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 “Warriors”

Open Letter to Hillel Students and Alumni

Dear Students & Alumni,

As you have probably heard by now, I have left my position as executive director of San Francisco Hillel. After nine amazing and challenging years, I am moving on to new challenges, heading the Western Region of the American Jewish World Service, an organization that, inspired by Jewish commitment to social justice, works to realize human rights and end poverty in the developing world.

I want to take the opportunity to share a few thoughts. For many of you, I was a familiar face at Hillel, working behind the scenes to raise the funds necessary to run the organization, and often dealing with managerial issues and politics, whether on campus or in the Bay Area Jewish community.

For some, I had the honor to lead you on birthright trips, alternative breaks, and to conferences such as AIPAC Regional and Policy Conference. These were the times when I had an opportunity to cultivate a deep relationship with many of you, one that stretched over several formative years for each of us.

I treasure the conversations we had as we grappled with our Jewish journeys, our relationship to Israel, and our shared desire to strive for a more just world for all. You helped me form and change my opinions, and create a personal values-based platform with which to lead my life. I thank you for this and hope that I was there to help you grow as well.

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For many we bantered about the Warriors .v. Lakers/Clippers, or my beloved Arsenal (English soccer team), and I hope I enriched your language levels with my British English.

For others, I was that crazy bloke who rapped his speech at the Final Shabbat dinner, the guy who joined conversations about politics, campus life, relationships, or whatever you wanted to share around the coffee machine. I truly treasured those moments and will hold them forever in my heart.

 

I wish you the best as you continue along your chosen life path. Last month I turned fifty, and want to share that we never stop exploring our values, beliefs and life dreams. I hope you grow, seeing Hillel as a positive and integral part of your life. I hope you will continue to explore your connection to Judaism and the Jewish people, to the State of Israel, and to strive to create a more just society in the US and the world.

If you are still a student, please continue to take advantage of the opportunities that Hillel provides, to help create a vibrant Jewish campus community, to stand up for Israel, and enjoy the alternative breaks, conferences, and birthright, with the wonderful staff that continue to work at Hillel.

If you are an alum/na, I hope you find your place in the Jewish community and continue to be an activist in whatever cause/s resonate with you. I hope you can take the values you honed at Hillel and integrate them into your own life. Please join and support the alumni network so that those who come after you will be able to enjoy the same benefits that you had. No one appreciates the value of a Hillel more than alumni. Become a mentor for a current student, help them to negotiate college life and prepare for graduation. Stay involved, even if it is only a $5 monthly gift, it is important.

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I want to thank the wonderful staff that made my time at Hillel so special. In particular, Rachel, Shushannah, Sima, Charlotte, Heather, and Yochai, all of whom helped make Hillel a family, not a place of work. Please welcome Ollie, my replacement (also a Brit, sorry!), and Omer, the amazing new Israel Fellow, and help them grasp the complexities and the vision we share for Jewish campus life.

Finally, thank you for being such an exciting part of my life. Please feel free to stay in touch via email (alshalev@yahoo.com) or look for me on Facebook and Twitter. I am sure our paths will cross again.

Good luck in all you pursue for a happy and meaningful life.

L’shalom (to peace),

Alon

Masada 2014

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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. He swears there is a connection. More at http://www.alonshalev.com.

 

Microloans – Uniting The Religious Right and the Community-focused Left

As the Presidential debate heats up, we are faced with either depressing mudslinging or polarization. This is not the season to seek genuine debate or even compromising solutions. We must take sides, man the barricades and ensure our side wins.

It really is so depressing. Perhaps if anyone dared to suggest something original or engage in genuine dialogue that might facilitate a path to lift this ailing country, I might get excited. My sports-DNA will probably allow it to kick in sometime in October, but for now, as the fog swirls outside my office in “sunny” San Francisco, I feel only that we are indulging ourselves so that we can forget what is happening in reality. To do this at a Giants game, at the 49-ers or Warriors for an evening is fine. We all need a break.

But this electoral juggernaut, that is serving only the media and bumper sticker producers, is insulting to those who are suffering from the very incompetence of those who were paid, are paid, to ensure our welfare and civil society. And though the faces might change, the same ties and dress suits will be back.

There are no one silver-bullet solutions. I know this. But we should be seeking solutions that will kick-start our economy. A weak USA is not good for its people, for the free world, or for those who live in oppressed regimes. We have to get our house in order so that we can help others.

I read and failed to bookmark an article about why the creation of small businesses is a pre-requisite for an economy to grow. It was full of statistics and I failed to understand much of its content. But I want to accept that the premise is correct. Small businesses are an asset for the middle class who often serves as the entrepreneurs, the working class who bear the brunt of unemployment and the rich who can seek investment opportunities.

It sounds like a win:win, a no-brainer. In fact, we have models that allow small businesses to open in the poorest countries in the world.

I have written in the past about KIVA, a non-profit microfinance bank that raises money through small gifts to help people invest in family or community enterprises. These are essentially loans, though the donors often reinvest the money back into Kiva. Here is a quick overview of how it works. For example, investing just $25 can help a father of four in Tanzania set up a coffee shop, or a woman in India establish a juice bar. It is truly inspiring.

Why can we not use this model widely in the US? I met a business in New Orleans that had been financed in part by microloans and is now a flourishing restaurant. Why can we not create a wider framework wherein people can invest micro sums that will be repaid as the businesses establish themselves.

Wouldn’t this attract the left, who love grassroots community action – Occupy Microloans anyone? The religious right can gain a few spiritual points above by heeding to the words of our teachers. In my own faith, a learned Jewish medieval scholar, Maimonides, created a pyramid of different levels of giving. Providing someone with a skill and a means to support themselves and their family is considered the highest form of giving in Judaism.

The banks have failed us. It is difficult today to buy a house or attract capital for a business unless you are already a millionaire. Perhaps it is time for the people to turn off our campaign-driven TV’s and take matters into our own hands. Perhaps if we believe in each other enough to invest in each other, we will also stop believing in the meaningless promises of those seeking political office.

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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).

Finding the Time to Blog

I recently spoke to a group of writers and outlined why I blog and the strategy behind it. External and internal links were interesting, book sales generated from blog drew a question or two, but what people really seemed to want to talk about was how I found the time to blog every day.

I was surprised. I thought people would ask more technical questions or where I look for ideas, but the whole issue of time management seemed to have struck a chord. And I am not sure why this surprised me. I have a full-time job that often demands time beyond the 9-5 Monday to Friday, young children who are still fleetingly young enough to enjoy their father’s company, creeping blood pressure that sends me regularly to the gym, and a wife who is incredibly understanding and supportive.

I want to suggest a few best practices that help me, though I need to admit that I find juggling everything into 24 hours to still be incredibly challenging.

1. Know what you want to write before you sit down to blog. I allocate an hour a day to blogging which includes writing, research, finding links and pictures, adding tags and categories. I rarely fit this into the allocated hour, and never would if I didn’t have an idea of what I wanted to write. When to think about it? The shower, the commute, on the treadmill… When NOT to think about it? When helping your child with their maths homework, when your partner wants to talk, when the Golden State Warriors are blowing a 20-point lead (it’s your fault!).

2. If you are at your computer during (um) work and an idea comes to you, take a minute to open a new post and write in a few words. It will make it so much easier when you do sit down to blog – you will come off the starting line sprinting.

3. Keep it brief. People don’t want to spend too much time reading, and if they do, then you provide them with links.

4.   When you are blogging, you are not reading email, checking the soccer results, or multi-tasking. You are focused and running against a clock.

5. Find a quiet place to write, somewhere where no one can distract you. In my little house, my desk is by the kitchen table – the one we eat from, the one the children use for their homework, the one where any guest not watching TV is going to gravitate to. I rarely can creatively write at my desk. It explains my caffeine intake and why entrepreneurs think they can open a coffee-house on every street corner in Berkeley in the midst of a recession.

Like I said, I am not exactly the perfect example. I am posting every day and have been since October, but I also haven’t been writing. My last two novels were both written in an intense period of time (86,000 words in 100 days, 91,000 words during the summer). I am desperately missing the creativity of writing the story. I have two books ready in my mind, one a sequel to Unwanted Heroes and the other is a sequel to the fantasy novel I wrote with my eldest son.

I guess that sleep is just overrated. Still, I love my family, my job, my writing, and even the gym (at least once I’m there). I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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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

Seriously Left Coast – The Casual Carpool

It doesn’t get more left coast than this. We congregate daily outside the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) stations on the East Bay, standing in two orderly lines of commuters, as the drivers swoop in and pick us up. One line is for people who want to be dropped off in the San Francisco Financial district, and the other near the Civic Center.

In some cars there is a shared silence, listening to National Public Radio, while in other cars the driver might initiate a conversation. Usually, Monday mornings are quiet, and Thursdays are optimistic.

There is a website where protocol suggests the radio station and that the driver should have the prerogative to initiate conversation. You can complain on the website about certain drivers’ abilities, or a passenger who lavishes himself with too much aftershave.

On the passenger’s door of my car there is a magnetic advert for my book, The Accidental Activist. A few times a month someone asks about it, and I have a captive audience of two to ply my pitch. I keep it short, as I feel mildly guilty that they have no escape. It’s a long way to jump from the Bay Bridge, though I would hope that my pitch isn’t quite that excruciating.

Sometimes the discussion might be about politics, a book that the passenger is reading, or the latest performance of the Warriors, Giants, 49ers, or Raiders. It can get intense. I once drove two lawyers who discovered that they were soon to face each other in trial, only because I innocently commented on an NPR story about tenant/landlord rights.

It doesn’t matter what the conversation is, or even whether it takes place. Online networking has replaced the social commentary that traditionally transpired in coffee houses or bars, headphones have cut off the opportunity for spontaneous discussion, and perhaps a greater need for guarded self-preservation has also erected walls.

Still, in a car for twenty minutes a day, three strangers share some time together. Whether in silence, listening, or talking, they are still spending some time together. And in a world of growing isolation, even as people pack into smaller geographical areas, that is a welcomed relief.

But these people took car sharing to another level

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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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