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 “Unwanted Heroes”

Breakfast Briefing on the Ebola Crises in SF

American Jewish World Service has just passed the $1 million mark, raising funds to help our grassroots grantees, primarily in Liberia, and they are doing amazing work. The fact that these individuals and organizations have such credibility among their own communities and are themselves facing the same dangers, enables them to effectively communicate with a suspicious and petrified population.

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Please join AJWS San Francisco for a special briefing with our President, Ruth Messinger to receive updates from our grantees and discuss how we can continue to make a difference. If you have donated to the Ebola campaign or are still considering how best to help, please join us on Monday, December 08, at our office (see below) for a light breakfast.

The unprecedented Ebola outbreak has already claimed nearly 5,000 lives in West Africa and while the spread of the virus has slowed, the devastating crisis is far from over. Thanks to the generous supporters of AJWS, we are already helping save lives.

Courageous Liberian grassroots organizations are going door-to-door and on the radio waves to educate their communities about how to protect themselves and their families from Ebola and get help for the sick. With compassion and dedication to justice, they are transmitting life-saving messages of prevention and hope.

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Details: Breakfast Briefing on the Ebola Crisis: Featuring Ruth Messinger, President of AJWS

Monday, December 8, 9:00am Breakfast / 9:15am Briefing

AJWS San Francisco Office Conference Room, 131 Steuart Street, San Francisco, California

Space is limited. Please RSVP to Matt Balaban at mbalaban@ajws.org or call (415) 593-3298

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, The First Decree, and Ashbar – Wycaan Master Book 3 – all released by Tourmaline Books. His latest novel is Sacrificial Flame, the fourth in the series.

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). Hang out with Alon on Google+

Why Me: First Speech For Global Justice

This week I passed the 100-day mark as executive director of American Jewish World Service, San Francisco and the Western Region. To officially welcome me, the community held a meet-and-greet reception at Perry’s in the City. I want to share the text of my speech (though I probably didn’t keep on script as I spoke) as it felt like an opportunity to tie a number of loose threads from my life into an order. It is also a genuine expression of my love for the work and the organization I represent.

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After I told my mother-in-law that I had accepted a position with the American Jewish World Service, she went online to see what this organization was all about. She later told me that she felt as if someone had created this organization specifically for me.

I have been deeply involved with social justice all my life. I made my first political protest and speech at age eight when a teacher told me to remove a Free Nelson Mandela sticker from my pencil-case. When I refused, and I was a well-behaved student, she said I could keep it provided I stand in front of the class and explain who Nelson Mandela was and why he should be freed. I probably described him in superhero terms, but I hope for all of us that my oratory abilities have improved since.

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I am 100 days into this new position and feel deeply privileged to have such an exciting responsibility. What I am most proud of is the principle by which AJWS does not tell people in developing countries what they need, what we will build for them, but listens to and guides grassroots organizations who understand the needs of their own people. As you can hear from my accent, I herald from the most colonialist country in history, so you understand why I find such a principle most refreshing. 

I just returned from a Study Tour to India with a number of our donors and our president, Ruth Messinger. I was proud to present to a group of Muslim girls and women in Calcutta, most of whom had never interacted with Jews, how it is our Jewish values that compel us into action against injustices: how we believe all people are made in the image of God and that every person has the right to live in freedom and dignity.

AJWS has committed itself to help a broad coalition end child marriage. In India it is against the law to marry before the age of 18, yet 48% of girls reach that age already married, often with terrible consequences. Throughout the world, there are over 10 million child brides a year… 10 million…a year. Such statistics seem daunting that there is so much injustice in the world and it is so easy to burn out and walk away.

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But our Jewish sources also teach that while it is not for us to finish the task, neither are we free to desist from it. 

If you are new to the organization please take an annual report from the info table. It is the most concise and up-to-date reflection of our work. If you are interested in getting involved as an activist, please join Erica and our Action Team at 7pm in our office next door.

Thank you for the taking the time to come tonight and welcome me into the AJWS family as we strive together to create a better world for all people. But more important. thank you for supporting AJWS with your financial generosity and your precious time. Each and every one of you make all that we do possible.

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of GalbriethThe First Decree, and Ashbar – Wycaan Master Book 3 – all released by Tourmaline Books. His latest novel is Sacrificial Flamethe fourth in the series.

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). Hang out with Alon on Google+

To India and Back Again

In just over two weeks, I will travel with a group of global activists to India to see projects funded by American Jewish World Service and hear the stories of our grantees, their challenges and vision. To help prepare myself, I just finished reading Katherine Boo’s Behind The Beautiful Forevers. I admit I do not often read  non-fiction, but Ms. Boo truly brought the people she followed to life as though they were characters straight from a classic novel. I felt the same regarding setting and even plot (the individuals’ stories). This book has made me reevaluate how I feel about the genre. If you write or read non-fiction, this book is well worth picking up. If you don’t read non-fiction – it is still worth the read and is so accessible in Ms. Boo’s writing. I listened to the audio during my commute and walking my dog – it is a superb rendition.

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Ms. Boo follows the lives of a number of people who live in Annawadi, a makeshift slum that is both side-by-side and overshadowed by beautiful, pristine hotels and the Mumbai international airport, all within a stone’s throw of each other. Their stories reflect everything that seems so wrong in India, but it is told without condescension and judgment. Crime and corruption live alongside hope and the driving desire for dignity. 

The dichotomies are everywhere. As Patralekha Chatterjee shares on DNA India: ”More Indians have access to a mobile phone than to a toilet. Everyone knows that. The issue became a major talking point in 2010 when a report by the Ontario-based UN University’s Institute for Water, Environment and Health pointed out that while India had roughly 366 million people with access to improved sanitation in 2008, a far greater number, 545 million, had cell phones.”

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It is the irony and frustration of a beautiful land and incredible people, more a continent than a country, several nations under one flag and within one border. But everywhere you go, you find a society immersed in a deep history, rich philosophies, and pulsating culture. I spent several months there when I was younger and, in many ways, I never left.

While the memories have faded, the sensory assault dulled, Katherine Boo brought me back to the streets of India, even as I negotiated the BART public transport commute and long walks with my dog along the water looking out at the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz . Back in the early 90’s I was a tourist on a spiritual journey to India to find myself. Two decades later, I prepare to return as a global human rights activist, working for a transformational non profit organization, and traveling with inspiring philanthropists driven to help make a better world for those most marginalized.

To read about AJWS work in India, please click here. One of our main projects is the struggle to end child marriage. Despite a law making it illegal, 47% of girls in India are married before they reach 18. 

Shashi Tharoor summed up best what I am feeling: “India shaped my mind, anchored my identity, influenced my beliefs, and made me who I am. … India matters to me and I would like to matter to India.”

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of GalbriethThe First Decree, and Ashbar – Wycaan Master Book 3 – all released by Tourmaline Books. His latest novel is Sacrificial Flamethe fourth in the series.

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). Hang out with Alon on Google+

She is Malala and I am Crying

For the last month I have been utterly engrossed in the audio book I Am Malala, the story of an incredibly brave Pakistani girl who stood up to the Taliban for the rights of all girls to have an education. She almost paid for it with her life when at 15 she was shot in the head on a school bus from close range, and even had to endure a smear campaign after she survived.

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On Friday, it was announced that Malala has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize together with the Indian child rights campaigner Kailash Satyarthi, who has worked endlessly to save children incarcerated in human trafficking and advocate for their rights. That a Pakistani and an Indian have received the award together is a powerful message. Announcing the prize in Oslo on Friday, the committee chairman, Thorbjorn Jagland, said it was important for “a Hindu and a Muslim, an Indian and a Pakistani, to join in a common struggle for education and against extremism”

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Perhaps the best quote I saw came from Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations Secretary General:

“With her courage and determination, Malala has shown what terrorists fear most: a girl with a book.”

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Here was my first introduction to Malala and why she inspires me each day to empower people to realize human rights and eradicate poverty in the developing world. There can be no doubt that the common key to all these problems is education and Malala shines as an example to us all.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gjGL6YY6oMs

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, and three more novels in the epic fantasy Wycaan Master series. Shalev has also authored three social justice-themed novels including Unwanted Heroes and The Accidental Activist. He swears there is a connection. Learn more at: http://www.alonshalev.com.

 

 

Global Human Rights

I have been somewhat quiet on Left Coast Voices of late. This is, in part, due to a change in employment. I am now the executive director of American Jewish World Service, San Francisco and the Western Region.  The AJWS works to realize human rights and eradicate poverty in the developing world. The best way to explain this transformational organization is to introduce you to Ruth Messinger, our president, as she addressed a group at Google last year.

If you are inspired about this work and would like to learn more, please consider joining Ruth and myself for a study tour to India in November, Details can be found here.

Travel to India

Happy to answer any questions and field any comments.

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, and three more Wycaan Master books. Shalev is also the author of three social justice-themed novels including Unwanted Heroes and The Accidental Activist. He swears there is a connection. More at http://www.alonshalev.com.

 

 

 

 

 

The Stars and Stripes Freeway

Yesterday was a landmark moment in my life. I stood before Old Glory and took the Oath of Allegiance. I am now an American citizenship.  This is a culmination of an arduous process full of bureaucracy more than anything spectacular. But what began as essentially a pragmatic step transformed into a meaningful process.

There is a lot wrong with the United States of America. The team here at Left Coast Voices has highlighted so much that needs to change if we are to truly reflect the vision and values of this country. But there is something incredibly inspiring about this country. Maybe you need to be an outsider to see it.  

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Leaving the citizenship ceremony, I was overwhelmed with the desire to do something…American. We settled for hamburger and fries – the burger, of course, wild salmon or Zen-practicing fowl (I am still from Berkeley), and the fries would be chips and eaten with a fork (the rumors that the Queen defriended me on Facebook are false). 

What I wanted to do was jump on my Harley, blast Bob Seeger or Bruce Springsteen and hit the open road. Now, notwithstanding that I do not own a motorbike, wouldn’t know how to listen to music while on one, and that my family and gecko would be distinctly uncomfortable hanging on as I negotiate the curves of the beautiful Highway 1, I was totally ready.

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I guess a Mustang would do the job too provided it had a sun roof to throw back.

But there is something about the Open Road. I was born on an island where in a few hours in any direction and you would reach the ocean. I spent half my life in an even smaller country whose borders were never open for me to safely cross.

I have read Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, each several times. I feel a surge of adrenaline whenever we leave the Bay Area heading north for a vacation or south to my good lady’s family. I used to spend hours planning the right music and where to stop. I once went three hours out of my way, detouring as an adventure (this was before gas reached $4 a gallon), hoping to see…what?

I fantasize that when retired, Mrs. Blogs and I will RV across this beautiful country. I have a friend doing just that and I love reading his stories.

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I have included many scenes from these road trips in Unwanted Heroes and its unpublished sequel. As I made the transition into fantasy, the landscape, trees and even stone hamlets found their way into my world building. I wrote earlier that you can find fantasy everywhere and the open road is such rich fodder for authors.

But for now I want to avoid Odessiya and other mythical realms. I am in America and the magic of the open road is a connection to share with my fellow Americans. If you don’t believe me, check out Lana Del Rey’s amazing video: Ride. 

And for those of you who are worried, I have not abandoned my roots in a purge of patriotism. Come June 12, my half century celebration, I will still don my England soccer shirt and cheer the Three Lions. Some habits run too deep.

 But after they crash out of the World Cup, I can console myself and hit the open road with my friends and fellow countrymen and women:  Bob, Bruce and Lana.

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, The First Decree, and Ashbar – Wycaan Master Book 3 – all released by Tourmaline Books. 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). Hang out withAlon on Google+

The Kids Are Awesome!

Meet Tim Balz, a high school kid with a talent and a vision. He could have invested his time and skill to make money and created a start up or be recruited by a big company. If that is what he wants after college, I hope he gets it. What he is doing now is simply awesome.

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, The First Decree, and Ashbar – Wycaan Master Book 3 – all released by Tourmaline Books. 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). Hang out with Alon on Google+

New Author On The Block

My friend, John Byrne Barry has a novel coming out. John is a political activist and has channeled this passion into fiction. We bonded through a shared aspiration to help inspire people to act through affiliation with characters who fight for social justice. 

Perhaps you can join me at John’s book launch on Sunday at the Mo’Joe cafe in Berkeley – I can attest to the good coffee and healthy Middle Eastern food.   

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, The First Decree, and Ashbar – Wycaan Master Book 3 – all released by Tourmaline Books. 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). Hang out with Alon on Google+

A Poetess Rises

I am not someone who understands poetry. It either resonates or not, that simple. We have some wonderful poets pass through the Berkeley Writer’s Group and I often feel guilty at my inadequate feedback.

But every once in a while, a poem really captures my imagination. This happened with the very talented Laura Schulkind, who read a poem called The Ancient Stories. 

Laura

Laura will release her first collection, Lost In Tall Grass, (including The Ancient Stories) in March. Her publisher, Finishing Line Press will gauge the print run according to pre-orders in the next two weeks. 

If you are moved by the poem, motivated to helping promote poets, enjoy supporting Bay Area artists, or have friends who would appreciate a thoughtful gift, please join me and pre-order a copy of Lost In Tall Grass before January 20.

THE ANCIENT STORIES – Laura Schulkind

I want to hear the ancient stories.

No, not Homer.

He was a pretty modern guy—

jealousy, pride, conquest, lineage,

self-destruction.

 

I mean the stories howled around fires

when the handprints were fresh on the cave walls,

and humans shared the earth with woolly mammoths

and barely knew the connection between sex and life.

 

The stories humans told

at that split second in time

when we had the words

to tell our animal stories.

 

Before words erased our howls.

Before the word hate, or love.

Before the word loss.

Before the word blame.

Before the past subjunctive, or hypothetically speaking,

as it were.

 

When the whole of our vocabulary

the whole of our world was

hungry, hunt, eat, cold, warmth, fire, sleep, fuck, play, danger, run,

protect the young, oh yes from the very beginning protect the young.

Those stories.

 

Stories that I could hear above the complicated noise of you.

Deciphered from the ancient scrolls of my DNA.

Laura Schulkind

Pre-order Lost In Tall Grass here

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of GalbriethThe First Decree, and Ashbar – Wycaan Master Book 3 – all released by Tourmaline Books. 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). Hang out with Alon on Google+

A Meaningful Christmas

I will never forget Band Aid, an initiative of British and Irish (and later US) music artists who came together to form the ultimate supergroup in 1984. Best of all for me, it was founded on the energy of bad boy Bob Geldof, lead singer of the Boomtown Rats, to raise money for famine relief in Ethiopia by releasing the record “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” for the Christmas market that year.

Geldof became infamous for swearing on stage whenever the rate of donations began to drop. Phil Collins performed first on stage at the UK concert and then boarded a Concord plane, flew to New York, and played there. Okay, it was cool at the time to an idealistic 20-year-old (and passionate Genesis fan).  

“Do They Know It’s Christmas?” surpassed the hopes of the producers to become the Christmas number one on that release. Two subsequent re-recordings of the song to raise further money for charity also topped the charts.

– the live version.

– the recording

Here are all the artists wishing you a Happy New Year – back at you people. It was an amazing moment when people of privilege and fame made a stand. 

The struggle still goes on, the hunger and poverty a shame on humanity. But to return to my Jewish roots: “It is not for us to finish the task, but neither are we free to desist from it.

Happy Holidays to all humanity.

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of GalbriethThe First Decree, and Ashbar – Wycaan Master Book 3 – all released by Tourmaline Books. 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). Hang out with Alon on Google+

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