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 “volunteering”

72 Hours

Every year when I am volunteering in New Orleans, I vow to prepare my family for a disaster scenario. Living in California, we are threatened by earthquakes, and now superstorms.

72hours.org is a no nonsense guide to prepare your family in the eventuality of a natural disaster. I don’t really have much to add other than … well, read it now because we might not have the Internet after it happens.

Are you prepared for the big one?

Or for those aliens from outer space?


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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/

 

 

Potential Natural Disaster in California

More than a hundred scientists joined their research together to bring us the news that California might be facing the threat of a massive “superstorm” that could destroy one-quarter of the state’s housing. Now I wouldn’t usually pay this much attention, except that when I heard about it, I was in New Orleans helping to rebuild a community center in the Lower Ninth Ward, the parish that had been particularly damaged by the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the ineffective levees.

It makes you think.

When we are volunteering on the Gulf, every year someone asks why would these people want to move back after what happened to them might happen again? I reflect on who are we to talk – coming from the land of the earthquake and now the super flood! As the video below show – it has happened before.

A second reason why I feel a need to bring it to your attention are the amazing photos of similar such storms.

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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/

When The Levees Broke

When I speak about my experiences helping to rebuild the Gulf Coast, whether formally or in conversations with friends, I am often asked for the best source to understand and make sense of what transpired.

The reality is that after coming to Louisiana for five years, after listening to the stories of so many people who lived through the ordeal, and are continuing to live through it, there is probably no way we can make sense of it.

But we should try, lest we forget, lest we desensitize, lest we excuse ourselves.

The documentary that I recommend to those who ask is When The Levees Broke, directed by Spike Lee. It is long, four hours I think, but it is divided into four parts and can be seen in parts or skipped to specific aspects.

It is not unbiased and makes no apologies as it exposes so many factors that contributed to the tragedy. What’s the point in declaring “mandatory evacuation” when there is no gas for those with cars, and no transportation for those who don’t?

For a breakdown of the four parts, please refer to the product description on the Amazon.com page. While you are there, the documentary is currently selling for less than half price ($9).

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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

Back to New Orleans

I arrived in the US five-and-a-half years ago, just 103 days before Hurricane Katrina struck landfall. I left my family in the beautiful manicured suburbia of Ventura, California, and rode the greyhound north to seek my fame and fortune, I had 100 days to find a job that would support a family of four in the expensive Bay Area, and then find a house for us to live in.

I’m still waiting for the fame, but fortune shone on me that summer. While my job will never make me rich financially, it feeds my family and my soul. I have the good fortune to work with Jewish college students, helping them find their individual path in the world and enriching their Jewish campus experience.


Fortune did not shine on others during the summer of 2005, and as  I settled my family into our little apartment in Berkeley, we watched in horror as New Orleans was destroyed. “Where is this happening? Is this Africa? India?” my then 6-year-old son asked. “America,” I replied. He looked at me wide-eyed. “Our America?”


His America had so far been the beach, beautiful parks and elegantly manicured lawns. “Yes,” I replied and reached for a map to show him.

Another scene – this time of the New Orleans Superdome packed with people. “Daddy, why are they all black?” my son had asked. “Why aren’t we doing anything about it?” He asked. “Why aren’t we helping?”

I silently promised him and myself then that we would do something about it.

Why aren’t we doing anything about it? Those words haunted me as I began my new job as a Hillel director working on the San Francisco campuses.

There is nothing in my job working with Jewish students that gives me more satisfaction than recruiting students and taking them to New Orleans to volunteer to help rebuild the city and the community. We not only help physically, but we show we care and that we have not forgotten.

Most importantly perhaps, we bear witness. And maybe, seeds are sown in these students not to accept social apathy and irresponsibility. Social Justice is a central tenant of Judaism – I want my students to experience the responsibility.

Today, I will take another group across country to give a week of their winter break to help the crescent city. Over the next week, I  want to share some of the experiences of our group, of groups I have taken in past years, and of the people we meet. In truth, I am going to prepost blogs in case there is no time as this week can get so intense.

A couple of years ago when I went to pick up my son from school after just having returned from such a trip, the teacher stopped me. “He has been telling us all week of the work you do on the Gulf Coast. He is very proud of what you do.”


I thought back to August/September 2005 and the promise I had made to both of us. Five years have passed, but the struggle of New Orleans goes on, and it is the struggle of American society. I don’t want the next generation – the millennials – to make the same mistakes that we made. Or my sons, if I can help it. Maybe by being a role model we can change the world one person at a time.

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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

 

Habitat for Humanity

Habitat for Humanity is an ecumenical Christian housing ministry, a non-profit that has helped build over 350,000 houses around the world. They have provided safe affordable and respectful housing for over 1.75 million people.

The organization functions on the help of volunteers. People can donate money, time, skills, and materials.  The recipients need to put a small down payment on the project and invest many hours participating in the building or volunteering in the community. I believe this goes a long way to the concept of help with dignity.


While Habitat for Humanity works in over 90 countries, I wish to bring peoples attention to the chapters here in California. There is most likely a Habitat for Humanity near you, needing help. Check out this link.

One of the most impressive aspects of this very impressive agency for change is that they are committed to building environmental houses. Here are a couple of articles from other sources recognizing Habitat for Humanity for their green, innovative approach:

http://smarticle.co.uk/solar-technologies/habitat-for-humanity-goes-green/

http://solar.calfinder.com/blog/news/habitat-for-humanity-builds-solar-housing-for-oakland/

Habitat for Humanity in the East Bay can be found at: http://www.habitateb.org/index.php/

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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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