connect

Tomorrow I will be speaking at the Books & Bagels event at the Jewish Community Center (1414 Walnut Street, Berkeley). The event is free and features – well me and the carbs!

It’s always interesting speaking at a Jewish venue. As the director of San Francisco Hillel I speak at various Jewish venues around the Bay Area. Part of my job description is networking and reaching out to students, donors and potential stakeholders.

When I promoted my book at the Jewish community’s annual Bookfest, I felt very aware that my two worlds are intermingling. I met many who knew me as the Hillel director and presented another side of myself.

Prior to that event, I had felt uncomfortable mixing the two worlds. But as I spoke with more people, a mental bridge began to connect them. As a Hillel director, I am deeply invested in prioritizing social justice in the Jewish campus agenda (taking students to help rebuild the Gulf Coast, volunteering at Project Homeless Connect and the San Francisco Food Bank). As an author, I write to promote a better world, to highlight social injustices, and help create Tikkun Olam – a better world.

I don’t know if I will mention my Jewish world when I address the group tomorrow at the Jewish Community Center, but if I do, I will feel increasingly comfortable with the developing interconnection.

If you are around Berkeley tomorrow morning (10.30), I’d be happy to see some familiar faces.

Good Writing,
Alon
http://www.alonshalev.com/

Two Worlds Converge

Tomorrow I will be selling my book, Oilspill dotcom, at the San Francisco Jewish Community Center Book Festival. I am excited. The festival is about Jewish literature, and not Jewish authors, and since Oilspill dotcom doesn’t have any Jewish content, I count myself lucky to be there.

I have been allowed in through the back door because my full-time job is as the head of a Jewish non-profit which is seen as a vital component in the Jewish Community – The San Francisco Hillel provides educational opportunities and support for Jewish students in a part of the US where it isn’t always easy to be openly Jewish on campus.

My claim with the bookseller at the festival is that I am a recognizable figure and plan to hang out by the book table.

This is true. But it also brings up another issue. I have never exploited this circle of influence to market myself as an author of political fiction. When I launched the book, I certainly told everyone and have received varying degrees of support from students, fellow staff and stakeholders. I could have pushed for more coverage, for readings, and included more plugs in my correspondents and updates.

But generally I have kept the worlds apart. I’m not sure why. I doubt that even those who might take issue with my view of multinational corporations would hold it against me in my work at SF Hillel.

I do believe that part of my drive to write novels that spotlight and challenge social injustices comes from the emphasis that Judaism puts on Tikkun Olam – fixing the world.

So on Sunday I will wear my smarter work clothes to ensure I am recognized and will discuss political literature alongside Jewish identity, look for common ground, and hopefully sell a few books in the process.

Good Writing,
Alon
http://www.alonshalev.com/

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