Thanksgiving: Vegan and vegetarian dishes


In some ways, I’m pretty traditional when it comes to my family’s Thanksgiving Day meal: I like to plan a lot of old-fashioned farmhouse food for the holiday. 

Who doesn’t enjoy a handsome bronzed turkey with lots of stuffing, an appealing array of relishes and a lavish dessert buffet? We pour apple cider for the children, a robust red wine for the grown-ups, and catch up on all the news while enjoying our family feast. 

It should be noted, though, that not everyone is interested in the traditional turkey. Quite a few guests these days are either vegetarian or vegan, and so we always try to have a menu that will fill their plates and satisfy their appetites. That is why the side dishes are so important.

Our Thanksgiving dinner will begin with bowls of Butternut Squash Soup, garnished with my homemade salsa and served with toasted pumpkin bread. My vegan grandson, Zane, loves my Carrot-Parsnip Slaw so much he can almost eat the whole batch, so it will definitely be on our Thanksgiving menu in a double portion.

It’s never a bad idea to serve a seasonal veggie, and  because there is always a colorful selection of squash at the local farmers market, it offers the perfect solution. Just cut it into cubes and sauté with onions and tomatoes. For my husband, Marvin, it is his favorite holiday dish.

For dessert this year, I will give our daughter-in-law, Amy, the baker in our family, a recipe for a Vegan Pumpkin Spice Bundt Cake to make. I also hope to surprise everyone with scoops of homemade Nondairy Coconut Gelato to serve on the side — and offer them one more reason to give thanks!

BUTTERNUT SQUASH SOUP

  • Salsa (recipe follows)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted margarine, melted
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 1/2 pounds butternut squash, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces (about 6 cups) 
  • 5 cups vegetable stock or broth
  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced and mashed with 1/2 teaspoon salt (optional)
  • 2 teaspoons peeled and grated fresh ginger
  • 1/3 cup finely minced fresh flat-leaf parsley, (optional)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

 

Prepare Salsa. Set aside.

In a small stock pot, mix oil and margarine. Add onion and cook until tender and translucent, about 10 minutes. Add squash and stock. Bring the liquid to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until the squash is tender when pierced with the tip of a small sharp knife.

Transfer the cooked squash and broth to a food processor or blender and puree in batches. Return the mixture to the pot and stir in the mashed garlic and ginger. Simmer briefly and stir in parsley. Taste and correct seasoning with salt and pepper. Garnish with Salsa.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

SALSA

  • 2 large tomatoes, sliced 
  • 1/2 large red onion, diced 
  • 1/2 to 1 cup minced fresh cilantro 
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice 
  • Salt to taste

 

In a medium bowl, combine tomatoes, red onion and cilantro and mix well.  Add lemon juice and salt to taste.  

Makes about 3 cups.

CARROT-PARSNIP SLAW

  • 3/4 cup mayonnaise (or vegan substitute)
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons sugar 
  • 10 medium carrots, peeled and grated
  • 4 medium parsnips, peeled and grated
  • 1/3 cup raisins, plumped in grape juice
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

 

In a medium bowl, combine the mayonnaise, lemon juice and sugar and blend well. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use.

In a large bowl, toss the carrots, parsnips and raisins. Add the mayonnaise mixture and toss until completely combined. Add salt and pepper to taste. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

FARMERS MARKET SAUTEED SQUASH

  • 3 pounds assorted squash (zucchini, yellow neck, summer squash)
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 large tomato, diced
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup pomegranate seeds

 

Cut squash into 1/2-inch cubes. In a frying pan, add oil and sauté onion until soft. Add squash, tomato and basil, and continue to sauté until desired texture, about 15 to 20 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Just before serving, transfer to a heated bowl. Sprinkle with pomegranate seeds.

Makes 8 to 10 servings.

NONDAIRY COCONUT GELATO

  • 2 (13- to 15-ounce) cans full-fat coconut milk
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup, honey or sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

 

Shake the cans of coconut milk thoroughly to incorporate the layers that form in the can. Pour 1/2 cup of coconut milk into a medium saucepan over low to warm heat. Add the cornstarch and whisk until the cornstarch is thoroughly dissolved.

Pour the remaining coconut milk into a large pot, add maple syrup and salt, and warm the coconut milk on medium-low heat, stirring until the maple syrup completely dissolves, about 1 to 2 minutes.

Pour the cornstarch mixture into the warm coconut milk while whisking gently. Heat until the gelato mixture is thick. Pour into a large bowl, and mix in the vanilla extract. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.

Pour the mixture into the canister of an ice cream maker, and freeze according to manufacturer’s directions. 

Makes about 6 cups.

VEGAN PUMPKIN SPICE BUNDT CAKE WITH MAPLE GLAZE

  • Maple Glaze (recipe follows)
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup spelt flour
  • 3/4 cup coconut sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 (15-ounce) can solid-pack pumpkin
  • 1/2 cup coconut oil
  • 1 1/2 cups unsweetened almond milk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons white vinegar

 

Prepare Maple Glaze. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Oil and flour a 10-inch bundt pan.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, sugars, pumpkin pie spice, baking soda and salt.

In a separate large bowl, whisk together the pumpkin, coconut oil, almond milk, vanilla extract and vinegar. Add to dry ingredients, whisking just until combined.

Pour into prepared pan and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until a toothpick inserted in the cake comes out clean. Let cool for 15 minutes in the pan, then turn out on a wire rack to cool.

Drizzle Maple Glaze over completely cooled cake and let set for 10 minutes. Slice and serve.

Makes 10 to 12 servings.

MAPLE GLAZE

  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/4 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon coconut oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • Up to 2 teaspoons cold water

 

Whisk together powdered sugar, maple syrup, coconut oil and cinnamon. If it is too thick to drizzle over the cake, add 1/2 teaspoon cold water at a time.

Makes about 1 1/2 cups.

Judy Zeidler is a food consultant, cooking teacher and author of “Italy Cooks” (Mostarda Press, 2011). Her website is judyzeidler.com

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.

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.

Even after Agriprocessor scandal, inhumane methods still used in kosher slaughtering overseas


Agriprocessors’ 2008 kosher slaughter scandal provoked solemn vows of reform among producers of glatt kosher meat in the U.S. But despite some industry improvements, America’s leading kosher certification authority continues to authorize the sale of millions of pounds of glatt kosher beef slaughtered by means that animal welfare experts condemn as inhumane, a Forward investigation has found.

The questionable practices occur in South and Central America, where the primitive slaughter method known as shackle and drag is used in factories that supply American glatt kosher distributors.

Though the Orthodox Union, the country’s largest kosher certification agency, has said that it objects to the practice, it has continued certifying meat produced by this method despite years of public criticism. O.U. officials say they must also take into account the impact that banning import of such meat would have on beef prices.

But some animal rights activists are now calling the huge kosher certification agency to account.

“Years of inaction have demonstrated that the O.U. is, in fact, complicit in this abuse” despite rhetorical opposition to these practices, wrote Hannah Schein, manager of undercover operations for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, in an e-mail to the Forward.

Beginning in 2004, successive investigations by various groups, government agencies and media outlets, including PETA and the Forward, revealed a pattern of mistreatment of animals and workers at the Agriprocessors plant in Postville, Iowa. An infiltration of the plant by undercover PETA operatives found that cattle were allowed to struggle on the floor for up to three minutes after their throats were cut.

Agriprocessors filed for bankruptcy in November 2008, months after a massive federal immigration raid on the plant. Meanwhile, religious groups and activists called for reform in the kosher slaughter industry.

Three years later, some practices have improved at the kosher plant that was at the heart of the controversy. But other practices that kosher officials call problematic continue, both at the former Agriprocessors plant and elsewhere in the industry.

Observant Jews in America generally seek meat slaughtered under the glatt kosher standard, which has effectively replaced the less stringent non-glatt as the religiously acceptable certification for kosher beef in the United States. The O.U. has not certified non-glatt beef since the 1980s, and while mass producers like Hebrew National continue to produce kosher beef that is not glatt, they do not cater to the observant Jewish market.

The glatt kosher beef industry, like the meatpacking industry at large, is opaque. Information on the slaughterhouses is surprisingly hard to find. Even basic figures like the size of the glatt kosher beef market in the United States are nearly impossible to gauge.

Most experts agree that three major firms sell the lion’s share of glatt kosher beef in America. Two of them, Agri Star Meat and Poultry based in Postville, Iowa, and Minnesota-based Noah’s Ark Processors Corp., own their own slaughterhouses in the United States; the third, Maspeth, N.Y.-based Alle Processing, rents time at a slaughterhouse in Illinois and imports frozen beef.

It’s largely that imported frozen beef that has animal rights advocates up in arms.

No meatpacking plants in Central and South America certified by the O.U. to supply glatt kosher beef to the United States use upright pens — the humane gold standard — to slaughter cattle, according to Rabbi Menachem Genack, rabbinic administrator of the O.U.’s kosher division. American abattoir certified by the O.U. use upright pens almost exclusively.

The slaughter methods used in Central and South America, on the other hand, have been all but banned from American glatt kosher plants.

“It’s not the system we recommend or have been advocating,” Genack said of the Central and South American plants’ practices. “There’s an attempt to wean [the Latin American operations] away from the system, which is what we would like. It hasn’t happened yet.”

But the O.U.’s chief kosher official has said this before, notably in a 2008 article in the Forward and in a 2010 article in the Los Angeles Times.

“I know it’s a long period of time, but we’re juggling,” Genack said. “There are competing considerations here. It’s quite easy to say, ‘Why don’t we just cut out South America?’ But it would represent a disruption of supply and inevitably would mean kosher meat would go up higher in price. We’re trying to supply a modest cost for struggling families. That’s the whole concept behind the O.U.”

Genack acknowledged that the Central and South American plants’ use of the controversial shackle and drag method of slaughter was problematic. In this process, the cattle’s legs are bound and the animals are flipped onto the ground before the shokhet, or ritual slaughterer, cuts the animal’s throat.

The method is used in part because these Latin American plants ship most of their product to the Israeli beef market, and kosher guidelines enforced by the Israeli Chief Rabbinate require cattle to be inverted during their slaughter. The inverted position of the cow is thought to keep the animal from pushing against the slaughterer’s knife. Excessive pressure exerted by the cow or the shokhet would make the kill unkosher.

The upright pens used in the United States are considered by animal welfare experts to be far more humane than other methods. They keep the animal standing during the slaughter, and secure their heads to keep them from applying pressure to the knife.

In the shackle and drag method, “they’re just dragging them out of a box and holding them down on the floor with five guys on top of them,” said Temple Grandin, a humane slaughter expert whose innovations in animal handling have been adopted industrywide.

An article published by Grandin on her website calls the shackle and drag method a “serious problem” and indicates that a slaughterhouse using the method would fail an animal welfare audit.

Central and South American plants also use the better-known shackle and hoist method — a practice outlawed in the United States since 1958 — though there are signs that this practice is declining.

In a shackle and hoist kill, live cattle are raised in the air by a chain tied around their leg before they are slaughtered. The American law banning this practice permitted an exception for ritual slaughter. And the method is said to continue at a few small abattoirs in the United States. But no slaughterhouses certified by the O.U. in the United States employ shackle and hoist or shackle and drag.

Both shackle and hoist and shackle and drag are thought to be more dangerous for slaughterhouse workers than the upright pen.

In 2000, the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, the highest authority on Jewish law in Conservative Judaism, unanimously ruled that shackle and hoist is a violation of Jewish laws against cruelty to animals and unnecessary risk to human life.

It’s impossible to know exactly how much glatt kosher beef is imported from Latin American plants that continue these problematic practices.

An extensive search using the paid online database Import Genius, which catalogs all shipboard deliveries into the United States, revealed that Alle has imported nearly 30 million pounds of frozen beef from Latin America since 2006.

Imports by the firm have remained relatively steady over the past five years, with the exception of a huge spike in imports in late 2008 and the first half of 2009, when the Agriprocessors plant went offline. Over the past 12 months, Alle has imported at least 850,000 pounds of beef.

Most of that meat has come from two plants: Frigorifico Las Piedras, in Uruguay, and Centro Internacional de Inversiones S.A., in Costa Rica. An official at the Uruguayan plant would not comment on the plant’s slaughter practices; an official at the Costa Rican plant missed a scheduled interview without explanation and did not respond to a subsequent attempt to contact him.

Sam Hollander, Alle’s owner, also did not respond to a request for comment. His firm sells processed and frozen beef under its Mon Cuisine and Meal Mart brands, and also sells kosher meat to airlines under its Schreiber brand.

Although no other kosher firms were listed in the Import Genius database, that database would not include beef sent into the country by truck or train and would miss imports delivered to intermediary companies contracted by the kosher firms to facilitate the delivery process.

In a statement, Agri Star said that all the meat used in its “fresh meat operation” is processed locally, but a spokesman would not say whether that applied to its frozen and processed meat products.

Genack maintained that kosher standards in the Latin American slaughterhouses are controlled by the Israeli Chief Rabbinate and practices at the plants are ultimately outside the purview of the O.U. Genack said that he had spoken with Yona Metzger, Israel’s chief Ashkenazi rabbi, about the Latin American plants as recently as this past summer.

A spokesman for Metzger, Avi Blumenthal, said that Metzger opposed shackle and hoist, but he could only request change and not enforce it, as the matter is “not connected to kashrut.”

Blumenthal claimed that the vast majority of glatt kosher beef shipped to Israel from Latin America came from plants using high-tech inverting pens, which flip the cows upside down and are considered more humane than the shackle and drag method. But Blumenthal’s claim puzzled Genack, who said that the O.U. is unaware of any inverting pens in use in Central or South America.

“I don’t understand what they’re referring to,” Genack said. The Israeli Chief Rabbinate’s kashrut authority certifies more slaughterhouses in Central and South America than the O.U., and Genack said it was possible that the inverting pens were being used in places where the O.U. had no presence. But he said, “If an [inverting pen] was in the slaughterhouses that we were at and they were using it, we’d be using it, as well.”

In fact, some progress appears to have been made. Genack said that a plant in Mexico which he would not name is now using the more humane upright pen for beef imported by Alle.

But according to Genack, that progress has not reached the Uruguayan and Costa Rican plants.

The Latin American cattle are grass fed, in contrast to grain-fed American cattle, and some argue that the Latin American animals have an overall better quality of life. But Naftali Hanau, founder and CEO of Grow and Behold, which sells pasture-raised beef and poultry from North American farms, said he isn’t so sure. “They arguably do have a better life than a typical American feedlot cow,” Hanau told the Forward. But “when you factor in the end of the line, when it comes to transportation and handling and being slaughtered through a system that is arguably more inhumane, it’s a question of values. Personally, I’m not going to buy that meat.”

Contact Josh Nathan-Kazis at nathankazis@forward.com or on Twitter @joshnathankazis

Hot pot dinner bonds two very different ‘believers’ in China


Being treated to a hot pot meal is one of my most dreaded social situations in China.

Hot pot is like Chinese fondue. A large pot of meat stock bubbles in the center of the table, and fresh meat, fish, vegetables and tofu are dropped inside. You dip the cooked foods in a sesame sauce and drink the flavorful soup.

This is problematic for someone like me, since I’m not only a vegetarian but also kosher. I don’t eat meat or seafood, and I can’t eat vegetables cooked in a meat broth.

Traveling in America, Europe or the Middle East, I always was more comfortable saying I was vegetarian than saying I was kosher. Yet living in China, where vegetarianism for the sake of animals or the environment is rare, most people ask if my eating habits are religious. After all, they know that some observant Buddhists not only refuse to eat meat, but also eggs and milk.

If I am with friends who know I keep kosher, we will find a restaurant with individual hot pots and I can keep my meal vegetarian.

But at a recent dinner in Beijing, a colleague was introducing me to several people in the Chinese movie business. I wanted to make a good impression. That meant eating and drinking — a lot.

When I saw the communal hot pot in the center of every table in the restaurant, I groaned. Not only was I about to inconvenience my host, but a religious discussion was close at hand.

Our dinner host was the owner of a Beijing sound studio, and I told him I was a vegetarian. His first question, as expected, was if I was religious.

Then something happened I hadn’t encountered in China.

Zhang Qun, a Mandarin voice-over actress also at the table, gave me a sympathetic look.

“I have the same problem,” she said, “because I am Muslim.”

Zhang Qun is ethnically Han Chinese, so I was surprised when she told me she was from a Muslim community in Tianjin. She did not look like the stereotypical Chinese Muslim, whom I figured to be from China’s Western Xinjiang autonomous region, where the locals look more like they’re from neighboring Kazhakhstan — a country that is nearly 50 percent Muslim — than from China.

At first I was nervous that she might have a negative opinion about my being Jewish. Most Chinese are complimentary of Jews, saying how clever and rich Jews are without meaning to be at all anti-Semitic. Yet I had never had any extended interaction with a Chinese Muslim before. Would she have a different stereotype in mind?

Luckily, I had nothing to worry about. She even helped solve our food problem by taking charge and ordering a smaller hot pot containing only hot water, not chicken broth. It would be kept meat free.

Although the food problem was solved, there was still the matter of alcohol. As a Muslim, Zhang Qun could not drink alcohol. At each of the evening’s dozens of toasts, she clinked her water glass with our beer and baijiu, a strong distilled Chinese alcohol.

When she excused herself early, many of the men at the table complained. Why wouldn’t she drink with them? They felt it was impolite.

But the owner of the sound studio, Zhang Yong Mou, looked at me earnestly.

“I think out of everyone at this table, these two have the most in common,” he said. “If anyone can understand Zhang Qun, Alison can because they are both religious believers.”

The comments hit home for me. I rarely meet someone in China with dietary restrictions that exceed mine.

That night, fresh news from Israel about tensions between Muslims and Jews seemed far away. I felt an understanding with Zhang Qun. It was refreshing to find this interfaith connection in Beijing over a dreaded hot pot dinner.

VIDEO: A Sacred Duty — A Jewish response to threats to our environment


From the Internet Archive:

A Major Documentary on Current Environmental Threats and How Jewish Teachings Can Be Applied in Responding to These Threats.

Produced by Emmy-Award-winning producer, director, writer, and cinematographer Lionel Friedberg, A SACRED DUTY will take its place alongside Al Gore’s AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH and Leonardo di Caprio’s THE ELEVENTH HOUR as another powerful expose of the dangers of global warming. However, it goes beyond the latter two films, by showing how religious responses can make a major difference and why a shift toward plant-based diets is an essential part of efforts to reduce global climate change and other environmental threats.

This item is part of the collection: Open Source Movies

Producer: Lionel Friedberg and the JVNA
Audio/Visual: sound, color
Language: English (hebrew Subtitles)
Keywords: Global warming, ecology, enviroment, Judaism, Vegetarianism, Israel, Tora,

Follow your heart to a vegetarian Chanukah feast


uddha statues and meditation gear aren’t the kinds of items you might expect to find at a Chanukah celebration, let alone a meatless deli case or a display of cruelty-free cosmetics. But these specialties are de rigueur for Canoga Park’s Follow Your Heart, a neighborhood vegetarian market and cafe with a wood-paneled hippie style that offers a quiet refuge from the supermarket din of Whole Foods or Wild Oats.

In keeping with an annual tradition started 35 years ago, Follow Your Heart’s Jewish owners, Bob Goldberg and Paul Lewin, will hold their Chanukah Feast on Dec. 19, 4 p.m.- 9 p.m. The menu will feature a festive menu of traditional foods with a vegan twist, from the Mock Chicken Liver pate right down to dairy-free sour cream for the latkes.

“Right from the very beginning we developed a Thanksgiving dinner, a Chanukah dinner and a Christmas dinner,” Lewin said.

The Heart, as loyalists call it, is a Southland vegetarian landmark that started in the early 1970s. Its popularity has even spawned two cookbooks written by former head chef Janice Cook Knight, “Follow Your Heart’s Vegetarian Soup Cookbook” (Woodbridge Press, 1983) and “Follow Your Heart Cookbook” (Wiley, 2006), which includes Butternut Squash Soup, a cafe favorite.

As natural food has gone from health-nut fringe to soccer-mom mainstream, an increasingly diverse crowd has now entered the doors of this family-run boutique business.

“All we do now these days is sit back, let the place happen and participate,” Lewin said.

Follow Your Heart’s Chicago-born owners originally met at Indiana University’s Jewish fraternity Sigma Alpha Mu in 1965. Lewin and Goldberg soon found themselves drafted into the Army for a two-year stint during the Vietnam War.
Goldberg said his vegetarianism started when he became a conscientious objector. “I came face to face with the whole idea of having to kill something,” he said. “I went from not wanting to kill people to not wanting to kill at all.”

After their discharge, Lewin and Goldberg moved to Los Angeles with dreams of becoming musicians. Instead, they became regulars at a natural food store called Johnny Weismuller’s American Natural Foods, which licensed the name from the Jewish “Tarzan” actor.

In 1971 the pair started working at Johnny’s, and in 1973 they joined with manager Michael Besancon and co-worker Spencer Windbiel to buy the store, which they renamed Follow Your Heart. Twelve years later, Goldberg and Lewin bought out their partners; Besancon now serves as president of Whole Foods’ Southern Pacific region.

The two have since expanded their operation to include Earth Island, a solar-powered, environmentally friendly facility in Chatsworth that produces nationally distributed items like Vegenaise, Vegan Gourmet nondairy cheese, a line of salad dressings and a chicken alternative called Chicken Free Chicken, the central ingredient in their Moroccan Chicken With Almonds recipe.

Goldberg and Lewin are currently courting KOF-K as a certifying agency to take their products to the kosher-conscious consumer. But aside from Lewin having addressed Jewish Vegetarians of Los Angeles at Valley Beth Shalom in the past, the pair’s Judaic involvement is mostly confined to the Chanukah Feast.

Both are proud of their Jewish heritage, as evidenced by the early 20th century photos of the Lewin and Goldberg grandparents’ retail endeavors that hang above the counter of Follow Your Heart Cafe.

“I grew up Jewish, was bar mitzvahed and confirmed,” said Goldberg, who began studying a variety of spiritual disciplines after he moved to Southern California.

Even though his Judaism is more foodaism today, Goldberg said he continues to look on his Jewish education with fondness and wants to make sure he passes on family traditions. After marrying a “good Catholic girl,” Goldberg’s said his interfaith family, like so many in Southern California, spends December celebrating both Christmas and Chanukah.

“My kids are growing up with the whole thing, the whole enchilada,” he said.

Mock Chicken Liver Pate

1 1/2 pounds frozen green peas
1 1/2 pounds frozen green beans
3/4 cup toasted sesame tahini
1/2 pound walnuts
1 medium to large onion
1/2 cup margarine
2 tablespoons vegetarian chicken-style broth powder
1 tablespoon tamari (or soy sauce)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 tablespoon whole thyme
1 teaspoon salt
1 pinch black pepper

Steam the peas and the beans for approximately 20 minutes. Dice the onion, and sauté in the vegetable oil until clarified. Place all of the ingredients in a food processor and blend until almost smooth, but not too creamy. Add salt, pepper and broth or broth powder to taste. The pate will have a decidedly green tinge to it. You can always add a small amount of a caramel color to brown it up.

Makes 18 servings.

Butternut Squash Soup
Adapted from “Follow Your Heart Cookbook”

3 pounds butternut squash
4 tablespoons margarine
1/2 cup chopped yellow onion
4 cups vegetable or mushroom broth
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

Cut squash into four to six large pieces. Remove the seeds and peel off the skin. Cut squash into 1-inch pieces and set aside.

In a heavy-bottomed 3- to 4-quart soup pot, melt the margarine. Add the onion and sauté for five minutes over low heat, stirring frequently until onion is barely translucent. Add the squash pieces and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes. Add broth and bring the soup to a boil; reduce heat and simmer, covered, for about 15 minutes, or until squash is very tender.

Puree soup in a food processor or blender. Return soup to pot and reheat slightly. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Serve, garnished with parsley.

Makes four to six servings.

Moroccan Chicken With Almonds

1 Chicken Free Chicken, quartered (available at Follow Your Heart, but can be replaced with 10 ounces chicken-style seitan)
1 onion

But Is It Kosher?


In September 2003, Whole Foods quietly removed one brand of kosher chicken from its shelves and replaced it with a different brand.

The switch received little notice — outside of a Jewish Journal article — but it caught my eye. A representative for Whole Foods claimed the previous chicken brand didn’t meet the chain’s standard; its feed was not organic, and the chickens weren’t raised and slaughtered in the most humane way possible.

Up until then I’d assumed that kosher meant, well, kosher. It surprised me that a company well-known for its concern for animal well-being and food safety would deem anything kosher treif, or unfit. Long before Whole Foods was even a glimmer in the eye of the Prius-tocracy, hadn’t we Jews been telling ourselves and others that we were practicing humane slaughter and thoughtful animal husbandry — embodied in the very laws of kashrut? What did Whole Foods know that I didn’t?

It turns out Whole Foods was on to something seriously wrong with the kosher food industry, and the industry is due for a change.

I grew up eating meat of all kinds. One afternoon during my sophomore year at college, I found myself on an idyllic Maine isle, plunging a live lobster into a pot of boiling water. By dusk I was a vegetarian, and I stayed that way for the next 14 years. I wasn’t squeamish: I’d fished my whole life, and even hunted. As a cook in various restaurants, I’d gutted shoals of fish, whacked through sides of beef and deconstructed flocks of poultry. But at that moment I figured, if I could survive without taking another life, so much the better.

Then I met my wife, Naomi Levy, rabbi and carnivore.

I loved the woman very much, so I had to come to terms with two of her seemingly contradictory traits: She loved meat, and she didn’t cook. I still love her; she still loves meat, and she still doesn’t cook.

The thought of cooking two entrees a night for the rest of our lives didn’t appeal to me. I compromised and began eating fish. Then came the first of many Friday night meals together. I put a piece of grilled salmon on the Sabbath table, and Naomi put on her best game face: What’s Sabbath without roasted chicken? So I started eating chicken. And then came her pregnancies, when she expressed numerous times that a) she would kill for a big juicy grilled steak and b) she was carrying our baby.

So there was the occasional steak.

All along, I rationalized the meat on our table by its kosher pedigree. In my mind, and in the minds of most Jews, the meaning of “kosher” had long swelled beyond its strict Levitical denotation of permitted and forbidden animals and their prescribed method of slaughter. I believed that “kosher” meant a higher concern for cleanliness, for the health and welfare of the animals, for the sanctity of Creation.

And it wasn’t just me. The dictionary definition of “kosher” includes “genuine and legitimate.” If I had to kill to eat, at least the meat was kosher.

But the alarm bell that Whole Food rang was soon followed by a cacophony of criticism and investigation.

In December 2004, 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 showed practices that were obviously cruel and created a firestorm of criticism and countercharges. The Orthodox Union, which overseas the kashrut of the plant, said the offending practices would be corrected — they have been — and accused PETA of launching an assault on the institution of shechitah (kosher slaughter) itself.

The made-for-media PETA fracas birthed a larger, more thoughtful crossdenominational concern over current kosher slaughter practices. Earlier this year, Jonathan Safran Foer, author of the best-selling novel “Everything Is Illuminated” (Houghton Mifflin, 2002) and last year’s “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” (Houghton Mifflin), released a PETA-produced video over the Internet that condemned modern kosher slaughter practices, calling them anathema to the spirit of the kosher laws.

The author’s calm, well-reasoned arguments are buttressed by on-camera interviews with Rabbi David Wolpe of the Conservative Sinai Temple in Los Angeles and Rabbi Irving “Yitz” Greenberg, the Orthodox founder of CLAL — The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.

The video, titled “If This Is Kosher …,” is available for download at www.HumaneKosher.com. It interweaves Foer’s and the rabbis’ comments with footage from the AgriProccessors plant and from kosher egg and meat suppliers in Israel. In one scene, egg industry workers fill a plastic-lined, 55-gallon garbage can with live male chicks, superfluous to the process. In another shot, the bags are sealed and dumped.

“To be Jewish,” Foer says in the video, “is to strive to make the world less cruel and more just — not only for oneself and not only for one’s people but for everyone. One doesn’t have to consider animals as equal to humans — I don’t — to give them a place in this inspiring idea.”

Wolpe and Greenberg — both vegetarians — signed on to a letter, along with dozens of rabbis, calling on the Orthodox Union to do more to promote humane treatment of animals in the kosher facilities it oversees.

In the midst of these criticisms came the results of another investigation by The Forward newspaper last month charging the Rubashkin factory with unfair labor practices, unsafe working conditions and labor intimidation. “AgriProcessors’ final product — sold under the nationally popular Aaron’s Best brand — is priced significantly higher than standard meat,” reporter Nathaniel Popper wrote. “Its kosher seal gives it a seeming moral imprimatur in an industry known for harsh working conditions. But even in the unhappy world of meatpacking, people with comparative knowledge of AgriProcessors and other plants — including local religious leaders, professors, and union organizers — say that AgriProcessors stands out for its poor treatment of workers.”

The manager of the plant, Sholom Rubashkin, denied the charges, but the plant has been subject to half the violations in all Iowa meatpacking plants so far this year, according to The Forward’s analysis of OSHA statistics.

“The bottom line here is that I’m not sure these devout Jews are using Jewish ethics to treat their workers,” one critic said.

I don’t know if Rubashkin is the exception or the rule in an industry that is increasingly concentrated in a few large hands, and whose imprimatur of kashrut comes from a handful of rabbinic authorities.

But I do know my definition of kosher is now much more narrow. In marketing terms, the brand has been tarnished. Kosher is not necessarily clean, or humane, or just. Long synonymous in our hearts and minds with good and pure, kosher is in danger of meaning just one small group’s interpretation of what’s legal.

What happened?

The purveyors of kosher goods became prey to the same market forces that have undermined the integrity of the entire American food chain. The food industry has fed America’s insatiable appetite by disregarding health concerns and riding roughshod over animal welfare and environmental welfare.

The demand for meat has led to the industrialization of farming, to feedlots holding up to 100,000 cattle, to the rapid and often sloppy dispatch of thousands of animals per day.

Kosher slaughterers piggyback — so to speak — on this industry by sending rabbis into nonkosher slaughterhouses to kill selected animals. Rubashkin itself noted that it slaughtered 18,000 cows in a seven-week period, which it said inevitably leads to error.

Kosher food, which we had always taken to stand apart from and above from the larger culture, has acquiesced to some of the industry’s worst practices.

Strictly speaking, the laws of kashrut do not address issues of responsible, ethical food production and healthful eating.

“The nature of kashrut is thus at once mysterious and obvious,” scholar Meir Soloveichik wrote in a penetrating essay in the journal Azure’s winter issue. “While God does not explain the importance of cud-chewing or leaping, of split hooves or scales, the Bible insists that it be perfectly clear to the non-Jew that the Torah-observant Israelite lives a life that reminds him constantly of his unique relationship with God.”

The exact meaning of these laws may remain obscure, but they are clearly meant to set us apart and elevate our souls.

For someone who loves both to pet animals and to eat them, the laws of kashrut speak to the tension between our higher and lower impulses, between the hunter Esau and the shepherd Jacob; between the carnivore wife and the conflicted husband.

Perhaps no religion better understands this eternal and inherent contradiction than Judaism. The laws of kashrut help us shuttle between our hungry selves and our compassionate ones, between the sanctity of all God’s creatures and their deliciousness.

If the kosher food industry is interested in retaining the deeper meaning of the label it bestows, its manufacturers and rabbis must figure out how to restore the spirit of kashrut to kashrut. The Jewish teaching of tza’ar ba’alei chayim — forbidding cruelty to animals because they are part of God’s creation — is the obvious place to start.

Kosher certifiers should cooperate with organizations like Animal Compassion Foundation, founded with a grant from Whole Foods, which are in the vanguard of conscientious animal husbandry and slaughter. The kosher label should not just imply the humane, responsible treatment of animals and the just treatment of food industry workers, it should certify it.

 

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.

 

Letters


Two Families’ Dreams

I thought I was reading an excerpt from an Al Jazeera broadcast when I read “Two Families’ Dreams Were Not Demolished” (June 24).

The chattering liberals in Brentwood, donating funds for Nasrallah’s new home, have long ago made common cause with the Israel haters on the left. I expect little from them and more from The Jewish Journal.

Rachel Corrie’s accidental death is a tragedy, but so are the deaths of the Jewish teenagers intentionally murdered by Arabs last month. She chose to be in harm’s way. Not so the thousands of innocent Israelis murdered and maimed by intentional acts of violence by Arabs during the last four years.

When will the Brentwood Jewish bleeding hearts bleed for their own people?

Herb Glaser
E-mail

What’s missing from your article is a discussion on what the Palestinian Authority has done for the Nasrallah family or why the Corrie family feels that the plight of the innocent Palestinian is worth more than the innocent Israeli.

Once again, the author and his subjects find plenty to complain about, but offer no real solutions about what Israel should do to protect its people and help the Palestinians, when the Palestinians (who are also funded by the U.S. taxpayer) won’t help themselves.

Ari Stark
Los Angeles

Thanks so much to The Journal for having the courage to publish “Two Families’ Dreams Were Not Demolished” by Howard Blume.

I have an idea of what kind of toll a backlash can take. My grandfather was an Orthodox Jew who survived Bergen Belsen and publicly spoke out in support of Jews and Palestinians living together as equals in peace. He became the target of the wrath of zealots who shunned him in synagogue, resulting in a painful isolation that led him to leave Holland and move to the U.S.

The Los Angeles Jewish community is not a monolith. We are much better served with a paper that reflects and embraces our diversity.

It was an honor to meet the parents of Rachel Corrie and the Nasrallah family, who exhibit incredible poise and commitment as they are warmly welcomed on their 20-city U.S. tour, carrying Rachel’s message of peace and justice.

Karen Pomer
Los Angeles

Thank you for having the journalistic independence to print the article, “Two Families’ Dreams Were Not Demolished” in The Jewish Journal. Regardless of how one feels about this issue, it is important that a free press has the courage to present all views.

Middie and Richard Giesberg
Los Angeles

I am writing in support of The Jewish Journal and its balanced, comprehensive coverage of the Middle East. Your paper gives me focus and detail that the mainstream media misses, and I appreciate it.

I have been a loyal reader for many years.

Keep up the good work and give a brave face to the extremists on both sides who would suppress the whole story.

Dr. Sandy Weimer
Los Angeles

Ten Commandments

I find it curious why anyone would want the Ten Commandments inside a courthouse (“Ten Commandments’ Future Unclear,” July 1). Without any commentary, the commandments alone are very cold and unforgiving.

They say “Do not kill,” but leave no room for self-defense. They say, “Honor thy parents,” not offering any olive branch for people who have had very abusive parents. They say, “Do not covet,” which is not technically a crime.

Furthermore, the first commandment is Adonai is your God and the second is, “You shall have no other gods besides Me,” which seems an unfair statement in a space that is supposed to be unbiased toward race and religion.

I believe that whatever hangs on the wall of a courthouse should be directed to the judges who serve there day in and day out, rather than to the people who come and go. It is the judges that need a constant reminder of why they are there, so as not to be jaded or forget their sacred purpose.

Therefore, if a courthouse desires to put biblical verses on their walls, instead of the Ten Commandments, let me suggest the following three verses from Deuteronomy:

“You shall appoint magistrates and officials … and they shall govern the people with due justice. You shall not judge unfairly: you shall show no partiality; you shall not take bribes, for bribes blind the eyes of the discerning and upset the plea of the just. Justice, justice shall you pursue…. (Deuteronomy 16:18-20)

Rabbi Zoe Klein
Temple Isaiah
Los Angeles

Gush Katif

This letter is in response to the letter to the editor by Jeff Warner of La Habra Heights on June 24, regarding the Israeli government’s intention to abandon Gaza and the northern West Bank (“The Battle Over Gaza in America,” June 17).

SaveGushKatif.org does not use the “G-d argument,” because if one doesn’t believe that G-d gave the Land of Israel to the Jewish people for eternity, then the argument is meaningless. Our entire campaign simply presents the security risks involved in giving away Jewish Gaza (Gush Katif) and the four communities in the northern West Bank that are still in Israeli hands.

I am sure that Mr. Warner loves Israel every bit as much as I do. I beg him to simply read the reports from security experts from Israel and the United States and then to draw his conclusions.

Mr. Warner can find the reports on our Web site at www.SaveGushKatif.org

Jon Hambourger
Save Gush Katif
Beverly Hills

Dystonia

Your article about dystonia (“Rare Ailment Occurs More in Ashkenazis,” June 10) was a moving and necessary reminder that not enough attention is given this disease in the research community.

Contributions to organizations, including the Dystonia Medical Research Foundation (www.dystonia-foundation.org) and We Move (www.wemove.org) are critical to help raise awareness and education, and to help thousands of children like David Rudolph, the amazing 10-year-old boy featured in your article.

Thank you for helping shed light on this important topic.

Benjamin Krepack
Los Angeles

Summer Safety

Thank you for your valuable article (“Don’t Get Lazy on Kids Summer Safety,” June 24). Jewish Family Service/Aleinu Family Resource Center continues to work with Susan DiLeo and the Mothers Advocating Prevention program to develop school-based programs educating children and parents about child safety in a manner that is sensitive to the Orthodox community.

We also promote child safety at summer camps. For the second year, JFS/Aleinu is sponsoring a comprehensive training program on child safety for directors and head counselors of Jewish camps in the Los Angeles area.

We have developed guidelines for staff and counselors to help ensure that there is no inappropriate, illegal or confusing conduct taking place between staff and campers or among campers.

We offer a certificate to all camps whose directors complete our training program and whose staff agree to use these guidelines.

A list of camps that have participated in the training and earned this certificate is available online at www.jfsla.org/index.php?/programs/details/5/53.

We encourage all parents to require the JFS/Aleinu Keeping Our Kids Safe certificate from camps before registering their children.

Debbie Fox,
JFS/Aleinu Family Resource Center

Dreams Not Demolished

I have read Howard Blume’s article about the Gaza disengagement, the Nasrallah famil and Rachel Corrie’s death, and find it a good piece of journalism (“Two Families Dreams Were Not Demolished,” June 24). Far from being polemical or blatantly pro-Palestinian, it presents both sides very fairly. Blume should be congratulated, first of all for telling Corrie’s story, which too many American newspapers have ignored, and second for presenting a potentially emotional and divisive story in a calm, objective way.

Mary Johnson
Mount Kisco, N.Y.

With the exception of those parents who encourage their children to become suicide bombers, no other parent, such as Craig and Cynthia Corrie, wants to see one of their children, like Rachel Corrie, killed. It was indeed a tragedy.

I would like to respectfully ask them, and the Nasrallahs, and the Stanley Sheinbaums who, among others, offer them a venue at which they can condemn Israeli actions, Caterpiller, Inc., the settlements and Ariel Sharon, about whether they include in their screeds a condemnation of the bombings at Haifa University, or at the Sbarro pizza parlor or numerous busses? And more recently, have they condemned Wafa Samir Ibraim Bas, the girl who was carrying 10 kilos of explosives strapped to her underwear attempting to blow herself up at the very hospital that had treated her in the past, and who was quoted as saying that she wanted to kill as many children as possible? Have they condemned Fatah’s Al-Aqsa’s Brigade? You know, Abbas’ Fatah?

So the visitors were here to “…promote peace and raise awareness about the plight of Palestinians.” But what about the plight of innocent Israelis wantonly killed by Palestinians who subscribe to the Cult of Death? We all know by now the plight of the Palestinians, but fail to comprehend how that “plight” justifies the murder on June 24 of two teenage Yeshiva students by Palestinian terrorists from Hebron.

Has Sheinbaum endowed a chair at the Yeshiva to honor these two innocent students? Or at Haifa University to honor those innocent students and counselors who were murdered by a suicide bomber? Why not? Has he created a trust fund for the families whose members have been murdered or maimed by Palestinian suicide bombers? If not, why not? Or a memorial to Tali Hatual, eight months pregnant, who was murdered along with her four children in May 2004? Or is it the plight of the Israeli to be subordinated always to the plight of the other?

Why does Blume omit that though “The Gaza Strip was set aside as Palestinian in 1947,” the Arabs rejected the plan? When you reject a plan does that mean you’re still tied to it as though you had accepted it? Why does he also state that various “…Israeli governments tacitly or explicitly encouraged Israelis to move into the disputed “occupied territories,” without mentioning that Israeli did not do so until the Arabs met at Khartoum and rejected Israel’s plea for a quid pro quo, territories for peace, with their famous three Nos: no negotiations with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no peace with Israel? Wasn’t that relevant to him? Partial facts can be as much a lie as a falsehood.

And finally, Mrs. Corrie should be disabused of the statement that “The U.S. government has funded the occupation.”

No, Mrs. Corrie, Arab intransigence has.

Jack Salem
Los Angeles

I didn’t realize that the Jewish Journal was now an outlet for Palestinian Disinformation.

The article starts by comparing the Jewish residents of Gaza with people who endorsed and shielded terrorists waging war against Israel’s civilians … and it gets worse.

It characterizes Rachel Corrie as an activist who died to protect Palestinian homes’ but it describes the ISM as “a pro Palestinian activist group that uses non-violent means to oppose Israel’s policies in the territories.” The article of course omits the deliberate shielding of terrorists by the ISM, or the on the record endorsement of violent “resistance,” against Israel’s civilians by the groups’ founders, Adam Shapiro and his Arab wife Hawaida Arraf on numerous occasions. Of course, a cute picture of “activist” Corrie is included – not the AP shot of a hate filled harridan in a Palestinian headscarf burning an American flag in front of a group of Palestinian children, screaming at the top of her lungs.

The article also repeats as fact allegations that the IDF bulldozed homes without notice and without regard for human life, as well as alleging that the IDF deliberately shot pregnant women and children.

Just because two parents with a long history of anti-Israel activism feel like propagandizing against Israel with a Palestinian in tow and are able to get the likes of Stanley Shienbaum to front for them is no reason for this kind of falsehood.

Robert Miller
La Crescenta

We have read the article by Howard Blume in the June 24 issue of your paper and wish to commend you and Blume for presenting a balanced view of two families made homeless by policies of the Israeli government. We believe that Israel will be secure and that peace and justice will prevail in the Middle East only when the truth on all sides is aired. We thank you for the step you have taken in this direction.

Kathryn J. Johnson
Executive Director
Methodist Federation for Social Action
Washington, D.C.

Thank you for the enlightening and moving article about the Corries and Nasrallahs, two unlikely families who forged a friendship through a mutual tragedy and have chosen to work together for justice.

Howard Blume should be congratulated for his detailed account of this sad story that never should have happened, and for giving the historical background which is usually missing in articles in our media about the Israel-Palestinian conflict. I am grateful to Tthe Jewish Journal for bringing us the story of these two fine, proud families.

Carole La Flamme
Studio City

Vegetarians

Modern agricultural methods of factory farming are far more cruel and inhumane than most people could ever imagine (“A Holocaust Inspired Vegetarian,” June 24). [Noam] Mohr’s essay accurately described examples of how food animals are raised and slaughtered. I recommend the book, “Eternal Treblinka, Our Treatment of Animals and the Holocaust,” by Charles Patterson. I sincerely believe that if slaughterhouses had windows, everyone would be a vegetarian! — or at least, anyone with a conscience and any sensitivity.

Arlene Cohen
Los Angeles

The Evil Stepmother

Teresa Strasser’s article lifts the art of whining to new heights. In what has become the anthem of her generation — “I Am Victim, Hear Me Whine” — Strasser complains and annoys, never once contemplating the notion that possibly, she could have been even partly responsible for her own fate (“The Evil Stepmother Dies,” July 1).

It’s so much easier to blame everyone else. But then, that’s what Strasser and her ilk are all about. What a loser.

Rob Frankel,
Encino

Halachic Decisions

While I appreciate — and agree with — Jacob Neusner’s idea that every Jew has a contribution to make to the worldwide Jewish community, I must take issue with two of the premises in his article (“Why Reform, Chabad Are Necessary,” June 17).

The first is that “humanity and common sense” should be the “principal criteria in halachic decision-making.” By definition, “halachic decision-making” means that the principal criteria should be just that — halacha.

The second is that, somehow, Orthodoxy — i.e., halacha — has somehow managed to be applied with concern and compassion for several millenia, and continues to be so applied today. There is no need to reject it in order to apply it in a responsible manner, as true halachists — by definition — do.

Dafna Breines
Beitar Eilit, Israel

Shattered

Your editorial “Shattered” on July 1, indicates that you are no longer able to abide by journalist Thomas Freidman’s sitting on the fence position regarding Iraq, but that you are also still unsure of what to do.

History may help you, and others, who ask “when will be bring the troops home?” to place that question in perspective.

Nazi Germany touted a totalitarian policy of world domination, wherein the Aryans were the best and only race/culture worthy of survival. All others were to be ruthlessly wiped out (murdered!) and/or subjugated.

In 1943, would you have asked, “When will we bring the troops home?”

Had we brought home the troops in 1943, America’s national language, today, would likely be German, and there would be no Jewish newspapers in the United States — for there would be zero Jews on Earth! Nor would we have freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, etc.

Today’s Islamists offer a totalitarian policy of world domination, wherein their philosophy is the best and only religion/culture worthy of survival. All others (the “infidels” of the world) are to be ruthlessly wiped out (murdered, beheaded etc) and/or subjugated.

We can either choose to fight to maintain the western culture and freedoms we cherish or simply stand passively and idly by, while our culture and freedoms are erased.

“Bring home the troops now” will do much to help the latter outcome.

Fred Korr
Los Angeles

 

You Are What You Eat


 

I am a vegetarian. I know there was a big controversy brewing over kosher meat, but I’m not sure what the Jewish position

on vegetarianism is. I suppose as long as the vegetables are pulled from the ground in a quick and humane manner, no one can object too strenuously to it. I know God created animals, but I can’t imagine He’d be offended if I didn’t eat them. I’d hate to think of God pouting in His room saying, between sobs, “I worked so hard on that lamb and Nemetz doesn’t even touch it!”

People usually become vegetarians for either health concerns or humane reasons. It is, in theory, healthier to eat lower down on the food chain. Foods are more easily digestible (with the notable exception of my mother’s potato kugel, some of which has been lodged in my small intestine since the Thursday before my bar mitzvah). The problem with doing anything for health reasons is that you’re just staving off the inevitable — like carrying an umbrella in a meteor shower. It may slow the meteor down a tad, but not enough to change your ultimate destiny.

As for the inhumanity of eating animals, while I applaud the sentiment, I think it is a somewhat misplaced compassion — like the anti-abortionists who value the fetus but have no problem killing the abortion doctor. All one needs do is turn on the National Geographic channel to see that, out in the wild, fast eats slow and big eats little — although for some unknown reason, nothing eats the guy holding the camera. If I ever go on safari, I’m renting a Betacam.

I have chosen to eschew meat for a third, more self-obsessed reason — it’s annoying to those around me. You know how some people say that they don’t want to be a bother? Not me. I love being a bother. It really puts people out when they want — or feel obligated to — have me over for dinner (I’ll accept either; a meal’s a meal).

Upon learning of my restrictive diet, the host or hostess will invariably ask me the same question, “Do you eat fish?” Now I’m not a biologist (although I was a genetics major my first year in college — until my grades came out, at which point the university and I agreed that I should pursue a degree in English), but it seems to me that fish hardly qualify as a vegetable. They’re living things. Granted they don’t have much of a life, but then neither did my Uncle Alec. In fact, he would have loved nothing more than to swim around in circles all day, hiding in fake rocks. He wasn’t what you’d call an overachiever — or even an achiever.

Now, as vegetarians go, I’m not that difficult to please. Aside from a major food group, I will eat pretty much anything. There is another, stricter level of vegetarianism. They are called vegans and they consume no animal products whatsoever. There is even a small sect of vegans — I don’t like to use the word fanatical because fanatics tend to get, well, fanatical when you use that word (go figure) — who are so concerned with not taking any life whatsoever that they walk down the street with brooms, sweeping ants out of their paths lest they crush the poor vermin and take a life. The fact that they sweep the critters onto the road into oncoming traffic seems lost on these well-meaning souls. It is this line of flawed thinking that gave us the leaf blower — it doesn’t eliminate the leaf but it does blow it onto your neighbor’s property where it’s no longer your problem.

I find, however, that while familiarity usually breeds contempt, in my case it breeds indifference. The more often I go to someone’s house for dinner, the less effect I have on his or her diet. At first, everyone eats a vegetarian meal because of me. After a while, the host makes a vegetarian meal with a dish for others to eat. Finally, I’m invited to a meat meal with a dish that I can eat. I can see the writing on the wall. Next I’ll be asked to eat something before I come over. Well, I’m not going to wait for that to happen. I’m going to get new friends. That’s why I’m asking you out there to invite me to dinner. I’m willing to go as far as Calabasas. Just remember, I don’t eat fish.

Howard Nemetz is almost as good looking as his picture.

 

Prez by Day, Punk by Night


Lawyer, lecturer, punk rocker –and executive president of an Orthodox synagogue.

Welcome to the world of Bram Presser, 26, the Melbourne, Australia-based lead singer of Yidcore, a Jewish punk rock group that specializes in Jewish and Hebrew songs.

As executive president of Melbourne’s North Eastern Jewish War Memorial Centre, Presser is responsible for fiscal affairs at the synagogue, which serves 260 families.

“Not all the shul members approve of me, but they do say they like me when I am quiet,” Presser said.

At the age of 19 and already into punk, Presser established the Theatre Club at the Northern Suburbs Memorial Centre. At 23 he was involved with Israeli affairs through his position on Victoria’s State Zionist Council. The synagogue was a separate entity within the community center until 2001, when the two merged and Presser became executive president of the combined organization.

Yidcore recently completed its second U.S. tour, playing a month of concerts to enthusiastic audiences in New York, Chicago and Philadelphia.

The band’s latest CD “Chicken Soup Caper E.P.” and its first CD, “Yidcore” feature familiar Jewish songs such as “Dayenu,” “Bashana Haba’ah”and “Yerushalayim Shel Zahav,” together with originals “Minyan Man” and “Why Won’t Adam Sandler Let Us Do His Song?”

The band’s third U.S. tour, which Presser hopes will be coast-to-coast, is on the drawing board.

“We formed the band as part of an Australian Union of Jewish Students show and it was a tearaway success,” Presser said.

Yidcore features three other members who also came out of Melbourne’s Jewish day schools: advertising man Mikie Slonim, marketer Paul Glezer and architect Dave Orlanski.

For a punk rocker, Presser lives a clean life: He is strongly anti-drug and is a nonsmoking vegetarian. He has played in bands since he was 14, and attributes his punk skill to his Jewish background.

He also is a lecturer in law at Melbourne University, where he is preparing his criminology doctoral thesis. In the future, he hopes to arrange a concert tour of Israel for Yidcore — even performing, if allowed, at the Kotel.

“At the end of the day, it’s our way of expressing our Jewishness, and the message is getting through to a generation who would otherwise never hear it,” he said.

Yidcore’s music can be heard on its Web site,

Mother Knows Best


My mother is 85. But she doesn’t look a day over 70. She takes no prescription drugs, no hormones; her memory is razor sharp. And she’s never been in the hospital a day since I’ve known her. But she wasn’t born yesterday. In any sense of the word.

When I was growing up I had no idea how enlightened Celia really was. All I knew was that she wasn’t like the other moms.

What was I supposed to think when folks uttered expletives behind her back? “Health Nut!” “Health Food Freak!” “Food Faddist!”

I remember my embarrassed apologies, which I’d utter with a small giggle, when my friends at Melrose Avenue Elementary poked inside my lunchbox and found nary a chocolate chip cookie, potato chip or even a white bread, packaged cheese and bologna sandwich.

If they only knew that at home our milk was raw, our eggs fertile; our bread bulged with brown, grainy nuggets. But I wasn’t talking.

The last thing I got when I left for school wasn’t a chocolate doughnut. It was a shot glass full of vitamins with some freshly squeezed juice. And the worst part, my breakfast bowl wasn’t filled with blue and green marshmallows floating in a sea of snap, crackle and pop. We had to wait a full 20 minutes while mom patiently cooked our oatmeal, then topped it with blackstrap molasses (never sugar), raw butter (never margarine), unsulphured raisins and organic cheddar cheese.

While Celia was busy telling me “I was what I ate.” I spent most of my waking moments wishing I could have bagels and lox for breakfast on school days, and delicatessen with sweet rolls on the weekends. And just once, a real sandwich in my lunch instead of a pita filled with veggies, sunflower seeds and hummus. Did my mother even care that I was the kid sitting alone on the bench while all the other lunches got traded?

It wasn’t my Grandma Fradel’s fault. She was a good kosher housewife who cooked typical Ashkenazi food, much the same as her mother and grandmother in Vilna, Poland had before her. She and Grandpa Charlie moved to America in 1914, with a short stop in Philadelphia and Atlantic City before settling in the predominantly Jewish neighborhood of Boyle Heights. Okay, Los Angeles 94592.

Celia and Dena were 5 and 8, respectively. To their delight, in Los Angeles they could bask in the sun all day without their clothes sticking to their bodies from the humidity or their arms annoyingly itching from mosquito bites. (Pesky critters weren’t allowed west of the Mississippi in those days.) Most of all, they loved the California fruits and vegetables, especially oranges and avocados, their favorites to this day.

Mom remembers the Breed Street Shul on Friday nights as a great social event, second only to Brooklyn Avenue on Thursday nights, when all the mamas schlepped their children while shopping for Shabbos. She and Dena loved getting dressed up, taking turns helping Fradel push the shopping cart up, choosing kosher chickens and freshly baked challahs, waving to their friends, begging Fradel for an ice cream cone. Since they didn’t have enough money to go to the movies, Brooklyn Avenue was their entertainment.

Celia was still in grammar school when Dena came home from a lecture, her cheeks flushed, raving about the amazing man she’d just heard. She asked her baby sister if she wanted to go with her the next night; she’d even offered their ushering services in exchange for free admission.

The lecturer was groundbreaking nutritionist Gayelord Hauser, who mentored movie stars such as Greta Garbo and Gloria Swanson (gorgeous into their 80s) about diet and lifestyle. It wasn’t very long before Celia and Dena were meeting holistic doctors Henry Beiler and Linus Pauling; famed chiropractor Bernard Jensen; Paul Bragg, who opened the first health food store in America and popularized nutritional products such as his liquid amino acids, which mom still pours over just about everything. But their biggest heroine was nutritionist and best selling author, Adelle Davis, who convinced them to become vegetarians at ages 13 and 16, respectively.

They felt lucky to be living in California. If they saved their avocado pits and brought them back to the mom and pop grocer, he gave them a penny for each one. Fradel didn’t know what to make of her daughters, but since fruits and vegetables were less expensive than meat, she didn’t complain too much. Of course Grandpa Charlie, tired and hungry from working as a scenic artist at Warner Bros. all day, wasn’t too thrilled; so Grandma would whip up his own meal of flesh.

Since all of Celia and Dena’s friends were interested in diet and health, they went on group hikes to Griffith and Hollenbeck parks, and they continued going to more lectures. God was in his place. All was right with the world. Until Milton Levitt spotted Celia on a date with his friend and felt compelled to literally sweep her off her feet. Little did she know that her salad days were about to come screeching to a halt.

Since Milton was her only beau who owned a car — a 1930 Ford roadster with a rumble seat — he proceeded to wine and dine her. They drove downtown for dinner at Clifton’s Cafeteria, the Chili Bowl, the original Canter’s and Cohen’s. They saw movies at the Grauman’s Chinese in Hollywood, went to dances at the Jewish Community Center and Palomar Auditorium, swimming at Bimini Pool and Ocean Park, where Milton insisted on jumping off the high diving board.

Celia had hardly been outside B.H.

She tried luring him to her lectures, her hiking, her vegan-eating activities, but he preferred playing baseball and chowing down his mom’s Ashkenazi cuisine. And he was used to getting his way.

Celia learned how to make Fanny’s brisket and carrot tzimmes, chopped liver and matzah ball soup. But in her heart, and, when left to her own devices, she’d slip some salad — go heavy on the avocado — on to his plate.

Six decades later, Celia and Milton just moved into a brand new condo in Beverly Hills (the other B.H.) and are never home when you call them. For the past three decades, Dena has lived in La Costa and Oceanside in beautiful houses crammed full of supplements. She got her master’s in psychology at 70, and was a marriage and family counselor for a decade. They are all in perfect health.

Celia and Milton are still very much in love. This October they will celebrate their 65th wedding anniversary. Celia is a 99 percent vegetarian. Milton loves meat. She even lets him eat it once in a while.

As for their three children — oops, I gotta go, I have just enough time to take my 17 supplements before dinner.

Piscatorial Compassion


"Fish is meat," announces Danny, my 9-year-old vegetarian son.

"Fish is fish," responds Larry, my 50-something pescetarian husband.

Judaism backs up Larry, classifying fish as pareve, neither dairy nor meat, and telling us that fish first appeared almost 6,000 years ago, on the fifth day of creation, when God commanded, "Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures" (Genesis 1:20). God later elaborated, "anything in water, whether in the seas or in the streams, that has fins and scales — these you may eat" (Leviticus 11:9).

But the National Audubon Society supports Danny, categorizing fish as wildlife, and, along with other ecological and animal rights groups, raising questions that transcend the mere availability and codification of fish and directly challenge our ethical obligations as both fish-eaters and fish-catchers.

Indeed, with the yearly haul for all sea food estimated at 100 million metric tons, according to Britain’s Marine Conservation Society, and with 30 percent of the world’s fishes listed on the World Conservation Union’s "2000 Red List of Threatened Species," can we, in light of various Jewish moral precepts, continue to serve salmon at Shabbat dinner or take our kids fishing off the Santa Monica pier?

The Jewish mitzvah of bal tashit, do not destroy, can be traced back to Deuteronomy 20:19-20: "When in your war against a city you have to besiege it a long time in order to capture it, you must not destroy its trees, wielding the ax against them."

Thus, the rabbis have interpreted, if we are prohibited from destroying fruit-bearing trees even during the extreme conditions of wartime, imagine our responsibility to earth’s living plants and creatures under normal circumstances.

And so, we must pay heed when National Audubon Society, through its Living Oceans marine conservation program, alerts us that certain fish are abused, endangered or nearly depleted.

Wild salmon, for example, except in Alaska, are in serious trouble. Orange roughy, which became very popular in the 1980s, are fished out, as are Chilean sea bass, which may, according to some sources, face extinction by 2005. Additionally, the shark population is decreasing, especially in the Atlantic where they are overfished and depleted, and groupers, flounders, red snapper and swordfish are in serious trouble.

Plus, commercial fishing for many of these species results in the accidental catching and killing of other aquatic life as well as damage to the ocean habitats and ecosystems. For example, for every pound of shrimp caught, never mind that it’s halachically off-limits to us anyway, another four to ten pounds of sea life is killed or destroyed.

The National Audubon Society encourages us to select fish from a well-managed fishery. Among the kosher ones are tilapia, pacific cod, striped bass, pacific halibut, dolphinfish (aka mahi mahi or dorado) and wild Alaska salmon.

The Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL), founded in 1993 to bring a Jewish perspective and response to the environmental crisis, reiterates the need to safeguard the diversity of all life. According to Executive Director Mark K. Jacobs, "Based in the very beginning of Jewish tradition, in the story of Noah, we believe we have an obligation to preserve all the species we find on this planet."

And so my pescetarian husband has sworn off swordfish and orange roughy. He eats wild salmon only from Alaska.

But my vegetarian son, who has already sworn off eating fish, has a more difficult task in store for him; he must swear off fishing, which his older brother Gabe says, not entirely ironically, is the leading cause of death among fishes.

The Jewish concept of tzaar baalei hayyim (showing kindness to animals) puts fishing as a sport in the same category as hunting. In fact, when 18th century Rabbi Ezekiel Landau was questioned about hunting, he replied, "In the Torah the sport of hunting is imputed only to fierce characters like Nimrod and Esau, never to any of the patriarchs and their descendants… When the act of killing is prompted by that of sport, it is downright cruelty."

"But I throw the fish back," is the defensive response of anglers.

"But the fish are not even aware of their own existence," they protest. "They can’t feel pain."

Wrong. According to various scientific studies, including The Medway Report, sponsored by the United Kingdom’s Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, published in 1980 and updated in 1994, fish do suffer. They have a brain, a central nervous system and pain receptors throughout their bodies.

Thus, hooking a fish on a line and subsequently releasing it hardly qualifies as compassionate behavior. A fish’s mouth is covered with nerve endings, causing it to experience pain — as well as fear — as soon as it is snagged. Also, once out of water, a fish begins to suffocate, often causing its gills to collapse. And even returned to the water, a fish can die of trauma, infection or serve as a vulnerable target for a predator, including another "catch and release" fisherman.

The challenge for us Jews, based on what our tradition teaches us, lies not in reeling in the "big one" and mounting it conspicuously on our den wall. Nor does it lie in elevating animal rights over human rights. Rather, the challenge lies in finding a balance that respects and preserves all life.

As COEJL’s Jacobs says, "Fishing in and of itself is a good way for humankind to harvest the food that it needs. But it must be done in a way that is going to sustain the fish population."

For more information about the National Audubon Society’s Living Oceans program, please visitwww.audubon.org/campaign/lo

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Operation: GobbleCrying ‘fowl’ on Thanksgiving by feeding, not eating, a turkey.


Judaism commands us to be kind to animals.

Thus I don’t eat them and I don’t keep them as pets. But this Thanksgiving, I’ve gone a step further. I’ve rescued one.

“Oh great, you adopted some foul fowl,” my husband, Larry, says.

“Not any old fowl,” I answer, “but Pumpkin, a 40-pound domestic white turkey who was found abandoned at a hatchery loading dock. I saved her life.”

Indeed, Pumpkin will be served a scrumptious Thanksgiving feast instead of being served as one.She will dine on cranberries, grapes, lettuce, popcorn and pumpkin pie with her fellow feathered friends at a farm sanctuary in upstate New York.

“But you can’t have Thanksgiving without the turkey,” my three omnivorous sons, aged 16, 13 and 11, protest. “It’s tradition.”

Even the 9-year-old vegetarian, who won’t share a tube of toothpaste with his meat-eating brothers, chimes in. “It’s tradition. Like when you make latkes for Chanukah, you have to kill some potatoes.”

But, ironically, turkey, by most accounts, was conspicuously absent from the first Thanksgiving celebrated by the Pilgrims and Native Americans in 1621.

The feast, most likely a customary fall harvest festival for both cultures, consisted of foods such as cornmeal mush, nuts, fruits, popcorn and breadstuffs. Meat, if there was any, was probably some deer meat and game birds. Or perhaps some fish.

Turkeys came later. As did the actual holiday, which was not officially proclaimed and uniformly celebrated until Abraham Lincoln, in 1863, designated the fourth Thursday of November as Thanksgiving Day.

And 11 years later, the first Thanksgiving Day football game was played, introducing yet another tradition popular in my testosterone-heavy household.

But, for me, Thanksgiving has become less about calorie consumption and combat and more about compassion.

For it was 10 years ago, while preparing one of Pumpkin’s predecessors, that I became acutely aware that the poor bird, never mind that it could drown itself if it looked up during a rainstorm, was once a living creature. On the spot, I became a vegetarian.

But it was thousands of years ago that the Torah taught us the mitzvah of tza’ar ba’alei chayim (not causing pain to animals). Maimonides, the medieval sage, traces this command back to Numbers 22:32, where the angel of the Lord says to Balaam, “Why have you beaten your ass these three times?”

Other biblical laws involving compassion toward animals abound. Deuteronomy 11:15, “I will also provide grass in the fields for your cattle – and thus you shall eat your fill,” has been interpreted by the Talmudic rabbis to mean that a person should not eat or drink before providing for his animals. And Deuteronomy 22:10 states, “You shall not plow with an ox and an ass together.”

Judaism, however, clearly differentiates human life from animal life, always stressing the unique value of humans. But the two are not unrelated. As Maimonides says, “If the law provides that such grief should not be caused to cattle or birds, how much more careful must we be not to cause grief to our fellow man.”

Plus, it’s not by chance that some of America’s most notorious mass murderers, including Albert DeSalvo, the “Boston Strangler,” and Jeffrey Dahmer, the cannibalistic murderer, tortured and killed small animals as children.

Isaac Bashevis Singer, winner of a Nobel Prize in literature and dedicated vegetarian, once said, “How can we pray to God for mercy if we ourselves have no mercy?” He added, “I personally believe that as long as human beings will go on shedding the blood of animals, there will never be any peace.”

But life is full of compromises. After the flood, for example, during a period of declining moral standards, of men eating limbs torn from living animals, God concedes to man the right to eat meat. He stipulates in Genesis 9:4, however, that “flesh with its life, which is its blood, you shall not eat,” meaning that the animal must be killed and the blood, synonymous with life, removed.

And I’ve conceded to my family the right to eat turkey at our Thanksgiving feast. Though this year, in an acknowledgment of what she calls my “increased evangelicalism,” my mother has willingly agreed to cook a free-range turkey, one not genetically engineered nor inhumanely raised under “factory farm” conditions. “Besides,” she says, “it tastes better.”

For my part, I will be bringing the traditional carrot pudding and the increasingly traditional vegetarian nut loaf. I will also be bringing, with the hope of inaugurating a new Thanksgiving custom and instilling an increased awareness of the sanctity of all life, a framed photograph of my adopted turkey, Pumpkin.

What to Do With Your Kids

Saturday, Nov. 18:

Santa Monica Public Library hosts a Children’s Book Festival, featuring storytellers, crafts, a puppet show, and authors and illustrators, including Sid Fleischman and Karen Winnick. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. 1343 Sixth St., Santa Monica. For more information, call (310) 458-8600.

Sunday, Nov. 19:

Singer, songwriter and children’s author Barney Salzberg will perform and sign copies of his books following the Children’s Book Fair at B’nai Tikvah Congregation. $7. Performance at 1 p.m.; book fair 9 a.m.-1 p.m. 5820 W. Manchester Ave., Westchester. For more information, call (310) 649-4051.

Sunday, Nov. 19:

The Shirettes, featuring Pearl B., Sue Epstein, Judy Farber, Cindy Paley and Ditza Zakay sing in a Jewish Children’s Concert at Adat Ari El. $5. 11 a.m. 12020 Burbank Blvd., Valley Village. For more information, call (818) 766-9426 ext. 652.

Hot Dog!


Vegetarianism may be trendy and maybe even healthy, but when Jeff Rohatiner was looking for a product on which he could base a restaurant, he knew that most of us are carnivores at heart. So he figured there’d be a market for the wares at Jeff’s Gourmet Kosher Sausage Factory, opened in late 1998 in the heart of Pico-Robertson.

There he and his staff grill up and serve succulent sausages that combine beef, chicken, turkey, lamb or veal with spices and, in a few varieties, ingredients like apple or cilantro. That’s it: no fillers, all flavor.Rohatiner, 42, grew up in a “Conservadox” Los Angeles household. As a teen, he attended yeshiva and got involved in the National Conference of Synagogue Youth, the Orthodox Union’s youth organization. “I rebelled against my parents by becoming more Ortho-dox than they wanted me to be,” Rohatiner told The Journal.

He studied in Jerusalem after high school but returned to the States to enroll at University of Nevada, Las Vegas, earning a degree in hotel management. In Vegas, he fell away from strict observance – “I’d say ‘Kiddush’ on Friday night and then go to the disco,”he said – but after a stint in the hotel business, he returned to Orthodoxy, spent more time in Israel, and cast about for a satisfying career.

Sausage-making, Rohatiner said, was a hobby, and his decision to turn that hobby into a full-time business was born of “a certain amount of frustration”; it isn’t easy for an observant Jew to find specialty links. On the theory that he couldn’t be the only Orthodox Jew in Los Angeles who likes to sink his teeth into something other than a plain beef dog, Jeff’s was born.

The storefront is tiny, with most of the eating outdoors at tables scattered along the sidewalk. Inside, cool jazz and the aroma of grilled meat fill the air.

I took along my husband, Spencer, who spent a year in Europe as a college student and knows what’s best in wurst. Together, we chomped our way through a couple of sausage sandwiches and samples of almost everything in the rotating assortment Rohatiner offers each day.

Turkey Italian, Polish, mergez (a combination of beef and lamb) and chicken cilantro sausages are always on the menu, along with plain beef hot dogs. Jeff’s also serves burgers and deli meats in hot sandwiches. The cold cuts – turkey breast, pastrami, corned beef, roast beef and turkey pastrami – and all the sausages are made in the back of the store.

The short time from animal to grill was obvious in everything we sampled. Every mouthful of sausage, every sliver of deli was unbelievably fresh. The flavors of the meat were distinctive, the spices and other ingredients subtle grace notes. “Nothing’s here longer than a week,” Rohatiner said.

Spencer thought the sausages compared well to what he’d eaten in Germany. “He doesn’t overload it with nitrates, so you get more of a feeling for the meat,” he said, adding praise for the sauerkraut on his Russian sausage: “Not too crunchy, not too limp.”

While the fresh taste of the Polish sausage I sampled made it unlike any kielbasa you can imagine, my favorites were the poultry-based sausages: the turkey Italian, the chicken cilantro, and, best of all, the smoked chicken apple. Other varieties offered include jalapeano, cajun chicken, hot sweet Italian, Moroccan chicken, and veal bratwurst.

Sandwiches come on terrific crusty rolls topped with veggies that vary with the sausage, such as peppers and onions with the Italian varieties or sauerkraut on the Polish and Russian dogs. Side salads include excellent cole slaw and a Mediterranean salad made with tahini.

The sausages are amazingly nongreasy, even the beef links that contain 20-30 percent fat. Sausages made with chicken or turkey run just 8-9 percent fat. Rohatiner said he’s been getting requests for a meatless sausage and is working on lowering the fat content in the beef dogs to create “a line of guilt-free sausage.”But don’t wait. Jeff’s is worth a detour for lunch or a stop on the way from work to take home his vacuum-packed sausages and sliced cold cuts. If you’re a carnivore, you won’t feel guilty – just happy.

Jeff’s Gourmet Kosher Sausage, 8930 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 858-8590. Sun.-Thurs. 11 a.m.-8 p.m., Fri. 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Catering available.

An Argument for Jewish Vegetarianism


“If God had wanted us to be vegetarians, he wouldn’t have invented animals,” announces Zack, my 15-year-old carnivorous son.

He turns the large steak that’s sizzling on the outdoor barbecue for him and his brothers, Gabe, 12, and Jeremy, 10. My husband’s piece of fish is relegated to a far corner of the grill; my veggie burger to the opposite corner.

My fourth son, Danny, 8, opts for a can of minestrone, announcing that he’s now a vegetarian. “Eating animals is disgusting,” he says.

I sympathize. My conversion occurred almost nine years ago, while I was preparing a Thanksgiving turkey. I took a good look at the hapless, headless bird — its legs, its wings, the cavities in which I was packing the stuffing — and, “cold turkey,” you might say, quit eating meat.

“Never eat anything that looks like what it is,” my brother, Michael, advises. According to his philosophy, hamburgers are fine, but drumsticks, whole pan-fried trout or rump roast are not.

I have a different criterion. Never eat anything that once had a face or a mother.

Despite our modern obsession with nutrition and health, vegetarianism isn’t anything new. It’s been around, well, since Adam and Eve.

First, God announced to Adam and Eve in Genesis 1:30: “To you I give every herb, seed and green thing. These shall be yours for food.” This law applied not only to Adam and Eve but also to all the animals living there, who were herbivorous and who did not prey on one another. Obviously, there were no pit bulls in the Garden of Eden.

In Noah’s time, however, after practically wiping out the world with a major flood, God relented with the great post-diluvian compromise, allowing man to eat meat.

Thus, eating meat is a choice, not a commandment.

And while I’m not a veg-evangelist, I do want to point out that vegetarians are not just meshugunah people who like to eat side dishes. A few of the world’s famous Jewish vegetarians include Albert Einstein; writers Isaac Bashevis Singer, Franz Kafka and S.Y. Agnon; visionary Zionist A.D. Gordon; and Palestine’s first chief rabbi, Abraham Isaac Kook.

And if anyone questions my aversion to eating animals, I’ll continue to tell them about the erstwhile Thanksgiving turkey and about Singer, who was once asked if he were a vegetarian for health reasons.

“Yes,” the Nobel laureate replied. “I do it for the health of the chickens.”


To Be Kosher and Veggie in L.A.

If you keep kosher, or just keep veggie, there are plenty of great restaurant choices in the city. Among our favorites:

The Milky Way

9108 Pico. Blvd. (310) 859-0004.

Milk and Honey

8837 W. Pico Blvd. (310) 858-8850.

Nagila 9411 W. Pico Blvd. (310) 788-0111.

The Pizza Station

8965 W. Pico Blvd. (310) 276-8708.

Pizza World

365 S. Fairfax Ave. (323) 653-2896.

And don’t forget the vegetarian appetizers at the many Persian and Middle Eastern kosher restaurants, such as:

Shula and Esther

519 N. Fairfax Ave. (323) 653-9024.

The Magic Carpet

8566 W. Pico Blvd. (310) 652-8507.

Up Front


I love cookbooks, but on lazy summer days, I usually read fiction — few cookbooks are engaging enough to replace a good novel. And when I go into the kitchen at all, it’s usually just to stand in front of the open freezer. But when I do find a cookbook that captures me, cooking with it is just a plus.

Diana Shaw’s newest book, “The Essential Vegetarian” (Clarkson Potter, $22.50), meets all my foodie needs. Shaw, the author of the popular “Almost Vegetarian Cookbook,” is neither a complete vegetarian nor a professional chef. Writing in a relaxed, friendly manner, she makes it known early that she is not part of the food police. Many recipes feature eggs and dairy products, and some things include sugar. But everything is geared to a low-fat diet.

Eating about an 85-percent vegetarian diet myself — as do more and more people who keep kosher — I sometimes forget that there is more to meatless living than veggie burgers. Shaw gives many recipes for soups, risottoes, pastas and soufflés, and she makes them all sound incredibly easy. And her take on Jewish and Middle Eastern standbys such as baba ghanouj, borscht (both cherry and sweet-and-sour), pita bread, tabbouleh, blintz casserole, breakfast kugel and hummus emphasize low-fat, easy-to-follow preparations.

There are plenty of other recipes in this 600-page tome to entice you into the kitchen — Pumpkin Waffles, Artichoke Risotto and Sweet Potato Soufflé — even if, like me, you end up sprawled on the couch, air conditioner blasting, contentedly reading Shaw’s book.

— Tamara Liebman


From top Sydney Weisman, Dr. Judith Reichman, and Dr. Judy B. Rosener.

Coincidence or…?

W

here do you turn if you really want to find out what’s happening in Los Angeles? Well, there’s “Which Way, L.A.?” on KCRW, there’s Bill Rosendahl’s round tables on Century Cable, and there’s “Life & Times” on KCET.

Now, three new commentators have been tapped to appear on the acclaimed talking-heads show “Life & Times,” joining regulars Hugh Hewitt, Patt Morrison and Kerman Maddox on a rotating basis. The new commentators are Dr. Judith Reichman, a gynecologist and women’s health advocate; entrepreneur Sydney Weisman; and Dr. Judy B. Rosener, professor at UC Irvine’s Graduate School of Management. Reichman will discuss health and medical issues, Weisman will focus on small business, and Rosener will examine issues relating to work.

Up Front can’t help but notice that the three commentators chosen by show producers to dissect modern-day Los Angeles all happen to be Jewish women. Producer Val Zavalla laughed off any notion of intention: These are just three highly competent experts. And congratulations to them.


JTN’s ‘Big Shots’

If Showtime can do it, why not JTN? The Jewish Television Network has taken a page from the book of Showtime, HBO and other cable channels and has begun producing its own made-for-cable movies.

Its original, four-part drama, “Big Shots,” debuted on July 22 and will continue through Aug. 11, with episodes airing on local cable channels each Tuesday evening.

“Big Shots” examines how five fictional characters combine their Jewish identities with their Hollywood careers. Cast members share memories from personal journals, providing insights, says the press release, “into characters’ thoughts, feelings and ultimate career path.” A kind of “Blue-and-White Shoe Diaries,” if you will.

The series stars Ed Asner, Bonnie Franklin, Steve Landesberg, Jonathan Prince and Larry Pressman. Al Rabin directed from scripts by Richard Allen. Funding came from JTN’s board of directors, which includes many people who know a thing or two about entertainment-industry success and being Jewish, among them Jeff Sagansky, Bruce Ramer and Danny Goldberg.

Headquartered in Los Angeles, the not-for-profit JTN is the only Jewish broadcast network in the United States. It is carried in 5 million homes across the country. Call your local cable company to find out when “Big Shots” airs.


An Israeli-Saudi Alliance?

Who wouldn’t want to live in John Briley’s shoes for a while? When a wealthy, well-connected Moroccan businessman commissioned the Academy Award-winning screenwriter (“Gandhi”) to write a sympathetic screenplay about the Arab world, he put at the writer’s disposal a twin-engine French jet, two Swiss pilots, a flight attendant, passport-less entry to every Arab nation and immediate access to everyone, from ministers to camel herders.

When a production company asked Briley to write a film adaptation of the classic story of Israel’s independence, “O Jerusalem!” Briley toured Israel with the book’s co-author, Dominique LaPierre, meeting everyone, from Binyamin Netanyahu to Teddy Kollek to Palestinian leaders to Legionnaires.

The result of all this research is combined in Briley’s just-released novel, “The First Stone” (Morrow, $24), the story of a Jewish UCLA student named Lisa Cooper, who becomes a Mossad mole by marrying into a Saudi family. The plot turns on Lisa’s efforts to bring Israel and Saudi Arabia together on the basis of shared interests and common enemies.

Briley latched onto the idea in a conversation with his father-in-law, who wondered aloud if Israel and the Saudi kingdom shouldn’t form a strategic alliance. Briley ran with it, incorporating insiders’ knowledge of life in a Saudi harem, on an Israeli kibbutz (his daughter spent time on Cabri, in the north) and as a Mossad mole (LaPierre introduced him to several).

But far from being a political treatise, Briley’s book is a quick summer read, as Frappacino-like as fiction gets. True, as Briley said in an interview with Up Front, the inevitable change in the Saudi regime will be a crisis for Israel and the world. And “The First Stone,” amid its double-dagger dealing and steamy desert sex, does make a case for worrying about it. And we will — when summer’s over.