Making a dog bed out of an IKEA side table


I know I spoil my dogs. My reasoning is that, before we got them, they both had difficult lives living homeless on the streets and then doing time in the shelter, so I love to pamper them now that they’re in their forever home. Plus, they’re really cute. 

In the spirit of anthropomorphizing, I decided to make them a dog bed that is something special — you know, not the kind you’d pick up at Costco. On top of that, I also wanted it to be an artsy piece of furniture that would match my creative home décor. 

So, here’s my canopy dog bed made with an upside-down IKEA Lack side table and a sonotube. If you’re not familiar with the Lack table, it is the ubiquitous parsons-style table that sells for $7.99. No doubt you know someone who owns one. And a sonotube is a cylindrical cardboard tube builders use as a mold for pouring concrete to make support columns. They’re sold at home improvement stores such as Home Depot or Lowe’s. 

The simplest way to make the bed would have been just to attach the sonotube canopy to the table and paint it, but because I’m obsessed with Pantone colors, I gave my dog bed a “Panbone” theme and decoupaged it with paint chips, also known as paint swatches. My directions here explain how I put my bed together. For your own version, you can make it as simple or as “ruff” as you’d like.

What you’ll need:

  • IKEA Lack side table, white
  • 20-inch diameter sonotube
  • Mod Podge decoupage glue
  • Foam brush
  • Permanent spray adhesive
  • Acrylic polyurethane
  • Colored paper
  • Paint chips
  • Box cutter
  • Screws and screwdriver
  • White plastic chain
  • Seat cushion

Step 1: Decoupage the tabletop

Step 2: Decoupage the table legs and apron

Step 3: Decoupage the sonotube

Step 4: Attach the canopy

Step 5: Add the rails and cushion

Emergency transport for pets in Israel


When Gaza rockets were raining down on southern and parts of central Israel in November, the staff at Terminal4Pets — located outside of firing range in Maccabim-Reut — told its clients that it would work out the logistics of boarding or evacuating their pets if they suddenly had to leave the country.

The eight-year-old pet travel agency, which shares a building with the clinic that spawned it, the House of Veterinary Doctors, is an Israel-based initiative that enables international travelers, including relocated diplomats and expatriates anywhere in the world, to transport their pets with the minimum amount of trauma to animal and owner.

At the start of the hostilities, Dr. Eytan Kreiner, the veterinarian who heads Terminal4Pets, wrote in a press release: “We understand that people are under a lot of stress and especially foreign diplomats and their families, and we wish to help them any way possible.” He urged people to spread the word that “we are here 24/7 for people and pets during these rough times.” That time, most clients stayed put.

While the agency has helped many owners during times of national or personal emergency, its specialty is providing logistical support for the types of “routine” pet transfers that keep many pet owners up at night worrying.

An airplane flight “is very traumatic for the pet and the owner, whether it’s a diplomat or a student spending a year abroad,” said Ayala Bar, the agency’s head of marketing.

Just as a traditional travel agent advises clients on whether they need a visa or vaccinations, Terminal4Pets helps owners navigate the bureaucratic and complicated process of pet flight and beyond.

When people transfer to another country with a cat or dog, Bar explained, they don’t necessarily know where the nearest clinic is or, as is the case in Israel, they need to register their animal’s microchip information with the Ministry of Agriculture.

The agency, which collaborates with professionals around the world when necessary, advises owners on which vaccinations are required and which ones are advisable, even if not mandatory.

“Their local vet doesn’t understand how difficult it will be for a dog that’s been based in Lapland to adjust here,” Bar said.

Whenever possible, the agency works with pet owners long before the flight.  

“We’ll have a long telephone conversation and ask a lot of details: the [dog’s] breed, its weight, its exact measurements and, especially if it’s a puppy, its kennel size, because the airlines are very strict,” Bar said.

The kennel (in-flight holder) must be large enough to accommodate a pet’s limited movement and include a pet diaper and a blanket.

Because the agency is connected with the clinic downstairs, a newly transferred pet can be assessed as soon as it arrives, if the owner requests it, Bar said.

Although the agency doesn’t board animals, it contracts with two companies that do. That’s especially important for owners who are in a country for a limited amount of time and have no one who can care for their animal for a few days or months at a time.

“Expats and diplomats often don’t have a support system,” Bar said. “Whereas other pet owners might ask their mother to mind their dog for a while, foreigners don’t have that option.”

Sometimes locals need help, too.

When Ziva Ben Shaul’s son, Micki, died suddenly in Florida, she wanted to adopt his cat, Mario. She contacted the agency, which in turn told Micki’s friends what vaccinations and documents the cat would need to fly to Israel.

Today, “Mario is with me,” Ben Shaul said. “His hind legs are paralyzed, but that doesn’t matter. Micki really loved Mario, and it does me good that he’s here with me.” 

Birds of a feather flock together in Hula Valley


Every winter, hundreds of millions of tourists (some of them no larger than a finger) defy travel warnings to visit the Holy Land. They don’t spend much money in Israel, and some stay for only a few hours. They visit the country’s “pubs” before flying off again.

They also don’t say much – at least that we can understand. But Israeli officials say the annual bird migration from Europe and Asia to Africa has the potential to bring many more tourists to Israel’s Hula Valley.

“In less than 500 kilometers (300 miles) we have more than 500 species of birds,” Jonathan Meirav, the organizer of the Hula Bird Festival told The Media Line. “In comparison, the whole United States and Canada together have barely 1,500 species. Per square mile we have the most birds of any place in the world, which is rarely cool.”

Israel is located along the Great Rift Valley, the migratory flyway for millions of birds. It is the shortest route from Asia and Europe to Africa. The egrets, swallows, storks, pelicans, cormorants, eagles, songbirds, cranes and other birds need to feed and rest before they cross the desert to Africa. The gray cranes mate for life and travel in families. At sunset, their cawing fills the air as they alight on Lake Hula after a long day of flying.

“Many of these birds, especially the cranes, fly in big flocks,” Israel Ornithological Center Director Dan Alon told The Media Line. “Cranes need to be together all the time and they need to talk about it. They talk about food, where was the best place to be during the day, and they do it in a place we call a ‘pub.’”

There may not be beer in these pubs, says Alon, but there are plenty of snacks.

“The birds come to eat some peanuts or corn and to drink before they go to sleep — it’s just like the way we use the pub,” Alon said.

The sight of thousands of birds in the darkening sky can be breathtaking, but some farmers in the Galilee were not as happy with the annual visitors. Alon and others decided to put food out in certain areas around the lake to encourage the birds to stop there, and leave farmers’ crops alone. So far it seems to be working.

The Hula Valley used to be a huge swamp, which bred malaria. Soon after the state’s creation in 1948, Israel decided to drain the swamp. But a few years ago, after it flooded, the Keren Kayemet LeIsrael – Jewish National Fund quasi-governmental non-profit organization that owns the site decided to leave it that way and develop ecotourism there.

The Hula Bird Festival, which coincides with the annual migration, aims to bring bird watchers from around the world to Israel.

David Bismuth, an avid birder from France, has all the latest equipment, including powerful binoculars, for viewing birds.

“We saw thousands of cranes, but also some eagles that are very rare in Europe like the Greater Spotted Eagle and a lot of pelicans and cormorants,” he told The Media Line. “I’ve only been here for two days and I’ve already seen so many birds.”

Hula Valley

Hula Valley

There are an estimated 100 million bird watchers around the world. Israeli tourism officials say that even a small slice of that market could boost Israel’s annual tourist rate well above the current figure of 3.5 million annually.

“We believe that at this time of year, this is the place for bird watchers to be,” Alon said. “We call on bird watchers from all over the world to join us for field trips to see this amazing phenomenon.”

The only transportation through the park is either by foot, golf carts or special wagons designed to get as close as possible to the birds. The best time to see them is sunrise and sunset.

Some visitors say they would never have come to Israel if it wasn’t for the birds. Tristan Reid, who lives in England, would stop traffic almost anywhere, with his arms completely covered with bird tattoos. He says they depict endangered species from Turkey, threatened by the large number of hydroelectric power plants being built there.

This is his first trip to Israel, and he says he was a little nervous about coming. But now that he is here, he feels comfortable.

“It’s amazing, it’s such an experience,” he told The Media Line. “It was misty one morning and then all of a sudden all of these cranes appeared out of nowhere. You suddenly feel your place in nature. It’s an emotional experience.”

Comparing animal rights and the Holocaust


On Oct. 2, Alex Hershaft, a Holocaust survivor and founder of the nonprofit Farm Animal Rights Movement (FARM), sat on the ground with some 100 other protesters in front of the Farmer John pig slaughterhouse in Vernon, Calif., blocking the entrance from two bi-level trucks carrying 200 pigs that had arrived to be slaughtered that day. In the next 24 hours, the pigs would be among 6,000 animals that would be stunned by electrical shock, hoisted up by their hind legs and their necks slit in the plant, which is the largest pig slaughterhouse on the West Coast. 

The demonstration was just one of more than 100 such protests held across the United States and in other countries commemorating FARM’s annual World Farm Animals Day.

“You could hear the pigs on the trucks crying,” Hershaft, 78, said quietly in a phone interview from his Bethesda, Md., home several days later. “Despite my advanced age, I made the trip to Vernon and risked arrest, because, as a Holocaust survivor, I am honor-bound to call public attention to this ongoing tragedy.”

As a 5-year-old in the Warsaw Ghetto, Hershaft witnessed brutal beatings and shootings and saw Jews dying of typhus in the streets. After being smuggled out of the ghetto by a family maid, he survived the war by passing as an Aryan. Upon liberation, he learned that his father had died following internment in a German slave labor camp, and that most of his other relatives had also perished.

Eventually, Hershaft earned a doctorate in chemistry at Iowa State University and, while teaching at the Technion in Haifa in the early 1960s, he witnessed a Druze family celebrating the birth of a baby by ritually sacrificing a baby goat. “I saw the irony of killing one child to celebrate the birth of another,” said Hershaft, who in 1961 decided to become vegetarian. “I just couldn’t bear the thought of taking a beautiful, living, breathing being and hitting him over the head, cutting his body into pieces and then shoving them in my face.”

He began to see parallels between the Nazi Holocaust and animal slaughter, including “the crowding, cattle cars, brutality and the routine and efficiency of mass extermination,” he said. “I am not equating the Holocaust with the millions of animals slaughtered every week for U.S. dinner tables, for we differ in many ways,” he added. “Yet, we all share a love of life and our ability to experience many emotions, including affection, joy, sadness and fear.”

Hershaft, who is now vegan, became an animal-rights activist after attending the World Vegetarian Congress in 1975, and in 1981 he founded FARM, which along with groups like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has became a force in the struggle for improved treatment of farm animals and vegan advocacy. 

Today, Hershaft said, FARM has an annual budget of $250,000, as well as 85,000 subscribers to its newsletters. Hershaft said tens of thousands of volunteers participate in FARM’s grassroots activities, including The Great American Meatout, Gentle Thanksgiving and a new 10 Billion Lives project, which encourages veganism. 

On the phone, Hershaft recalled how Farmer John’s bucolic mural of pigs cavorting in a meadow reminded him of the deceptive sign, “Work Makes You Free,” above the gates of Auschwitz. “I echo the wisdom of famed Yiddish writer Isaac Bashevis Singer: ‘For the animals, life is an eternal Treblinka,’ ” he said.


For more information about FARM, visit farmusa.org.

Paws of Love: Fur healing’s sake


Ari Gould, 6, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia three years ago. In addition to the physical pain he has endured, the disease and the stressful medical procedures that followed have also left him socially isolated.

The steroid treatments he receives once a month have numerous unpleasant side effects, including increases in anxiety levels.

“When he is on steroids he feels really bad,” said Alissa Gould, Ari’s mother.

During those times she arranges for Ari to visit with Ziggy, a friend he made back in April.

“When Ziggy comes, it totally calms him down and is a great distraction,” Gould said.

Only Ziggy isn’t a boy; he’s a golden retriever whom Ari met through Paws of Love.

Started in 2011, Paws of Love is a volunteer-based project of Chai Lifeline that provides seriously ill children with canine companions from Lend a Paw, a pet therapy agency whose teams of handlers and dogs have been through a rigorous training program. The therapy dogs and their trainers help lift the spirits of chronically ill children and fill the social void that often occurs when a child gets sick.

“When someone is hit with an illness out of the blue, the shock and the terror that strikes a family is overwhelming, especially for a pediatric illness,” said Gila Sacks, coordinator for Paws of Love.

First introduced by Boris Levinson in the 1960s, animal-assisted therapy has grown from fewer than 20 programs in the 1980s to more than 1,000 such programs today. Therapy applications include helping children practice reading, assisting with physical therapy, and providing emotional support to senior citizens and war veterans, among others.

Aubrey Fine, author of the textbook, “Handbook on Animal-Assisted Therapy,” says that while there is little evidence-based research to confirm the effectiveness of animal-assisted therapy, that’s beside the point. “There is a lot of qualitative support out there to say that animal-assisted therapies have value,” he said.

Some evidence is beginning to emerge that dogs can help people with cardiovascular disease. Blood pressure in both the human and the dog may be reduced when the person pets the animal, according to Fine, and people who walk their dogs are less likely to have chronic health problems.

Levels of oxytocin, a neurotransmitter that promotes good feelings, also change in humans and animals when the animal is being petted. And when it comes to the emotional benefits of animal-assisted therapies for children, Fine said, “The animal seems to go under a child’s conscious defense mechanism.”

Sharon Vincuilla, director of Lend a Paw, says she regularly sees the positive effects of animal-assisted therapy. “There was a woman at one facility who never talked, but she would talk to the dogs,” she said. 

One Chai Lifeline family, Sacks noted, has noticed significant improvement in their children’s communication skills after several sessions of pet therapy.

In addition to Paws of Love, Chai Lifeline offers a wide range of services for all members of a family fighting a childhood illness. Programs include individual and family counseling, telephone support groups, art therapy for patients and siblings, tutoring, help with medical insurance, referrals to specialists and therapists, big brothers and big sisters mentoring, and retreats for parents. All of Chai Lifeline’s services are free, funded by private donations and grants.

Chai Lifeline has “helped us a lot with food and keeping the Sabbath. They have helped with activities Ari could do that were very sanitary and geared toward his age,” Gould said. “They also have programs to help the moms … relax without the kids, to give them some free time. And they are very good with the children.”

During a July visit, Ari ran out to meet Ziggy, despite feeling ill from his steroids.

Ziggy’s handler, Jody Rudy, said she met Ziggy while walking dogs for a golden retriever rescue organization. She says she quickly noticed he was meant to be a therapy dog.

“It was not so much about me, but about my dog. The thing about Ziggy is that when someone is nervous or having a hard time, Ziggy will pick that person out of a crowd and sit next to them. I saw this in him, and so I wanted to use him to benefit other people.”

Rudy wanted to make sure she was not forcing Ziggy into a job that was against his nature, so she barely trained him at all before the therapy dog exam. “I read what he was supposed to do … and I made the determination that if he was ready to be a therapy dog, he would pass that test. … And he did. It was really easy for him to do it.”

Rudy chose New Leash on Life to get Ziggy certified for therapy, because they make a point of choosing shelter dogs to be trained for therapy.

Although he was too tired to play outside, Ari gave Ziggy his full attention for most of the visit, petting him while telling his visitors about his recent experience at summer camp.

“Ari just lights up when he sees Ziggy,” Rudy said.

For more information about Paws of Love, call (310) 274-6331 or visit chailifeline.org.

Opinion: At the New Year, let’s give animals a new Jewish chance


Shortly after I became a vegan, around 20 years ago, I ordered my first “vegan option” at a Jewish organizational dinner.

It arrived: a plateful of raw celery and carrot sticks arranged around a cup of something ranch dressing-ish that probably wasn’t even vegan.

Since then, things have changed considerably.

Teenage servers at fast food places know what vegan means even if they have to deliver the news that there is nothing there that fits the description. And at most Jewish organizational dinners today, the vegan option is so delicious that others at my table invariably cry, “Oh, I wish I had ordered that!” when they see it.

Things have changed, but not nearly enough for animals.

Enter the Jewish new year for animals—an initiative to transform an ancient and largely forgotten holiday, Rosh Hashanah l’Ma’aser Bemeima, or New Year’s Day for Tithing Animals, into Rosh Hashanah l’ Beheimot, a New Year for Animals devoted to considering how Jews can improve their relationships with animals.

Animals raised for food, whether on factory farms or “free range,” live and die in unspeakably horrible conditions, treated not as living beings but as the commodities they are. Dairy cows are crammed into tiny stalls and kept impregnated so they will produce milk perpetually. Their calves are taken from them shortly after birth and raised as veal in crates too small for them to turn around in.

Chickens, as several recent undercover videos now available on YouTube have documented, are kept in cages so small they can’t even raise a wing, and they are de-beaked without anesthesia so they don’t peck each other to death, as animals kept in such unnatural conditions are wont to do.

And that’s not even mentioning animals in circuses, product testing labs, the fur trade and other forms of what writer I.B. Singer called “eternal Treblinka.” Nor does the list address other related issues such as human health and its connection to diet and the link between animal agriculture and climate change.

The so-called new Jewish food movement, laudable though it may be, is more concerned with issues of locally grown produce, sustainable agriculture, healthy eating and social justice for workers than with the treatment of animals.

And yet animal cruelty is very much against Jewish teaching. As Richard Schwartz, the president of Jewish Vegetarians of North America and a tireless crusader for animal rights and a plant-based diet, points out, “tsa’ar ba’alei chaim,” causing harm or sorrow to animals, is a Torah prohibition.

That’s evident in many ways, from the mandate that farmers not muzzle an animal while it is threshing in the field (so it can eat some of the grain) to the admiring way the Torah treats the compassionate actions of Moses and King David toward their sheep.

Yet today, as Schwartz writes on the Jewish Vegetarians website, “with regard to animals, the primary focus of Jewish religious services, Torah readings and education are on the biblical sacrifices, animals that are kosher for eating, and laws about animal slaughter, with relatively little time devoted to Judaism’s more compassionate teachings related to animals.”

That’s why Schwartz and a coalition of Jewish groups have proposed the initiative to turn Rosh Hashanah l’Ma’aser Beheima into a New Year for Animals. (Disclosure: I am a member of some of these groups.) The holiday occurs on the first day of the month of Elul (this year, beginning Saturday evening) and initially was devoted to counting domestic animals intended to be used for sacrificial offerings.

This wouldn’t be the first time an ancient holiday has been reclaimed for a related but very different purpose.

Tu b’Shvat—the New Year for the Trees and a day originally intended for tithing fruit trees for Temple offerings—has evolved into a holiday devoted to appreciating and healing the natural world.

Schwartz, who along with Jewish Vegetarians of North America is leading the campaign to establish the new holiday, suggests that Jews use it to consider ways to apply traditional Jewish teachings on compassion toward animals to today’s issues, such as factory farms and moving toward a plant-based diet.

That seems particularly appropriate since Elul is considered a month of introspection as Jews examine their words and actions in the days leading up to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

The initiative’s first event is a seder set for Sunday evening at Caravan of Dreams, a vegetarian restaurant in New York City. Other vegetarian seders are taking place at the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center in Falls Village, Conn., and at a resort in Ontario, Canada.

A number of other groups are supporting the initiative, and several prominent Jewish leaders have endorsed the idea of the new holiday. Modern Orthodox scholar and author Rabbi Yitz Greenberg says in a statement that “it is a beautiful idea to renew/revive a classic day … Your contemporary application … in the form of addressing humanity’s relationship to animal life and the widespread mistreatment of food animals and environmental abuse in today’s economy, marked by industrial farming and animal husbandry, is inspired.”

Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles succinctly summarizes the idea of the holiday, writing in a statement, “The Jewish tradition mandates that we are stewards of all God’s creation. In our day we are increasingly sensitized to suffering of those living creatures in our care; this initiative helps us recognize our obligation to animals and so helps us be more fully human.”

Schwartz and others realize that restoring and reclaiming an ancient holiday can’t be done all at once. Plans include setting up a website and Facebook page that would feature a collection of material on Jewish teachings about animals and creating a haggadah for a seder, modeled on the now-widespread Tu b’Shvat seder.

For now, I’m hoping that awareness of these efforts leads to greater attentiveness to issues related to animals, issues that many of us would like to push out of our consciousness, along with other “inconvenient truths,” as we buy our neatly wrapped and packaged meat.

To start things off in a modest way? Read more about the initiative and find links to related sites at www.JewishVeg.com.

And think about having a veggie burger for lunch or dinner.

(Pauline Dubkin Yearwood is managing editor of the Chicago Jewish News.)

How vegans do Passover


Holidays like Passover are a difficult time for Jewish vegans and animal activists, a time of mixed emotions. As much as we love and find relevance in the meaning of the holiday, it’s difficult to be confronted by a table full of the body parts of animals that we love and fight for daily. Some vegans forgo Passover entirely, and some who celebrate with their families feel pressured to defend their ethical choices, or pressured to eat things that conflict with their values. Some are no longer invited to their family’s tables at all.

Last year, my wife and I decided to start a new Passover tradition for our friends: a “veder,” or vegan seder. All of the traditional dishes were served — matzah brie, brisket, gefilte fish, potato latkes, matzah ball soup, kugel and macaroons — in veganized versions without meat, dairy or eggs. Though not all the dishes are appropriate for Passover, the meaning of the holiday and the traditional foods serve to reconnect us to our Jewish roots.

This year was different. One of our guests, 5-year-old Felix, has been vegan her entire life. She did a great job reading the Four Questions. Yes, not exactly traditional, but the tradition that we are creating is our own.

Not only did we add some interesting new dishes like veganized deviled eggs, cashew-based artisan cheese and a couple of vanilla cakes, my wife and I added two new family members to our tribe: two beagles who were liberated from an animal testing lab in Spain. Frederick and Douglass, named after the former slave and abolitionist leader, were rescued last Thanksgiving by Beagle Freedom Project (beaglefreedomproject.org).  The nonprofit organization works to find homes for former laboratory animals.

Like our ancestors whose story we retell every year about their liberation from Egypt, Frederick and Douglass were liberated from enslavement, too. Hundreds of millions of nonhuman animals suffer in private and university laboratories all over the world as test subjects whose rights and dignity are taken away from them.


Douglass finding the afikomen

Freddie and Douglass’ story is an important story to tell at our veder, because theirs is unique. Most animals in vivisection labs never make it out alive. Most are killed during testing. The ones that survive experiments are killed because they are no longer useful to labs and have no monetary value.

Our veder is really not much different than most others except that as vegans and animal rights activists, we see animals as fellow innocent victims. We decide to include and remember the 10 billion animals who are killed for food each year in the United States, the hundreds of millions in vivisection laboratories, the animals enslaved in zoos, circuses, racetracks and water parks for human entertainment, and the millions killed for fur, leather, wool and silk.

Although being vegan is still outside the mainstream, it is in no way a rejection of the values we grew up with. In fact, the very teachings of Judaism encourage us to question authority, protect those who are most vulnerable, and take action against oppression and injustice — qualities that are common, if not necessary, to vegans and animal activists.

After retelling the Passover story, much food was eaten, and much wine was drunk. As the night was winding down, we noticed Douglass running through the dining room. He found the afikomen before our friend’s daughter! Yet another new tradition at our veder is born.

‘Extinct’ frog rediscovered in Israel


A frog species thought to be extinct in northern Israel reportedly has been seen for the first time in 50 years.

The Hula Painted Frog was rediscovered Tuesday. The frog was believed to have gone extinct following the draining of the Hula Valley in the 1950s in an effort to stop malaria.

According to Dana Milstein, an ecologist with the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, the frog was rare even before it was declared extinct. She credits rehydration of the area for the frog sighting.

The Hebrew name for the frog is “agulashon shehor-gahon,” which refers to its black belly and round tongue.

High-tech poop, gender-separate beach


Here are some recent stories out of Israel that you may have missed.

ID’ing dog poop goes high tech

Petach Tikvah dog owners better watch where their dogs leave their poop—it may be used as evidence against them.

A new law proposed by the City Council would allow city dog inspectors to test the DNA of dog excrement left in the streets and send a ticket to the animal’s owner.

A DNA database would be collected from the dogs’ saliva, likely collected when the pets come in for their yearly rabies shot, The Jerusalem Post reported.

Bibi’s new neighbor—Chabad

Chabad has moved into Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Jerusalem neighborhood.

Chabad of Rechavia, serving downtown Jerusalem, moved into a prime location in the Windmill of Rechavia building next to the Kings Hotel and across the street from the prime minister’s official residence.

The new Chabad house, in one of the capital’s most central and busiest locations, will serve Jerusalemites and tourists.

Record-setting stage career

Veteran Israeli actress Helen Meron has qualified for the Guinness World Record for “longest career as a theatrical actress.”

Meron, who at 87 is currently performing in a Cameri Theater play in Tel Aviv, first appeared on stage at the age of 4. She has been nicknamed the “first lady of Israeli theater.”

The Germany native came with her family to Palestine in 1933.

No sex on the beach

Just days after a photo shoot of hundreds of naked Israelis at the Dead Sea, a new gender-separate beach opened.

The $3.4 million project is meant to allow the religiously observant community to enjoy the Dead Sea’s salty waters, Israel Hayom reported. Project leaders have promised that entry to the beach, the first segregated by gender in the area, will be free and stay open all day.

The new beach was built on land owned by the Tamar Regional Council, which expressed its opposition to the Spencer Tunik photo shoot last month.

First female sapper on the job

The Israel Police graduated its first female sapper—Inbal Gawi, 26, graduated from the 10-month bomb disposal course last month and joined the force.

Gawi told Ynet that she decided to become a bomb disposal specialist because she wanted “to do something challenging and different,” as well as to blaze a trail for other women. She previously served as a combat soldier in the Israeli army.

She was trained to defuse bombs, and handle explosives and weapons.

Fountain pen, times four

A set of Israeli quadruplets had a bar mitzvah in Jerusalem.

Benzi, Yosef, Shlomo and Yishai Mizrachi celebrated their bar mitzvah last month with a service at the Western Wall and a huge party at a hall in Jerusalem.

About 500 guests attended the party, according to reports. The boys attend different schools, and each could invite 30 classmates and teachers to the bash, at which they performed religious songs together.

The brothers have seven other siblings, including a set of twins. Their mother told the Jewish Chronicle that she did not undergo any fertility treatments in order to conceive the boys.

Each boy received a set of four species for Sukkot in honor of their quadrupleness.

Salam alaikum: First Arabic cable channel to debut

Israel’s Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Council has granted a license to a group of investors to operate an Arabic-language cable and satellite channel.

The channel, which will be launched in January, will be free and available on local satellite and cable company menus. The Hala TV group, which received the license to operate the channel, has been working on pilot episodes of a children’s show, news programs and lifestyle shows.

Hala TV includes Arab and Jewish partners.

Two previous attempts to set up a permanent Arabic-language channel on Israeli TV fell through.

How the Hai-Bar animals were rescued from fire


Persian fallow deer now graze peacefully in their enclosures at the Carmel Hai-Bar Nature Reserve as ranger/caretaker Yakoub Makladeh feeds them nutritional pellets from a metal bucket.

Earlier this month, the lives of these rare animals were in jeopardy for four days as flames from Israel’s historic Carmel fire threatened the reserve nestled in the mountains outside Haifa. The vulture cage was destroyed; flames licked the fences of the deer enclosures, and the surrounding terrain is now ashen.

“Thursday, Dec. 2, around 11 a.m., we saw smoke coming from the direction of Isfiya, a Druze village south of our Hai-Bar location,” Makladeh remembers. “The animals already sensed something was wrong and were acting nervous.”

More than 100 rangers and volunteers, including Eli Amitay, director-general of Israel’s Nature and National Parks Authority, raced to the Hai-Bar to help. Minister of Environmental Protection Gilad Erdan also came to assess the situation.

Rare griffon vultures, whose cage overlooked a scenic green wadi, and other birds in their breeding cages — Egyptian vultures, Lanner falcons, Bonelli’s eagles — were evacuated immediately.

“By noon, the smoke was much stronger,” Makladeh said, “and we decided to move the rare fallow deer into a different and safer large enclosure built for this purpose.”

A heated discussion took place about whether to immobilize the deer and evacuate them to a zoo, but Makladeh, who has spent many years as the animals’ psychologist, companion and caretaker, argued vehemently against this, saying further stress from the immobilization procedure would increase the likelihood the animals might die.

“Some wanted us to leave the enclosure gates open and hope the deer would find their way to ‘safer pastures,’ but the deer wouldn’t have been likely to go,” Makladeh said.

So he asked everyone to clear the area, and then, “with friendly persuasion and a bucket full of their favorite feed,” led them to safe enclosures at the Hai-Bar.

“No one but Yakoub, whom the animals love and trust, could do this,” said Avinoam Lourie, a zoologist and former head of the Carmel Hai-Bar. Makladeh deferred all thanks to the Nature Reserve Authority rangers and volunteers, who “fought the fire with their bare hands,” cutting trees, building firebreaks with hoes, spraying water from tanks on their backs; and stopping the fire right at the fences.

While the fire was raging and communications were sparse, the outside world had waited nervously to hear whether the animals, let alone the people, had survived.  

“We fought continuously for more than 70 hours,” Makladeh said.

“People slept on the ground and lived on coffee and sandwiches. When I finally took a break, I realized that my clothes were totally torn and burnt, I was bleeding, and my boots were completely destroyed.”

On Dec. 6, when Lourie went to the Hai-Bar to speak with Makladeh, he found they had already brought back the birds of prey to some of the safe cages and had begun to rebuild the main burned vulture cage and repair the deer enclosures.

“We even put all the roe deer together in one pen,” Makladeh said, “normally a no-no, as males are naturally aggressive toward one another; but they had just shed their antlers, so they couldn’t hurt each other.”

Lourie noted that “ample numbers of fallow deer had already been released back into the wild, in the Galilee, near Jerusalem, and in a few reserves elsewhere in Israel.”

“We are, however, still near the beginning of the reintroduction process for the roe deer,” Lourie said, “and now is the season for griffon vultures to mate and build nests and lay eggs, which I hope they will do because their status in the wild is very bad.”

After the fire was out, Lourie took a walk around the Carmel Mountain area. “It was very sad for me to identify large numbers of porcupines, jackals, foxes, wild boars, songbirds, snakes and other animals that had burned to death. We need to preserve and protect every specimen to strengthen the population of our endangered animals,” Lourie concluded.

For more information and ways to help, visit parks.org.il.

PETA slams N.Y. kapparot ritual [VIDEO]



PETA anti-kapporot video

NEW YORK (JTA) — For the second year, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has complained about the High Holy Days ritual of swinging a chicken over one’s head, a sin-transference ceremony.

In a letter sent Monday to the New York agriculture department’s Kosher Law Enforcement division, PETA alleges that thousands of dead chickens were thrown away after the ritual last year in one Brooklyn center. The letter singles out the kapparot center run in Crown Heights by Rabbi Shea Hecht and asks the state to investigate whether consumer fraud occurred. Jews who bought chickens for the ritual expected the birds “to be processed for meat that would be distributed as tzedakah,” or charity, the letter states.

Last summer’s complaint to the state and city was more wide ranging, alleging a variety of health and safety violations as well as animal cruelty. It spurred a meeting of more than a dozen rabbis in Brooklyn, and they sent out directives to kapparot centers saying they needed full-time rabbinic supervision.

A related letter was submitted to the Kashrus Information Center, an independent association of more than 100 rabbis that monitors kosher affairs in Brooklyn. Rabbi Moshe Weiner, the Kashrus center’s rabbinic administrator, said that Hecht’s site and others operated by communal organizations are well run. While there have been problems in the past from “fly-by-night” kapparot centers, Weiner said proactive steps taken by rabbis last year significantly cut down on such problems.

Purim with the cows


What blew me away about the synagogue wasn’t the painting on the wall of the old Moroccan rebbe Meier Baal Ness, which I had never seen anywhere else — noteven in Sephardic synagogues — and which brought back memories of going on pilgrimages with my family as a child in Morocco.

Nor was it the charity baskets — one at the entrance of the shul that contained food for a homeless shelter, the other in the back of the shul that was part of a bat mitzvah charity project.

Nor was it the megillah reading by a Portuguese Jew with a melodic style and Ladino enunciation I had not heard before.

No, those things were interesting and aroused my curiosity, but what really blew me away were the cows.

Hundreds of cows.

Cows that I saw as I drove for miles through the rugged farmlands of Central Oregon before reaching a dirt road that took me to a little synagogue planted right in the middle of five acres of prairie desert.

It was a shul called Shalom Bayit, the pride and joy of the Jewish Community of Central Oregon.

The first person who greeted my daughter and me was a man in his mid-50s dressed in drag, with a bright green wig, lots of jewelry and a pretty red dress with an open back. His name was Rabbi Jay Shupack, and he reminded me that everyone must get dressed up on Purim and be really silly. He wasn’t too impressed with the clown bowtie I was wearing on my all-white outfit, so he quickly rummaged through a basket of costume hats and offered me a few.

This was my introduction to the little Jewish community of Bend, Ore., where my daughter Shanni goes to school and where I found myself last week searching for a Purmim party and a megillah reading — 700 miles and a few worlds away from Pico Boulevard.

As the rabbi was reading the megillah, engaging the congregants with questions and drawing parallels between Haman and Ahmadinejad, one thought preoccupied me: Who are all these Jews in weird costumes, and how did they get here?

There must be millions of stories throughout the ages of how little Jewish communities came to be, many of which we never hear about because they don’t have any particular drama or relevance beyond their immediate surrounding — quiet stories that stay forever lodged in the memory of the locals.

The story of the Jewish community of Bend is one of them. It’s about a group of Jews from places as far away as South Africa, Denmark and Israel, and from areas all across America, who found themselves and each other on a wide-open land and became Jewish settlers.

It’s about Jews like Izzie Oren, an Israeli rancher who fought in the Yom Kippur War and who decided one day to open a dude ranch in Oregon, who became a founding member of Shalom Bayit.

It’s also about Alice Shapiro, who was living in Ohio 15 years ago when she decided to look for another place to live. She remembered that on a cross-country tour she took with her family years earlier, she had fallen in love with “the special air of Bend,” a fragrant mountain and desert air she yearned to rediscover.

In the midst of the Purim partying, Shapiro recalled that when she first came to Bend, there were only a few Jewish families who would arrange occasional prayer services in church basements and private living rooms.

Eventually, they all decided to get serious and hire a rabbi, and out of the five rabbis they interviewed, guess which one they picked? The one who did a puppet show with his wife to tell the story of Chanukah — during his interview.

Rabbi Jay Shupack, a yeshiva boy from Philadelphia who was part of the Jewish Renewal movement and who was once a cantor for a Chabad in San Diego, is one of those Renaissance Jews who’s hard to figure out, because you get a sense he’d be comfortable with any Jew, from the most ultra-Orthodox to the most liberal.

He’s also very comfortable with nature, which might explain why the Shalom Bayit synagogue is powered by 36 solar panels that produce one-third of the electricity they need, and that he dreams of building a windmill one day that will power the whole shul.

While Rabbi Shupack was going on about the great leaders of the shul — people like Steve Leventhal, who was there at the very beginning — he also mentioned the shul’s resident “bubbe,” Marion Tannen, who’s almost 90, and its resident “zayde,” Monroe Weinberg, who’s in his 80s and who still writes songs that he plays on his ukulele to entertain the kids.

Today, the community has reached a milestone: With about 100 families and a budding Sunday school program, it has outgrown its space. So they’ve set up a committee that is helping plan their future and answer questions like: Should they do a major expansion? Should they invest in more educators? Should they start a new building fund?

You hear all these familiar issues, and it’s tempting to think that Shalom Bayit is just like any other shul you might find here in Pico-Robertson.

But it’s hard to forget the cows.

I took a walk outside during the Purim festivities, and as twilight fell on a land that looked like it reached all the way to the sun, I couldn’t help asking myself: Which neighborhood is more Jewish, the one with a hundred shuls and kosher markets and storefronts that bathe your eye in Jewishness, or the neighborhood with one tribe of Jews surrounded by miles of endless land?

I thought I knew the answer a week ago, but after my Purim in Bend, I’m not so sure.

David Suissa, an advertising executive, is founder of OLAM magazine and Meals4Israel.com. He can be reached at dsuissa@olam.org.

Briefs: Kosher grasshoppers and eco-Torah


Kosher Animal Kingdom

Is giraffe kosher? What about peacock? Or bison? (What is bison anyway?) Find answers to these mysteries of the edible animal kingdom next week at the Orthodox Union’s (OU) “Halachic Adventure” in Los Angeles, which will present the traditional perspective on all different types of species. The first day of the Aug. 5-7 conference is open to the public (the other two days are for rabbis and kashrut professionals).

Sunday, Aug. 5 will begin with an all-day session at the OU (cost $15), with speakers such as Rabbi Steven Weil discussing growing up on a cattle farm and the “two Aris” — Rabbi Dr. Ari Zivotofsky and Dr. Ari Greenspan, who have devoted years to investigating which species are kosher. They hope to restore kosher status wherever possible to animals, fish and poultry that at one time might have been acceptable but whose status is now in doubt, or have been considered kosher only in a limited area.

“Kashrut is something that’s very popular,” said Rabbi Daniel Korobkin, director of community and synagogue services for the OU West Coast. “Many people are concerned with what they’re putting on their table and are interested in what animals are kosher.”

The public is also invited to a 15-course meal Sunday night at Prime Grill (cost $175), where plates of quail, red deer, bison, udder, partridge and yak will be served. For more information, call (310) 229-9000, ext. 200 or e-mail westcoast@ou.org.

— Amy Klein, Religion Editor

Torah With a Green Lens Jews have long been involved in saving the world — especially when it comes to the environment — so they should be happy to know that’s what the Torah commands. “Bring Torah Down To Earth,” a three-hour seminar, will explore the Torah-based approach to activism and ecology.

Sponsored by the Happy Minyan, a Shlomo Carlebach-style synagogue, the outdoor workshop will be led by Israeli rabbis from Yeshiva Simchat Shlomo, the Carlebach yeshiva in Jerusalem, which recently began the Eco-Activist Beit Midrash.

“We hope to become a serious center for a deep Torah ecology, connected to our ancestral land and our modern people, cultivating a cadre of rooted, informed and inspired activists to bring lights of tikkun [fixing] into our own communities and the world,” the program introduction reads. Yeshiva Simchat Shlomo (www.shlomoyeshiva.org/eco/) leads Torah ecology seminars in Israel for Birthright.

“A lot of people wouldn’t put Torah and green together in a million years,” said David Sacks, a member of the Happy Minyan. “Most people see it as a good thing to do, rather than as part of the Torah’s vision of the world — not just taking care of people in the world, but the world itself.” The seminar will take place July 29 from noon to 3 p.m. at Roxbury Park in Beverly Hills.

— AK

A grown-up children’s story


Inner child therapy is a psychological method aimed at giving voice to part of the adult psyche that remains eternally childlike. It purports that a vulnerable innocence
exists within our subconscious; when acknowledged, a more complete and mature life experience is attained.

For example, were my inner child invited to describe Parshat Noach, she might say:
 

Noah is full of animal crackers


Animal Crackers

This week’s Torah Portion is Noach. We learn that Noah had to build a massive ark (aka a really BIG boat) because the floods were coming. Two of every animal (one male, one female) had to make it onto the boat, otherwise there would be no more of that animal in the world — the story goes that that’s why we don’t have unicorns today. Pretend you are Noah or his wife and you are making a list of animals. Put what the animal is called in the right blank. To check your answers, visit scroll to the bottom of this page.

1) Male Cat ______
2) Female Cat ______

3) Male Deer ______
4) Female Deer _______

5) Male Fox______
6) Female Fox _______

7) Male Goat _______
8) Female Goat ______

9) Male Horse ______
10) Female Horse ________

11) Male Sheep _____
12) Female Sheep _______

13) Male Swan _____
14) Female Swan _____

Words to choose from:

a) Billy, b) Buck, c) Cob, d) Doe, e) Dog, f) Ewe, g) Mare, h) Nanny, I) Pen, j) Queen, k) Ram, l) Stallion, m) Tom, n) Vixen

Kein v’ Lo:

Ghosts

This section of the page is a way for you as kids to sound off about an issue. While some Jews do not participate in Halloween because of its Christian and pagan origins, at this time of year it’s hard to ignore that there are a lot of monsters, witches and pumpkins all over town. This month’s Kein v’ Lo looks at ghosts and spirits and examines whether we believe in such things.

The Kein Side:

  • It is believed that the souls of our loved ones continue to watch over us after they have died. This is why sometimes if you go to the home of someone who has died, you can still feel his or her presence.
  • If ghosts and evil spirits weren’t real, then why would some people be so superstitious about protecting themselves from the “evil eye” by wearing a hamsah (amulet), saying “kein ayin hora” or breaking a glass at a wedding to scare off evil spirits?

The Lo Side:

  • When people say they “see” a ghost, that cannot be. It is the soul that is supposed to remain, so there is nothing to see. Basically, ghost sightings have never been proven.
  • Science disputes the existence of ghosts. They are not the spirits of the dead, but traces that have been left behind because of really strong emotional connections.

Discuss your opinions in your classroom or around your dining table with your family. We aren’t saying which is right and which is wrong. We want to know what you think. Send your thoughts to Kids@jewishjournal.com with Kein v’Lo in the subject line.

Answers:

1m, 2j, 3b, 4d, 5e, 6n, 7a, 8h, 9l, 10g, 11k, 12f, 13c, 14i

I Love You, Carnivore


This column is in response to last week’s Torah Portion by Rabbi Zoë Klein, who confessed her secret enjoyment of meat, despite her family’s predominantly vegetarian diet.

To: My Not-So-Flesh-Eating Wife

From: Her Closeted Carnivorous/Publicly Vegetarian Husband

Worry not, my dear, your struggle is safe with me over vegetarianism. I try to be one, but you know the truth of my dilemma, although it is less debilitating for me than it is for you. After 20 years, I think I’m close to being true to myself when I ignore the leftover Shabbos schnitzel from our Hillel caterer.

You see, as you know, I love meat. Love it! Growing up, although it wasn’t kosher, I took extra delight in my mother’s marinated flank steak. She also made great meatballs, and do I ever miss Shake N’ Bake chicken. How fun it was to overcook hotdogs until they blistered on the grill outside, while watching “60 Minutes” on Sunday evenings as a family.

I have absolutely no repulsion toward seeing carcasses; only a sadness that others are troubled by it. Ultimately, “we are like vanity; our days are as a shadow that passes,” as you and I read when we officiate at funerals, so why not accept that the life on the paper plates used in our homes for the kids eating a little meat is temporal? When medical shows present brain surgeries, complete with machines sucking the blood away, I can watch without any angst.

You, on the other hand, must turn the station, and at the site of roadkill, you bristle and say, “God bless it.” Actually, thank you for teaching me to do the same.

“Does it really matter if I don’t turn off the water while I brush my teeth?” one of my environment-conscientious students queried me the other day. Elizabeth had been caught by another conservationist in the throes of committing what some consider a chilul Hashem, desecration of that which was holy. Wasting water is an act of bal tashchit, our tradition’s way of saying that we are stewards of the planet and as such, we have no right to waste or destroy needlessly.

“Industries and big businesses waste far more water every day than people do brushing their teeth and watering their lawns,” she added. “Truth be told, I knew that I should turn off the water faucet, but does it really matter?”

“Maybe the key is to try to turn it off but not feel immense guilt for keeping it on, since it has virtually no effect on the environment,” I offered as a compromise. She seemed content.

As we left this “lunch ‘n’ learn” at USC’s health science campus, I had an epiphany. I wondered whether Elizabeth was channeling Torah from Sinai for me with my struggle to conquer my yetzer hara, the evil impulse toward consuming fleishigs: If I privately eat the Persian kabob leftovers after our weekly Wednesday barbecue, so that no one knows and it has no impact on anyone, might that be the ideal?

My act of civil disobedience — refusing to consume the flesh of once-living, breathing animals — has virtually no effect, perhaps none whatsoever. Agribusiness decides far in advance how many cows to raise and then slaughter without regard to my individual case.

It is almost entirely unlikely that the good folks at Rubashkin’s or some other slaughterhouse would ever take an inventory that would reflect my decision. It seems that being a vegetarian in America is as effective for slowing down meat production as trying to convince our son, Rocky, that muesli tastes better than marshmallows.

However, perhaps eating leftovers is still a kiddush Hashem, a sanctification of these animals. Kabbalah teaches that when we eat foods, we elevate the divine sparks within them, so by consuming these leftovers, I am ensuring that these sparks are not wasted. It would be wrong to let the leftovers get dumped, as that would certainly be a violation of the law of bal tashchit.

The purposeful consumption of leftover meats then makes sense. However, if anyone were to find out that I was not a true vegetarian, they might never consider a vegetarian lifestyle. This would betray my values: While I can’t individually change the meat production levels in this society, creating a vegetarian movement would help keep cows jumping over the moon in perpetuity. I’m pretty much convinced that had my sister, Sylvia, never been a vegetarian, I might have never ended up in this dilemma, which pits my conscience against my cravings.

So, dear, continue to chew gum after eating a hamburger in order to mask the taste of once-living animals on your breath. Even as I argue for public vegetarianism with a strictly private consumption of leftovers, I am beginning to reach the point where even my interest in meat is disappearing. One too many PETA videos, I suppose.

Hoisting and shackling the cows horrifies me, and while kosher, I would much rather take my cues from the likes of Shlomo Goren, Isaac Bashevis Singer, S.I. Agnon and A.D. Gordon, not to mention Albert Einstein, Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan, all famous Jewish vegetarians.

Our prayers are for Moshiach, a messianic era in which the world order will improve in its very essence. When I say “Bayom Hahu,” on that day, I join Rav Kook in imagining a world when we need not sacrifice animals on any altar ever again.

I love you, even if you do sneak a roast beef sandwich from time to time.

Jonathan Klein is the Allen and Ruth Ziegler rabbinic director at USC Hillel.

A Letter


To: My vegetarian husband

From: His guilt-ridden wife, who keeps falling off the vegetable cart

We are both rabbis. We’ve studied the same texts. We’ve turned the same verses over and over, examining them like gems under a magnifying glass, full of refractions of color and light. We both understand it was only after Noah’s sacrificial offerings God said, “Every creature that lives shall be yours to eat; as with the green grasses.” The sanction on eating meat given the moment after God realizes, “the devisings of man’s mind are evil from his youth.” Perhaps that was the violence God saw Noah’s generation commit? The carnivorous drive of both man and beast which horrified heaven so that the ducts of the deep were opened and the land welled over with torrential tears.

We have both turned over the verse, “You shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk.” In this week’s Torah portion, the verse follows verses on sacrifice, festal offerings and choice first fruits. Biblical scholars understand it to be referring to ancient Egyptian sacrifices, not necessarily how we prepare our food. But we’ve also drunk from the Talmud, and been fed by the commentators, who understand it as a prohibition against cooking milk and meat. We’ve encountered into the fences built around that law.

You remember all the late nights when I was finishing my rabbinic thesis, “Animal Sacrifice and the Continual Offering in the Second Temple Period.” In my studies, I learned that the deep-rooted instinct to sacrifice grew out of basic archaic taboos on eating flesh, and the need to reconcile mortal frailties with the gods upon whom man believed his well-being depended. After the flood, meat-eating is God’s concession to an imperfect mankind, and man being acutely aware of his imperfection, and ashamed before the Creator for his hunger for flesh, attempts to elevate the entire process, legitimizing it by turning the animal into an offering. God, apologetically, is invited to the table. I remember what Jacob Milgrom wrote in “Studies in Cultic Theology and Terminology”: “Man will have meat for his food and he will kill to get it. At least let us not let him dehumanize himself in the process.”

I remember when we were dating, I felt ashamed when I had a hot dog. I would have a stick of spearmint gum, like a smoker, before seeing you. When I was pregnant, I wanted my body to be like Eden for our child, where only the fruit of most trees and the green of the earth were food, where there was no killing — an idyllic serenity of species cohabiting. But my body craved more iron than spinach could provide.

I love that there are never bones in our kitchen. I love that when you take me to kosher vegetarian restaurants, I can close my eyes and point to anything on the menu and know it will be fresh, healthy and good. The children wake to the smell of kosher vegetarian bacon. Chicken-less nuggets are packed in their lunches.

I try, when confronted with a burger to remember the starry eyes of the little cow in our daughter’s book: “It’s time for sleep little calf, little calf. What happened today that made you laugh?” I try to eat low on the food chain: fish before chicken before beef. And then Friday nights the preschool presents trays of savory cholent.

In the end of this week’s Torah portion, it is written, “Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and 70 elders of Israel ascended; and they saw the God of Israel … they beheld God, and they ate and drank. The gods of Uruk were served two meals a day. Giant feasts were dedicated to the goddess of Mesopotamia. In Egypt, the gods were served even grander feasts, which would then provide food for the entire staff and sometimes the whole city. Here, instead of throwing themselves upon their faces in reverence, the Israelite leaders also play host, inviting God to the table.”

Judaism is a step-by-step religion. It awaits no superhero, but commands the efforts of our own hands. It recognizes our yetzer hara (evil inclination), and teaches us to harness it. It understands we crave meat and instead of saying don’t eat it, commands us to not mix death with life, to separate out the blood which is its life force, and to not mix it with milk which represents birth and life. To mix them is to accept the world as it is. Fragmented, haphazard, where people die suddenly or too slowly, too young, death and life at random. Rather, we separate them, indicating everything should happen in its proper time. To everything there is a season. And some day, God-willing, there will be that final season, when every day is Shabbat, when we reenter Eden.

Until that day, I repent, and attempt, and repent, and attempt again to express my adoration, God, for Your wild, bristling and breathing world. Until that day, when the lioness with the heart of a lamb will lay down peacefully with her lamb, who has the giant heart of a lion.

Read Rabbi Jonathan Klein’s response in First Person on March 3.

 

A Holocaust-Inspired Vegetarian


Recently, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) issued an apology for its Holocaust on Your Plate campaign and exhibit, which showed concentration camp images next to photos of animal abuse on factory farms. The comparison was extraordinarily tasteless, and widely condemned. PETA expressed surprise at the negative reaction, and while they should have known better, their campaign has thankfully ended.

However, we should not go as far as some who disavow any consideration of the Holocaust in reacting to cruelty to farm animals. PETA’s display was vulgar and offensive, but it taps into a deep call for justice that should speak to anyone who still feels the utter horror of the Final Solution, which continues to cast its dark shadow over the Jewish collective memory.

I remember as a child listening to survivors’ stories of utter inhumanity, trying to imagine the incomprehensible magnitude of suffering. I once started counting to 6 million, calculating that it would take months to do so even without stopping to eat or sleep.

Long after the war, my grandfather, an Auschwitz survivor, would cover his mouth in panic attacks, believing he smelled the gas. On Holocaust Memorial Day, I always confronted the unfathomable question of how so many people could act with a complete lack of compassion or basic moral decency. While such monstrous evil flourished, people went about their lives averting their eyes.

For me, these stories were defining elements of my moral character. The ethnic cleansings in Bosnia, the genocide in Rwanda — these were different from the Holocaust in important ways. And yet, the specter of concentration camps and gas chambers hangs over my head when I read about these atrocities, while the world does nothing.

I still remember when I first learned about factory farms. Animals crammed in crates and cages so tightly they could not turn around, lie down or stretch a limb; living in their own filth, beaten with iron bars and electric prods. Body parts torn off with pliers or mutilated with hot knives. Animals’ bodies hormonally and genetically manipulated to grow so fast that their legs deform and break under their own weight. Animals never allowed to breathe fresh air, feel sunlight, experience any mental stimulation or feel any affection. And then meeting their final fate, often skinned alive or drowned in tanks of scalding water.

Raised with storybook pictures of pigs rolling in the mud and chickens pecking in the barnyard, the reality of modern agriculture shocked me. The enormity of it — literally billions of animals each year suffering this miserable fate in our country alone — was incomprehensible. I’d never heard about it before — why was nobody talking about it? Could I justify these horrific abuses just for the momentary pleasure of flesh on my tongue? After all, these cruelties were not driven by ideology, but by economics: they were doing it because I was paying them to.

Had I not been raised under the shadow of the Holocaust, I might very well have chosen simply not to think about it. How easy it would have been to avert my eyes and enjoy my chicken wings. But the memory of 6 million murdered Jews spoke to me. Not because of some offensive equating of concentration camp victims with animals, or of the Holocaust with farming, but because I could not let myself be like the Germans who allowed themselves to be complicit in a massive crime. One does not have to offensively compare Jews with cows, or an ideology of hate with profit-driven cruelty, to see the application of what for me was a central lesson of the Holocaust: When the strong abuse the weak, we should not remain silent.

This was how the Holocaust inspired me to stop eating animal products. And I am hardly alone. Just as Holocaust memories have inspired so many Jews to fight for civil rights, religious freedom and other forms of social justice, they have also inspired many of us to fight against the horrors of factory farming. Doubtlessly, PETA was hoping for this kind of thinking with their wildly inappropriate exhibit, expecting that the injustice of the Holocaust would wake our consciences about another, albeit completely different, injustice. Unfortunately, in spite of their repeated assertions that they were not equating humans and animals, their exhibit appeared to do just that. People were rightly outraged.

Nevertheless, I worry that many Jews will remember the Holocaust but forget its lessons. We should never avert our eyes to cruelty, and say, “I don’t want to think about it.” Critics of the PETA exhibit universally concede that the factory farm cruelties are wrong, but have let PETA’s exhibit distract them from speaking out against these cruelties. With the exhibit over, we no longer have any excuse.

Right now animals are being squeezed into trucks so tightly that their innards prolapse. Animals with broken legs are being dragged to the slaughterhouse by chains behind trucks. Animals are being branded with hot irons and castrated without painkillers. Sick or injured animals are left without medical care to die slow, painful deaths. The abuses go on and on. While we shouldn’t need to remember the Holocaust to know this cannot be justified merely to please our palates, that memory serves for me as a stark reminder that I want no part in mercilessness.

Noam Mohr is coordinator of Jewish Vegetarians of North America. The views
expressed here, however, are his own.

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Yeladim


 

Good Deed Indeed

Earth Day is about healing all creatures on the Earth. Here is a chance for you to do a good deed by entering The Good Deed Contest.

Here’s what you will do:

1. Do a good deed (an amazing one!)
2. Write an essay, telling what you did, what motivated you and what you got out of the process, and send it to: Abbygilad@yahoo.com

The will receive a Baskin-Robbins gift certificate and get the essay printed in an upcoming issue of The Jewish Journal.

Answer this quiz question from the California Wildlife Center for a sweet prize:

What do you do if you meet a rattlesnake?

a. Throw rocks at it to make it go away.
b. Walk away slowly and quietly.
c. Hiss at it to threaten it.

Talk to the Animals

Here is another Earth Day-related event that you might want to check out:

California Wildlife Center Open House,

26026 Piuma Road, Calabasas, May 1, noon-4 p.m.

Unscramble what you will see there:

Animal ASLUKSL and OOFRINPTST

Penny for Your Thoughts

Go to Google.com and type in Pennies for the Planet. Find out how you can collect pennies and help save the big cats around the world through the World Wildlife Fund.

 

Yeladim


 

The Ugly Bug Ball

In Parshat Shemini, we learn which animals are kosher. A young friend of mine asked: Why did God create both kosher and non-kosher animals? The sages of the Talmud ask the same question. They said there is something we can learn from every animal – kosher or not.

For example, the Sages say we can learn honesty and industriousness from an ant. Ants are hardworking, and they are “honest” in that they don’t steal from each other.

King David tried to uncover the meaning behind each animal and he succeeded – but he couldn’t figure out the spider. So, God showed King David how the spider could even save a life. When running for his life from King Saul, David hid in a cave. King Saul and his soldiers were searching everywhere. God sent a spider to spin a web over the opening of the cave in which David was hiding. When the soldiers came to his cave and saw it was covered with a spider’s web, they moved straight past, not realizing that the web was freshly made.

All Creatures Great and Small

Did You Know?

The word for “kindness” in Hebrew is chesed. In the Torah, the Hebrew word for stork is chasida. The rabbis say that the stork was given this name because this bird is very kind and generous with its food and shares with other birds.

1. Where are koala bears from?

a) United States

b) Russia

c) Australia

2. Whales and dolphins are large fish.

a) yes

b) no

c) both

3. What is the largest flying bird alive today?

a) Bald eagle

b) Penguin

c) Condor

d) Albatros

Answers From Last Week

Tell Me a Story: Hamantaschen

 

Kosher Slaughtering Proves Humane


 

Many people expressed concern about the standards for humane treatment of animals at a kosher slaughterhouse after viewing a well-publicized video of kosher slaughter at the AgriProcessors plant in Iowa, which was released by the animal rights organization PETA.

Any slaughterhouse, whether kosher or nonkosher, is by definition a disconcerting, blood-filled and gruesome place. Torah law, however, is most insistent about not inflicting needless pain on animals and in emphasizing humane treatment of all living creatures.

Kosher slaughter, shechitah, involves cutting the trachea and esophagus with a sharp, flawless knife. At the same time, the carotid arteries, which are the primary supplier of blood to the brain, are severed.

The profound loss of blood and the massive drop in blood pressure render the animal insensate almost immediately. Studies done by Dr. H.H. Dukes at the Cornell University School of Veterinary Medicine indicate that the animal is unconscious within seconds of the incision.

After the shechitah at AgriProcessors, an additional cut is made in the carotid arteries to further accelerate the bleeding. This is not done for kashrut reasons, for after the trachea and esophagus have been severed, the shechitah is complete, but rather for commercial reasons to avoid blood splash, which turns the meat a darker color. The carotid arteries are attached to the trachea, and at AgriProcessors, the trachea was excised to facilitate the bleeding.

In the overwhelming number of cases, the animal is insensate at that time. However and inevitably, particularly when it is considered that 18,000 cattle were slaughtered during the seven-week period when the video was shot, there was a tiny percentage of animals whose carotid arteries were not completely severed, so they were not completely unconscious. Although this is very infrequent, the removal of the trachea immediately after the shechitah has now been discontinued.

It should be kept in mind that in a nonkosher plant, when the animal is killed by a shot with a captive bolt to the brain, it often has to be re-shot, sometimes up to six times, before the animal collapses. The USDA permits up to a 5 percent initial failure rate.

At AgriProcessors and at other plants it supervises, the Orthodox Union (OU) is committed to maintaining the highest ritual standards of shechitah without compromising the halacha (Jewish law) one bit. The OU continues to vouch for the kashrut, which was never compromised, of all the meat prepared by AgriProcessors.

As I indicated previously, images of slaughter — especially selected images in an abbatoir — are jarring, particularly to the layman. Statements by PETA that animals were bellowing in pain after the shechitah are an anatomical impossibility. After the animal’s throat and larynx have been cut, it cannot vocalize.

PETA is well known for the passion it brings to the issue of animal rights, but it is an organization devoid of objectivity. PETA’s comparison of the killing of chickens to the Holocaust is, at a minimum, morally obtuse. So to whom should we turn for an objective view about the situation at AgriProcessors and about kosher slaughter in general? Here are the opinions of some experts:

1. Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Patty Judge inspected the plant. She found the handling of the animals to be humane and commendable.

She said after viewing the shechitah that the animals were unconscious within two to three seconds. She also said that chickens were handled more carefully by the rabbis than by her own “grandmother on the farm.”

2. AgriProcessors is under constant USDA inspection. Dr. Henry Lawson, the USDA veterinarian at the plant, told me that he considers the treatment of the cattle at AgriProcessors to be humane, and that the shechitah renders them unconscious within a matter of seconds. He determines this by certain physiological criteria related to the eyes, tongue and tail of the animal.

3. Earlier, Rabbi Dr. I.M. Levinger, a veterinarian and one of the world’s foremost experts on animal welfare and kosher slaughter, called the shechitah practices at AgriProcessors “professional and efficient,” emphasizing the humane manner in which the shechitah was handled.

Levinger was also highly impressed with the caliber of the ritual slaughterers. He issued his evaluation following a thorough two-day on-site review of shechitah practices and animal treatment at the plant. He viewed the kosher slaughter of nearly 150 animals.

4. AgriProcessors has hired an animal welfare and handling specialist to evaluate the plant processes. The specialist was recommended by both Dr. Temple Grandin, a foremost expert in animal welfare, and also by the National Meat Association. In reviewing the shechitah process last week, the specialist made the following observations:

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• The shechitah process was performed swiftly and correctly;

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• The shechitah cut resulted in a rapid bleed.

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• All animals that exited the box were clearly unconscious.

The OU and AgriProcessors are committed to the Torah principles of humane treatment of animals. At the OU, we constantly review our procedures, evaluate them and if necessary, improve or correct them. We don’t want ever to be wedded to a mistaken procedure.

AgriProcessors has been completely cooperative in working with the OU and shares our philosophy.

As Torah Jews, we are imbued with the teachings which require animals to be rested, along with people, on the Sabbath and fed before the people who own them, and that the mother bird must be sent away before her young are taken to save her grief. These and similar statutes make it clear that inhumane treatment of animals is not the Jewish way.

Kosher slaughter, by principle, and as performed today in the United States, is humane. Indeed, as PETA itself has acknowledged, shechitah is more humane than the common nonkosher form of shooting the animal in the head with a captive bolt, for reasons noted above.

The Humane Slaughter Act, passed into law after objective research by the U.S. government, declares shechitah to be humane. For Torah observant Jews, it cannot be any other way.

Rabbi Menachem Genack is the rabbinic administrator of the Orthodox Union’s Kosher Division.

 

Letters to the Editor


 

Garbage Mouth

I was surprised, astonished and shocked to read William Donohue’s comments as reported in your editor’s column last week (“Garbage Mouth,” Dec. 17). In fact, I was unaware of Donohue’s comments until I read them in The Jewish Journal. I unequivocally reject Donohue’s remarks.

The Catholic and Jewish communities in Los Angeles have long enjoyed a deep and abiding affection for one another. We live in the same neighborhoods and send our children to the same schools. We socialize together and often attend each other’s religious services as invited guests. Our shared moral values have brought us together to work for stronger families, and a more just and tolerant society.

Twelve years ago, in a pastoral letter to members of the entertainment industry – as well as to those who are its customers – I wrote of the awesome moral power of the media, which is second only to the human family in its capacity to “communicate values, form consciences, provide role models and motivate human behavior.”

The best and most successful films produced by Hollywood always say something meaningful about human dignity, freedom and justice. As I also said in my pastoral letter, these values “are the exclusive property of no single religious community, ethnic grouping, educational level, economic class or political party…. Being human values, they are recognized and affirmed by all the people.”

Let us refocus our efforts on producing and patronizing film and television projects that uplift the human spirit common to all of us, Catholic and Jew, religious and secular.

Cardinal Roger Mahony
Archbishop of Los Angeles

Kindest Cut

Thanks to Editor-in-Chief Rob Eshman for putting the Iowa slaughterhouse controversy up front (“The Kindest Cut,” Dec. 10). It is important for readers to understand that PETA is not challenging kosher slaughter. PETA’s position is the same as ours: that kosher slaughter is more humane than the processes employed in other slaughterhouses. PETA is claiming, however, that slaughter at the Agriprocessors plant in Iowa is unkosher, and since it follows neither kashrut nor government regulations, it is illegal. Anyone who views the videos posted on the PETA Web site must agree. The suffering depicted is beyond the pale. The “kosher meat man” quoted by Eshman, who says “Nobody gives a sh– about PETA” had better be wrong. We cannot turn a blind eye to the suffering of animals and call ourselves Jewish. Have the Orthodox abandoned the commandments?

Naomi Zahavi
Via e-mail

The real story behind the Agriprocessors kosher slaughter PETA video is the tale of two Orthodox Jewish organizations and two distinctive worldviews. Agudath Israel and its lawyer, Nathan Lewin, clearly viewed the PETA project as an assault motivated by anti-Semitism, while the Orthodox Union and its principled leader, Rabbi Zvi Hersh Weinreb, asserted that “The Orthodox Union will not engage in maligning PETA in any way, nor in questioning their motives.” He then announced that he would ask Agriprocessors to “stop letting workers tear the trachea and esophagus out of animals” (following shechita). He is further quoted to have said that he found the procedure especially inhumane.

The OU required these changes even though it was possible to argue that the shechita had been performed in accordance with the letter of the halachic strictures. Weinreb, however, understood that if, as Jews, we were to continue to claim that kosher slaughter adheres to the most humane standards, then rabbinic decisions regarding shechita must reflect the highest ethical and humane ideals. In this swift and unapologetic way, Weinreb transformed what could very well have degenerated into a damaging chilul Hashem (desecration) into a Kiddush Hashem (a sanctification of God’s name and of the halachic process).

Hats off to you Rabbi Weinreb for your courageous decision,

Rabbi Chaim and Doreen Seidler-Feller
Westwood

Lonely Jews on Xmas

The headline of the Dec 17 issue and the complaining of this type of Jew makes us see red (“When Xmas Enters the Classroom,” Dec.17). My grandparents were Orthodox Jews in Latvia. Although Saturday was a school day for my mother, her parents did not complain because they wanted her to have an education and that was the way it was. There were no Jewish school groups or mention of Chanukah in schools, as described in your article. On one Christmas Eve, I recall my grandma singing “Silent Night” in German and telling me, joyously, of the Christmas celebrations they shared with their Christian neighbors.

As a child, I remember asking my mother about Christmas and Easter observances in my public school (in a mostly Jewish neighborhood). My mother explained that we live in a “Christian country” where we are a tiny minority and God bless this Christian country. Jews have never had the freedoms and opportunities as we have here. To the people who resonate with those complaints – quit your bitchin’. Welcome the warmth of the season and enjoy your blessings.

Adelaide and Milt Meisner
Northridge

I appreciate The Journal’s ongoing attempts to chronicle the melding of Jewish tradition with American culture (“Merry Chrismukkah to You,” Dec. 10). However, I was somewhat dismayed by the coverage given to “Chrismukkah” concept. This new “holiday” (which is somewhat reminiscent of Frank Costanza’s Festivus on “Seinfeld”) is essentially a celebration of assimilation, interfaith marriage and dominating impact of Christian culture on Jewish experience.

The loss of Jewish identity that ideas like this represent is not something to be celebrated or reported with such a whimsical tone.

David Schwartz
Los Angeles

Bach Humbug

In David Finnigan’s article (“Singing Klezmer Isn’t Hard to Do,” Dec. 3) he states: “Yet, Sedaka admits that for all the pop hits he has written … writing pop music is not bubble gum and can require as much elaborate creation as a Bach symphony.” As J.S. Bach wrote no symphonies, this would be impossible to do. The symphonic form was developed by composers living after Bach.

Lewis C. Holzman
Rancho Palos Verdes

Jews on Xmas

Very sad reading about Grant High School, but funny, too (“When Christmas Enters the Classroom,” Dec. 17). How times change. When we moved from San Gabriel Valley to the San Fernando Valley in the mid-’60s, I had only one requirement: Where ever we lived, it had to be in the Grant High district. Not only was Grant outstanding academically, but it was the first school I had ever heard of that sent home notes around the holidays, asking if your child would be attending school during Rosh Hashanah and/or Yom Kippur. I thought that was wonderful. Having grown up in New Orleans (where there wasn’t even a Jewish neighborhood, we were just scattered around the city), I knew what my kids had gone through in San Gabriel. I’m sorry Grant High and other schools are not like that anymore, but with a strong Jewish influence at home, and at temple, hopefully today’s teens will grow up to be mothers and fathers who will work at the school level to honor all Holidays.

Paulette Vision Pistol
Encino

Your cutsie interfaith Chanukah-Christmas cards and gifts stories running the last few weeks would have the Maccabees turn in their graves. Jews did and do not sacrifice their lives to make a mockery of Judaism. Where do you draw the line?

J. G.
Los Angeles

My 14-year-old granddaughter attended a Jewish day school from kindergarten through sixth grade. During those cozy and comfortable years, she viewed Christmas carols, lights and the holiday in general as simply quaint, nothing more (“There’s No Santa but Keep It Quiet,” Dec. 17). In seventh grade, we switched her to a non-Jewish private school. We assumed her upbringing at home, plus her day school background, would buffer her against the December dilemma. Not!

Now, in ninth grade, most of her girlfriends are non-Jews. She has lost interest in lighting the menorah with me. She bought a Santa hat (I chewed her out on both of those). She clearly is losing interest in her Jewish identity. Can anyone out there offer any suggestions on how I can get her back in the Jewish groove, to feel proud of her Judaism?

Name Withheld Upon Request
Sherman Oaks

Kindest Cut

Reporters and readers alike are debating whether or not the method of slaughter employed in Postville, Iowa, is halachically correct (“The Kindest Cut,” Dec. 10). These worries miss a vital point.

By focusing on the last few seconds of life, otherwise educated and loving Jews ignore the question of animal treatment during the preceding 99 percent of their lives.

Most cattle are raised on coarse feed that creates painful gastric problems (they do not graze on grass for most of their lives). They are kept in fields not shielded from sun. They are denied exercise, lest they burn calories. They are castrated, branded and dehorned without anesthesia or follow-up veterinary care. They are transported long distances in overcrowded trucks, often without food and water. Kosher animals might “enjoy” a less painful death than nonkosher animals, but virtually all animals raised for consumption (kosher or nonkosher) live lives of pain, crowding and abusive treatment. Were it a dog or cat being treated this way, the handlers would be arrested and jailed.

Judaism teaches kindness and compassion toward animals. It is intellectually dishonest to ignore 99 percent of an animal’s life, in favor of the last 1 percent.

M. Gross
Via e-mail

Election 2004

I found the article “Idea of Dumb Bush Voters Lacks Reality” (Dec. 3) to be perplexing, to say the least The implication is that Democrats consider people who voted for Bush to be dumb. On the contrary, people voted for Bush for a variety of reasons. The voters included those who believed in one or more of the following: the Republican Party best supported Israel (blatantly false), provided the best defense against terrorism, believed in the Iraq war, held ideological beliefs consistent with the evangelical right-wing Republican Christians or knew their financial future was assured with this candidate. Of course, there were others who had concerns with Sen. Kerry or perceived that the Democrats lacked a clear message regarding a wide range of topics (e.g., peace, jobs, outsourcing, fairness for everyone, health care, etc.). However, implying that Democrats are not reflecting deeply on their vision and mission is simply untrue. A quick review of the op-ed section of the New York Times (Dec. 8) reveals no less than four articles regarding the need for the Democratic Party to energize itself. Many ideas are being considered such as engaging citizens in the rural communities and using new methods to increase Democratic turnout in 2006.

Letters I have received from California Sen. Barbara Boxer and the New Democratic Network, as well as articles from The Nation, also voice the need and commitment for the Democratic Party members and leaders to reflect deeply regarding a new vision that will attract a new base of Democrats for the future. I see nothing dumb about this intelligent and thoughtful response.

Marcia Albert
Los Angeles

Carin Davis

Ms. Davis, did you ever think you would ever get a fan mail letter from someone who is probably old enough to be your grandfather? Well, you got one now.

I generally skim over the singles articles but your pretty smile and the interesting title caught my eye so I read the article (“Single Woman of Valor,” Nov. 26). I enjoyed it for several reasons: 1) I married one and she still is; 2) we have a bright, attractive, professionally successful daughter whose sentiments are identical with yours and 3) I really liked your-no-holds barred approach to the rights of a single woman. You know, I have trouble understanding young men today. In my dating days I always enjoyed interesting, stimulating girls like you. Are men just afraid of bright women nowadays?

If so, who needs them?

Anyway, thanks for expressing your views so well. You’re certainly my nominee for a WOV.

Sanford Rothman
Via e-mail

Garbage Mouth

The editorial report (“Garbage Mouth,” Dec.17) on the anti-“secular Jewish” comments by Catholic lay leader William Donohue may be regarded as the chickens coming home to roost.

Two years ago in November, there was much resentment in Catholic circles against an anti-church film from Mexico, “The Crimes of Father Amaro,” being distributed in the U.S. The Journal and other newspapers disclosed that the distribution company, Samuel Goldwyn Films, was headed by a Jewish executive, Myer Gottlieb. The Catholic community was well aware of this, and expressed its outrage.

At the time, I wrote The Jewish Journal:

“If Jews hope to receive Catholic support in the struggle against … anti-Semitism, they should at least have enough self-control to prevent Jewish sponsorship of public material that is gratuitously hostile to a major Christian religion. I regard the conduct of this Jewish executive to be in reckless disregard of the current worldwide struggle against anti-Semitism. I am astounded at the silence of our Jewish leadership in this matter.”

The Journal published neither this letter, nor any letter or comment criticizing such silence. Apparently the view in Jewish leadership circles was as usual, that the controversy would blow over. Well, it didn’t blow over; it remained in the memory banks of those offended, and resentment generated then is being expressed now.

The chickens are coming home to roost, something the Jewish leadership should keep in mind in its present state of indignation over the current attack on “Hollywood’s secular Jews.”

Larry Selk
Los Angeles

 

The Kindest Cut


 

Last week for Chanukah I wrote about latkes, this week, the brisket.

Butchered cows have provoked quite a controversy over the past two weeks. That’s because the animal rights group, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), released an undercover video taken at the AgriProcessors Inc. plant, a kosher beef abattoir in Postville, Iowa. The plant supplies kosher beef for the Aaron’s Best/Rubashkin brand.

The tape shows factory workers ripping out the trachea of a cow after the rabbi has sliced open its throat. Cows stagger to their feet and bellow in agony for several minutes after the shochet (butcher) slices their necks.

Last June, PETA, responding to complaints about operations at AgriProcessors, wrote a letter calling the plant’s practices into question. The Orthodox Union (OU), which oversees the plant’s kosher certification, fired back a somewhat nasty missive. PETA responded by releasing the video, which raised the eyebrows, if not the ire, of people on all sides of the issue.

Some Orthodox rabbis were sharply critical of the practices they saw on the video. Many others attacked PETA, accusing it of launching an assault on the institution of shechita (kosher slaughter). No doubt PETA’s concerns would have carried more weight if the organization hadn’t launched a cruel and insensitive ad campaign last year comparing factory farming to the Holocaust. Why taunt the very people you claim to want to work with on behalf of animals?

PETA meanwhile filed lawsuits with the U.S. Department of Agriculture against both the plant and the OU. The Internet filled up with attacks on PETA, “a terrorist organization” in the words of many flamers.

The OU’s defenders were not without cause. Hitler outlawed kosher slaughter in 1933, declaring it cruel, and the practice has been a favorite target of anti-Semites through the ages.

The laws of shechita were developed about 3,000 years ago. Then, prior to refrigeration, the primitive temptation was to cut the flesh from a living animal as it was needed, letting the beast languish in pain for as long as possible to keep the meat “fresh.”

Judaism’s innovation was humane slaughter. In Genesis, God commanded Noah: “But flesh with its living soul, its blood, you shall not eat,” comprising one of the seven Noahide Laws — a shortlist of universal morality incumbent on all humanity, not just the Jews.

Shechita is informed by this revolutionary sense of responsibility and compassion. Kosher slaughter, done correctly, should render the cows unconscious within seconds. “If you do shechita right, it’s going to be significantly more humane than all the forms of killing an animal were when shechita was invented,” said Rabbi Paul Plotkin, chairman of the Kashrut Subcommittee of the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards of the Conservative movement. Plotkin, rabbi of Temple Beth Am in Margate, Fla., told me that he spent several days this year inspecting kosher slaughter at different Midwestern plants — and in all cases saw the cows die quickly and without any apparent fear or pain.

The economics of factory farming have taken all of us, kosher or not, a long way from the whetstone and the chopping block. But the genius of Jewish tradition is its ability to adapt to changing modernity without sacrificing eternal principals.

As the controversy stands now, the OU seems to have chosen a path of compromise. Sometimes, even a tainted messenger like PETA can be correct. After a tour of the AgriProcessor plant by OU rabbis, including Rabbi Menachem Genack, head of the OU’s kashrut division, the organization agreed to make two changes to slaughtering procedures.

The plant will no longer allow slaughterers to pull out a slaughtered animal’s trachea in order to hasten death. The OU also said it would look for a way to either kill or stun cows that are still walking even after the initial stage of slaughtering.

The hero in this dispute is Dr. Temple Grandin, an associate professor of animal science at Colorado State University, who is one of the world’s foremost experts on humane factory slaughter. Grandin, who is not Jewish, has praised shechita as a humane technique, but has been highly critical of the AgriProcessors plant. She can serve as a bridge between PETA and the OU, and hers should be the cooler head that prevails.

The last word I have on this comes from the blunt, salty man who sells me kosher meat. I asked him if his largely Orthodox customers were talking about the controversy.

Not at all, he said, no conversation, no drop in sales.

Why?

“Nobody gives a sh — about PETA,” he said. But the kosher meat man also said change was inevitable. “Obviously they’re gonna have to slow the kill down and keep [the cows] in confinement a bit longer,” he said, referring to two of Grandin’s recommendations. No one needs the bad publicity. Retail, after all, is a cutthroat business.

 

Kosher Slaughter Controversy Erupts


It’s not every day that people affiliated with a strident animal rights group talk turkey with those who oversee kosher slaughter.

But that’s exactly what happened this week, when an unpaid adviser to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) discussed allegations of improper slaughtering practices at an Iowa kosher meat plant with the head of the Orthodox Union’s kashrut division.

Tuesday’s late-afternoon talks involving Aaron Gross, a doctoral student at UC Santa Barbara, and Rabbi Menachem Genack were the latest development in a story that has placed the slaughter practices at Agriprocessors Inc. in Postville, Iowa, under question.

They came one day after PETA filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The complaint alleges that the plant is violating Jewish law by not instantly killing the animals, and therefore is violating U.S. slaughter laws, which allow for Jewish ritual slaughter.

The telephone discussion between PETA and the Orthodox Union ended in an impasse, participants said.

The controversy, which has alarmed some Orthodox institutions, is being seen as the most widely publicized dispute over kosher slaughter in the United States in a decade.

At issue is an undercover video taken by PETA-affiliated individuals over a seven-week period between July and September of this year. The video shows animals being slaughtered at the Agriprocessors plant, which processes meat for the Rubashkin/Aaron’s Best label. One of the plant’s supervisors is the Orthodox Union, a major supervisor of kosher food in the United States.

In the video, one slaughterer cuts a cow’s throat, resulting in extensive bleeding, while another takes the trachea out. Other clips show cows running around which appear to be alive after the killing is presumably completed.

“This not how shechitah is supposed to be done,” Tal Ronnen, a spokesman for the Norfolk, Va.-based PETA, said, using the Hebrew term for ritual slaughter. “If it’s done correctly, the animal is supposed to be dead in 30 seconds to one minute.”

Orthodox officials, while admitting the video isn’t pretty, don’t agree, saying that reflexive movements by animals after they are slaughtered are not uncommon.

“We thought it was in consonance with the halachah,” Genack said after viewing the video.

PETA first raised the issue with Agriprocessors in June, after being tipped off to allegations of improper procedures inside the plant. In an exchange of letters, PETA raised objections and asked that an expert on slaughter be allowed to witness the process.

Agriprocessors responded through its attorney, Nathan Lewin, who said he asked for more specifics. PETA said it followed up with that request, but Lewin said he never received the second letter. PETA said that after it did not get a response from Lewin, it pursued the undercover investigation.

On Monday, PETA filed a complaint with the USDA, complaining that government regulations were not being followed at Agriprocessors. It sought suspension of the plant’s license and possible criminal proceedings.

PETA’s letter to the USDA detailed what it called violations of the 1902 Humane Methods of Livestock Slaughter Act. The letter claimed that by violating halachic procedures, the company was violating the legislation, under which animals can be killed according to Jewish law.

Steven Cohen, a USDA spokesman, confirmed the agency had received the PETA letter, but said it was waiting to review the video before deciding how to handle the complaint.

Genack said he had discussed the issue with USDA officials, and is confident that government guidelines are being followed satisfactorily.

For its part, Agriprocessors released a statement this week saying it follows the practices set out by its kosher supervisors.

“Agriprocessors does not control anything that happens in the kosher ritual processes,” the statement said. “We adhere strictly to the instructions given to us by the rabbinic authorities and will continue to do so. As we always have, we will also continue to follow the strict guidelines set out by both federal and Jewish law for the humane treatment of animals during the slaughter process.”

One expert in slaughtering practices, who reported that she has visited 30 kosher slaughtering plants, said that from what she can tell from the video, the practices at Agriprocessors are poor.

“I’ve never seen trachea removal before,” Temple Grandin, an associate professor of animal science at Colorado State University, said in a telephone interview.

“Nobody else cuts out the trachea, and they’re doing it while the animal is still conscious,” said Grandin, who was the expert PETA had wanted to have access to the plant.

Orthodox Union officials said that the animal is unconscious after the throat is slit. Some Orthodox officials called PETA’s campaign an attack on shechitah more generally and part of a history of anti-Semitic canards.

“Shechitah often comes under attack by elements that are unsavory, and in general, PETA is not an organization that commands our great respect,” said Rabbi Avi Shafran, a spokesman for Agudath Israel of America, an Orthodox organization.

He and others noted that the Nazis publicized photographs of Jews performing cruel slaughter practices as part of their campaign to inflame sentiment against Jews.

“We’ll put them on the wall with Hitler,” Nathan Lewin, an Orthodox Jew and a lawyer for Agriprocessors, said, referring to PETA. “The PETA folks might not like eggs, but they have eggs all over their face.”

Lewin, citing a 1997 judgment in which the American Broadcasting Co. was ordered to pay $5.5 million to the Food Lion supermarket chain following an investigative piece that alleged food safety violations, suggested that PETA could be subject to legal action.

PETA is known for its aggressive tactics in promoting its animal rights agenda. The group generated controversy last year when it compared the meat industry to the Holocaust.

In another one of its more controversial campaigns, it displayed ads a few years ago with the phrase, “Got prostate cancer?” and showing Rudolph Giuliani, the then-New York City mayor who had been recently diagnosed with the disease. The billboards also included the line: “Drinking milk contributes to prostate cancer.”

But in this case, PETA is presenting a more moderate face. Those affiliated with PETA said the group is not going after kosher slaughter but just those practices underway at Agriprocessors. Further, they said, PETA is sensitive to issues of anti-Semitism.

“PETA has gone out of its way” to avoid anti-Semitism, and agrees that shechitah, when properly practiced, is a “better procedure than general meat industry practices,” Gross said.

Gross, who describes himself as a liberal but active Jew — and a member of the Jewish Vegetarians of North America’s advisory committee — said he became involved in the issue after the exchange of letters with Lewin failed.

Kosher consumers extend across the Jewish community, but the issue generated an immediate response among those active in the Orthodox community. Participants at the Agudath Israel of America’s annual convention voted unanimously Sunday to condemn PETA’s attack.

When Rabbi David Zwiebel, an Agudath official, announced at the conclusion of the conference that the issue was going to hit The New York Times, “you could hear the murmurings,” Shafran said. “The hands just shot up for the vote. It was unanimous with gusto.”

 

A Desert High in Palm Springs


While nearby flatlands warm under perfect 60-degree winter weather, the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway transports visitors to a pristine snow-covered forest. In just 10 minutes, this aerial tram carries passengers nearly 6,000 feet. The beautiful 14,000 acres of Mount San Jacinto State Park and Wilderness area are among the most visit-worthy in this heavily tourist destination.

As you ride in the world’s largest rotating cars of the Aerial Tramway, the flora and fauna include everything one would see driving from the hot Sonora Desert of Mexico to the Transitional (alpine) Zone of Alaska. The highlights read like entries from a naturalist guide. From the main road nearest the tram, Highway 111, to the tram station, this green cienega, or Spanish marsh, nurtures cottonwood, sycamore, wild grape, mesquite and native Washingtonia filifera palm trees. Barrel cactus, cholla, prickly pear and yucca grow amid springtime wildflowers, including lupine, Canterbury bells and sunflowers.

Desert bighorn sheep, kit and gray foxes, bobcats, coyotes and ringtail raccoons also make their home here. As the tram climbs, wild apricot trees stand amid metamorphic rock, gneisses and schists. Deer and mountain lion roam among chaparral. And as the elevation rises, evergreens, firs and oaks thin as the peak approaches.

At the top of the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, there are a host of trails — including a three-quarters of a mile loop through picturesque Long Valley, just behind the Mountain Station that introduces visitors to regional plants and animals. A much longer path, at 5.5 miles, leads to the peak of Mount San Jacinto, the second-tallest mountain in Southern California at 10,834 feet.

The ideal tram departure time is just before sunset. The reversible 80-passenger cars revolve slowly from within, making two rotations and offering spectacular views. One popular option: capping off the day with a drink in the Top of the Tram Restaurant and the Elevations Restaurant while admiring the city lights below.

Erected in 1963, nearly 30 years after its inception, the tramway was named an engineering “wonder of the world” for its ingenious use of helicopters in erecting four of five support towers; 23,000 flight missions were required to carry workers, supplies and materials for the towers and the Mountain Station.

During the summer, the mercury reaches well into the 100s in Palm Springs, but the mountain offers more than 54 miles of hiking trails, camping and guided nature walks, at almost 40 degrees cooler.

Another day, my father and I opted to hike closer to sea level at nearby Palm Canyons. This ancient home of the band of Cahuilla (Agua Caliente) Indians boasts palms that are 200 years old, many of them with the natural foliage skirts that are removed on commercial palms. These layers of dried branches encircle the trunk-like structure of these trees, which technically are massive grasses rather than trees.

We learned these facts and more by joining a guided tour with Rocky, a native Hawaiian who turned tribal ranger after serving 20 years in the Marine Corps and 10 volunteering with the San Bernadino Police Department as a rescue tracker. His desert survival skills make him a perfect guide. Rocky showed us all the edibles and how the native peoples prepared acorns, made their homes and harvested the sweet date palm fruit growing high overhead.

We wandered amid giant palms, verdant grasses and a warm, picturesque creek that smelled of sulfur due to a high mineral content. Rocky pointed out one tiny, creek-side impression where a native family would have once ground their acorns (five such mini-ditches appear in rocks throughout the canyon).

In contrast to our inspiring, mellow days of hiking, one evening we attended the raucous “Palm Springs Follies,” a Rockette-style music and dance of the 1930s and ’40s with performers old enough to have lived it. Amazingly youthful seniors age 56 to 86 strut their stuff in between international vaudeville acts from November through May.

Jewish impresario Riff Markowitz, a former television producer, serves as emcee for this three-hour extravaganza, leading the audience through a show peppered with Jewish jokes — even a few relating to travel.

At one point he turned his attention to the holiday of Thanksgiving, saying no Jews were aboard the Mayflower.

“Do you know why?” he asked. “There were no first-class seats.”

The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway is located at One Tramway
Road. The cost is about $20. Tramcars depart every half hour from 10 a.m. to 8
p.m. For more information, call (888) 515-TRAM or visit “>www.psfollies.com .

7 Days In Arts


Saturday

See Spot pray. Blessings go to the dogs today as Newport Dunes Resort’s annual Top Dog Fashion Show commences with a blessing of the animals performed by a Catholic priest, a Protestant minister and a rabbi. A canine costume contest follows, with categories including best formal wear, best lingerie/pajamas and the ever-controversial swimsuit competition. Proceeds from the event benefit the Orange County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and Companion Pet Retreat. Head to O.C. to join the madness.1131 Back Bay Drive, Newport Beach. (949) 729-3863.

Sunday

¿Como se dice, JAP? Learn how to say Jewish Argentine Princess in Spanish today at the Egyptian Theatre. The last film to be screened on this final day of the American Cinematheque’s “New Argentine Cinema” series is “Valentin.” Directed by Alejandro Agresti, it’s an 8-year-old boy’s coming-of-age tale. Precocious Valentin, whose parents are largely absent from his life, lives with his moody grandmother and dreams of being an astronaut. Despite his grandmother’s and father’s portrayals of his mother as a “Jewish princess,” he also dreams of the day they will be reunited.7:30 p.m. $9. In Spanish with English subtitles. Lloyd E. Rigler Theatre at the Egyptian, 6712 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. (323) 466-3456.

Monday

Steady yourself. “Trembling Before G-d” came out. The”unkosher sex” documentary that bared the stories of gay and lesbian Chasidicand Orthodox Jews was released on DVD last week. In proper DVD fashion, thereare plenty of extras packed into the deluxe two-disc set, including a shortfeature titled “Trembling on the Road,” about the movement of the film aroundthe world; an interview with the director Sandi Simcha DuBowski; extra footagewith Rabbi Steve Greenberg, the first openly gay Orthodox rabbi; and a guide tothe atonement ceremony for sexual sins. $39.95. www.amazon.com

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Tuesday

Out this month is Rochelle Krich’s new Molly Blumemystery novel, “Dream House.” This latest potboiler has Ms. Blume investigatingincreasingly violent vandalism in Los Angeles’ wealthiest neighborhoods. Krichis hitting the road for signings all around SoCal, including stops this week inTustin, San Diego and Encino (on Oct. 30). Die-hard fans oughta pick it up todayto meet her with prepared questions (or just properly gush) this Thursday.$24.95. www.amazon.com, www.rochellekrich.com

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Wednesday

You’ve got industry questions, she’s got answers. Paramount President Sherry Lansing grants us an audience this evening at the University of Judaism (UJ). Publicist Michael Levine moderates the 90-minute Q & A, sponsored by the UJ’s Department of Continuing Education as part of its “Conversations With…” series. A word of advice: leave the screenplay at home. That’s just tacky.8 p.m. $10. 15600 Mulholland Drive, Bel Air. R.S.V.P., (310) 440-1246.

Thursday

Shelley Gazin hasn’t completely lost her optimism in the years since 1983, when she traveled through the West Bank photographing Jews and Palestinians. “These images are my remnants of hope,” she has said about “Reconstructing the West Bank: Photographs by Shelley Gazin,” displayed on the three floors of the new Yitzhak Rabin Hillel Center for Jewish Life at UCLA. In one picture an Israeli boy holds a machine gun, in another a pregnant woman smiles easily at the camera. The images are taken from one day of apparent peace in May of ’83, summoning questions about how much has changed or hasn’t.Runs through Dec. 4. 9 a.m.-9 p.m. (Sunday-Thursday), 9 a.m.-3 p.m. (Friday), Saturday by appointment. 574 Hilgard Ave., Westwood. (310) 827-0833.

Friday

In: Menopause. Out: Menstruation. Five Minutes Ago: Modesty. Somehow, suddenly, hot flashes, et al, are the subject of public conversation — at least that’s the case with two plays currently on stage in this city. There’s “Is it Hot in Here … Or Is It Me?” and “Menopause the Musical.” The two shows lead with the message that there ought to be no shame in this natural process.”Is it Hot in Here … Or Is It Me?”: $25. Egyptian Arena Theatre, 1625 N. Las Palmas, Hollywood. (866) 811-4111. Runs through Nov. 23.”Menopause the Musical”: $38.25-$42.50. Coronet Theatre, 366 N. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 657-7377.

The Blow by Blow on Shofarim


Yossi Mizrachi stood in front of a class of second-graders at Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy with a dark, ridged, 4-foot-long buffalo horn in his hand.

"Can we use this for a shofar?" he asked the class, who started cooing in awe at the enormous horn.

"The buffalo is a kosher animal," Mizrachi said, before taking the horn and putting it over his shoulder so it looked like a shofar musket. "But did you ever see a rabbi carrying a shofar that looked like this to shul?"

Mizrachi was at Harkham Hillel with his colleague, Alti Burston, to teach the second-graders how to make shofars. The two men, both in their early 20s, have been traveling all over California for the past couple of weeks with a mobile shofar factory, stopping in different classrooms and synagogues to give people a chance to make their own shofars for Rosh Hashanah.

A shofar is a hollowed-out animal horn, that has a hole pierced through the cartilage end. When air is forced through the shofar, it acts as an instrument of sorts, emitting a plaintive wail. By controlling the amount of air going through the shofar, the wail can be manipulated to create different sounds.

Blowing the shofar on Rosh Hashanah is a mitzvah from the Torah, and, as Mizrachi told the class, the reason we blow it is because it acts as a spiritual "alarm clock," reminding us to wake up and to repent.

While most of the shofars being blown in synagogues are slick and shiny factory processed ram’s horns, the coarse prototypes produced in this makeshift factory (sponsored by Chabad Youth Programs) are just as kosher, and create a sound that is as sharp and clear.

In the classroom, Mizrachi and Burston use a display of pictures of different horned animals and two stuffed sheep busts on loan from the Museum of Natural History to tell the class which animals can and can’t be used to make a shofar. Animals like giraffes and deer are out because the protrusions on the top of their heads are not actually horns but ossicones (for giraffes) and antlers (deer). However, the kudu — an African animal with a long curly horn that Sephardic communities prefer to use as their shofar — the ram, the gemsbok and the ibex, all have the rounded horns that can be used as a shofar.

Despite its impressive size, the buffalo horn, it turns out, is not permissible to use as a shofar, because the buffalo is from the cow family. As Mizrachi explained to the class, we tend to steer clear of cow-related shofars because we don’t want to remind God of the sin of the Golden Calf on the day we are hoping to get into His good graces.

"The significance of the shofar being curved means that sometimes we take our will, and we don’t do only what we want to do, but we do what Hashem wants us to do," Mizrachi said. "We bend our will to do what Hashem wants."

To make the shofar, Mizrachi took a ram’s horn, which unlike the light yellow shofars seen in synagogues, was a blackish gray, and called for a strong volunteer from the class. A student named Amanda stood up to the challenge, and with Mizrachi assisting her, used a pair of pliers to extract the bone inside the wide end of the horn. The class gave her a round of applause.

Mizrachi called for more volunteers who took turns sanding down the horn with sand paper. Mizrachi then took a piece of plastic and stuck it through the wide end of the horn to measure for cartilage, noting where the cartilage began. He handed the shofar to Burston, who used a little saw to cut through the cartilage.

Then the drilling began. Mizrachi dressed Avi, another student, in safety goggles and a helmet, and together they held the electric drill, using the cone bit to create the mouthpiece on the shofar. With a great flourish, Mizrachi blew through the hole, ostensibly to see if it had gone all the way through. A cloud of keratin (the substance ram’s horns/shofars are made of) dust filled the air and the class clapped wildly.

Apparently, the hole had gone all the way through. Burston then used a mechanical sander to smooth out the rough edges, and the shofar was sprayed with varnish and left to dry.

Burston then taught the class on how to blow a shofar. He held his middle finger and his index finger together, and used them to cover three quarters of his lips.

"People think that you have to blow, but you really have to go like this," said Mizrachi, before forcing the air through the opening in his lip. Without the shofar at his lips, it sounded something like a whoopee cushion. With the shofar, it sounded religiously melodic.

Campaign by PETA Profanes Holocaust


People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) took its campaign equating factory-farm animals to Holocaust victims to the streets of Los Angeles this week with a protest in front of the Simon Wiesenthal Center Tuesday at noon (see story on page 12).

The protest speaks to PETA’s well-earned reputation for disordered priorities and its utter lack of sensitivity in promoting its cause, whatever the merits of that cause are. For the record, I am all for treating animals ethically and humanely.

But PETA’s exploitative campaign that expropriates photographs of starving victims of the Holocaust in Nazi concentration camps and compares them to chickens that are waiting to be slaughtered for food is abhorrent. On its Web site, PETA justifies this campaign, in part, because the late Jewish author Isaac Bashevis Singer, a vegetarian, once took the literary license of stating that, “in relation to [animals], all people are Nazis; for [them] it is an eternal Treblinka.”

Of course, whether or not the Nobel Prize-winner would have actually lent his name to PETA’s outrageous effort is open to question, at best.

In an op-ed piece in the Los Angeles Times, (“Animals Suffer a Perpetual Holocaust,” April 21, 2003), Singer’s grandson, Stephen R. Dujack, a Washington-based environmentalist, professed to speak for his deceased grandfather and proclaimed, “My grandfather would have been proud of PETA’s bold campaign.”

If that is the case, then in the face of such obscenity, I must speak for my grandfather, whose ashes lie buried somewhere in the dust of Auschwitz.

To begin with, attempts to genericize the term Holocaust are generally misguided. The Holocaust was a unique historical event and describes the attempt by Hitler and the Nazis to systematically destroy and physically eliminate European Jewry. To be sure, there were also other victims, including homosexuals, the disabled, the psychiatrically disturbed, political dissidents, Gypsies, Poles, Slavs and others who were targeted for elimination.

For the record, Dujack’s assertion in his article that lampshades were made from bodies of Holocaust victims is also historically inaccurate, because no evidence for this has ever been produced.

While it is tempting to compare all acts that we may individually find abhorrent to the Holocaust and while the event itself has become the benchmark for abject evil in the world, wholesale use of the term desecrates the memory of what actually happened during those terrible years.

Whatever the arguments are for or against animal slaughter for food, it is simply not the Holocaust. Dujack may as well call it the Crimean War.

Why can’t PETA and Dujack let the victims of the Holocaust rest in peace and leave them out of it? How do the Jewish people (as usual) get dragged into the middle of this argument?

The irony is that in Jewish law there are numerous examples of mitzvot (praiseworthy deeds) that advocate for the humane treatment of animals. An example is that a young bird should never be removed from the nest in the presence of its mother so as not to hurt the latter; indeed, the prohibition against eating milk together with meat derives from a similar sensibility.

In fact, the laws of kosher slaughter of animals are far more humane than was the slaughter of Jews by the Nazis, which was notable for its excessive and intentional cruelty.

Human consumption of animal products as food appears to be instinctual, has occurred for millions of years and is the accepted norm in most societies. The systematic suspension of human rights, imprisonment, torture, experimentation on and murder of a people that went on in full view of the world for 12 years in the middle of the 20th century is, thank God, an inexplicable aberration in human behavior that is so far out of the norm that it had to be given its own name — the Holocaust.

To conflate the two activities is absurd. To examine just how absurd and dangerous this game can be, we just need to turn it inside out a couple of times. If killing of animals for food is the same as exterminating Jews, then how convenient would it be the next time someone wants to commit a pogrom against the Jewish people just to turn it around the other way with the reply, “They kill chickens, don’t they?”

In the name of my grandfather and all other victims of the Holocaust, I call on PETA to retract and apologize for its shameful campaign. The shock value and attention have already been wrung dry.

Whatever the arguments for or against vegetarianism, in the interest of decency, let us leave the memories of the unfortunate victims of the Holocaust out of it.


Dr. Joel Geiderman is a member of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council in Washington, D.C.

Animal Activists Gone Wild


Holding up grisly posters that juxtaposed images of Holocaust victims next to animals in slaughterhouses, animal rights activists demonstrated Tuesday in front of the Museum of Tolerance.

While only 10 protesters attended the demonstration, which was staged by the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), the group’s latest "Holocaust on Your Plate" campaign comparing genocide to food manufacturing has caused most people to wonder: Have the activists gone too far this time?

In the past, PETA has been responsible for in-your-face activism like slinging red paint at people wearing fur coats and breaking into laboratories to set animals free. Their antics have at times influenced public opinion — such as turning the fashion tide against fur in the ’90s. But will this Holocaust campaign have a similar effect?

"It’s vile," said Ben Greenfield, 16, a junior at Yeshiva University of Los Angeles high school (YULA), who was walking by during his lunch break. "You have to set a limit and a standard. It’s pretty basic that you can’t compare the Holocaust to slaughterhouses. Human rights are just more sacred than animal rights."

The one-hour, peaceful noontime event attracted a smattering of security and onlookers, and garnered an occasional honk of support from a motorist.

But many who saw the signs at the intersection of Pico Boulevard and Roxbury Drive were insulted. One YULA student said PETA’s campaign was, "the most disgusting thing" she had ever seen in her young life.

While most museum staff and volunteers largely ignored the activists, one older museum volunteer confronted PETA protester Coby Siegenthaler, loudly denouncing the poster’s comparisons.

Yet the 78-year-old Siegenthaler, a Dutch immigrant and retired nurse who said she lived in Amsterdam during the war, was unfazed.

"In wartime, we had our house full of Jewish people, and now they could be a little more compassionate and eat a vegan diet," she said.

Comparing people to animals, said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the museum’s Simon Wiesenthal Center, "is an obscene parallel."

"There are no words, other than to say we have an obligation to stand with the pain of the victims," he said, adding that the radical PETA is steering away from any rational dialogue about treatment of farm animals and other animal concerns by the extremism of its traveling "Holocaust on Your Plate" exhibit.

"The outrage here is, it’s not as if the underlying issues [of vegetarianism] aren’t worthy of discussion, debate and action," he said.

About two weeks ago PETA asked the museum to exhibit "Plate," which traveled to 14 U.S. cities over the summer. In July, the group ran a TV commercial in Poland with anti-meat and Holocaust images.

Cooper said PETA’s request for space at his museum, "Wasn’t worth a postage stamp — and they knew that when they sent that."

He also chastised the group for Tuesday’s demonstration.

"For shame. It’s a shanda. For them [PETA] it works. They don’t care; you are wallpaper for their campaign. The victims of the Shoah are wallpaper, the Museum of Tolerance is wallpaper, The Jewish Journal is wallpaper."

But PETA activists said their campaign was about tolerance.

"Putting Holocaust images in front of people helps to develop empathy for Jews," said Bruce Friedrich, PETA’s director of vegan outreach. "And juxtaposing those images with the horrific things that we do to farm animals — it doesn’t seem to me that this in any way demeans anyone’s suffering."

Could PETA’s no-meat/no-cruelty message be conveyed without connecting it to a prominent historical issue like Nazi genocide?

"It can be made, certainly, absent of metaphor," Friedrich said. "But if you were attempting to find a comparison that resonates in the public consciousness, unfortunately most people are not aware of those other atrocities — Rwanda, Cambodia, Stalinist Russia — the same way that they are aware of the Holocaust. This forces people to think about that and the horrors of anti-Semitism, and simultaneously to think about what we’re doing today, which is also vile and immoral."

Yet, Cooper does not understand why PETA would "blatantly inflict pain on humans," with illegitimate human-versus-animal Holocaust comparisons.

"All I know is, I have to deal with the pain and the anguish of those who survived," he said.

Why Keep Kosher?


The end of this week’s Torah portion supplies the major
biblical reasons for kashrut: “For I am God….

You shall sanctify yourselves and be holy, for I am holy….
For I am God who brought you up from the land of Egypt to be your God…. To
distinguish between the ritually impure and ritually pure, between living
things that may be eaten and living things that may not be eaten” (Leviticus
11:44-46).

This coda doesn’t exactly clarify the reasons behind
kashrut. What do cloven-hoofed cud-chewers have to do with ritual purity, much
less holiness? In what way do fins and scales on a fish acknowledge God as the
One who redeemed us from slavery? The “explanation” for kashrut demands further
explanation.

Keeping kosher is a chok (that variety of Jewish law that is
not based on reason). Most commandments can be understood rationally. “Don’t
murder” — that makes for a workable social contract. “Don’t commit adultery” —
there are lies and anguish down the road, if you do. But “don’t eat a pig; cows
are OK?” There is no humanly discernible reason behind kashrut.

Religion is meant to inform our lives — and to add a holy
mystery to them. Chukim, super-rational laws, acknowledge and make us aware of
life’s mystery. Kashrut in particular acknowledges that there is a taxonomy to
the world beyond what we discern — and, accordingly, cows yes, pigs no. Kashrut
has nothing to do with health considerations or scientifically meaningful
categories. It does, in some mysterious way, have to do with making ourselves
holy by making distinctions, and remembering who God is for us.

Commentators derive lessons from individual elements of kashurt.
Rabbinical laws that spare animals pain during slaughter are meant to inculcate
compassion generally. Birds of prey are forbidden, lest we absorb their
predatory quality. Pigs are the ultimate symbol of treif (non-kosher) because
one must look closely to see that they don’t meet kosher standards. Beware of
hypocrites and charlatans and (self-)deception through packaging.

The ancient rabbis were both drawn to and cautious about
uncovering ta’amei hamitzvot (reasons behind the commandments). Certainly, we
all want a literate Jewish populace for whom practice is based on
understanding, and not just obedience. But there is also an inherent danger and
hubris in thinking that one “understands” the mitzvot. If you believe you have
the reason for a mitzvah, you might stop studying or resist new
interpretations. There is even a chance that you might stop practicing: I have
the message, why bother with the mechanics? Knowing about Judaism
intellectually is no substitute for practicing it. Practice often leads to new
insight, which leads to deeper practice, which leads to new insight….

Keeping kosher has been most helpful and meaningful to me as
a kind of rehearsal. When I pay attention to what I ingest physically, it
reminds me to pay attention to what I take in spiritually. Kashrut presents an
order to the world that I don’t understand, but nevertheless accept. In that
way, it parallels — and prepares me for accepting — other things about how the
world is ordered that I can’t comprehend. Death and random suffering are
embedded into the structure of the universe for reasons I will never fully
understand. Yet, I must somehow learn to accept and deal with those realities. 

Keeping kosher keeps me mindful of relationships. Every
worthwhile association requires sacrifices. My relationship with God, like any
relationship, is strengthened by giving out of love when reason doesn’t demand
it. The reasonable requests are easy to meet. What do I do when a normally
rational loved one asks something of me that doesn’t make logical sense? With
God and with people, how much do I keep score? How much do I accommodate? How
much do I savor the opportunity to respond purely out of love?

My personal attachment to kashrut was cemented age 14, when
I first traveled alone by train. A man seemed to be staring at me, so I moved
my seat. He moved his. I changed compartments; he followed me. I left my
luggage, taking only my wallet to the dining car, hoping he would move on by
the time I returned. When I sat down again, he approached me. Of course, I was
nervous.

Then he asked, “Are you Debra Orenstein?”

He wasn’t quite the masher I had feared.

He explained: “I wasn’t sure it was you. I was a student of
your father’s, and the last time I saw you, you were six years old. I noticed
that you were going to the dining car, and I thought, ‘If she comes back with
something kosher, then I’ll know it’s Debra.'”

For me, kashrut is ultimately the rehearsal of identity.
Every time I eat, I remember who we are to God and among the Jewish people —
and who we are asked to be.   


Rabbi Debra Orenstein is spiritual leader of Congregation Makom Ohr Shalom in Tarzana and editor of “Lifecycles 2: Jewish Women on Biblical Themes in Contemporary Life” (Jewish Lights Publishing, 1997).