Jewish Veg Holds First Vegan Seder in L.A.

April 17, 2019
Attendees could choose between chocolate peanut butter vegan cheesecake or blueberry vegan cheesecake. Photo by Aaron Bandler

Jewish Veg, the Maryland-based nonprofit that advocates for Jews to embrace veganism, held its first Los Angeles event on April 14: a vegan seder at Beth Chayim Chadashim (BCC) in Pico-Robertson.

BCC Executive Director Rabbi Jonathan Klein led the nearly 80 attendees through the seder. He began with the first blessing of the wine, pointing out that the four cups of wine are meant to parallel the four promises given to the Israelites that were enslaved in Egypt.

“For vegans, the four cups might serve to remind us of the current state of affairs, but remind us to maintain hope,” Klein said, noting that while it’s “easy for animal rights activists to lose hope in this era of factory farms and animal enslavement,” the Israelites were eventually redeemed after being enslaved for 480 years by the Egyptians.

“We lift our cups in blessing as an affirmation that our drive to overcome servitude is divinely inspired,” Klein said.

He then proceeded to the washing of the hands, explaining that it’s a requirement in Judaism to take care of the human body, and that veganism has several health benefits, including healthy heart function, lower cholesterol, lower rates of certain kinds of cancer and protection against chronic diseases such as Type 2 diabetes.

“As we wash our hands tonight, let us reflect on the ways in which we clean and care for our bodies and our souls,” Klein said.

The vegan seder plate consisted of the traditional parsley, Charoset and maror, but used beets and flowers in place of the lamb shank bone and roasted egg. According to the Jewish Veg Vegan Haggadah, the use of the beet “dates all the way back to the Talmud and mimics the blood of the sacrifice, without causing actual harm to any animal.” The flower symbolizes “the natural world in bloom.”

Klein pointed out that the first items that are eaten from a traditional seder plate are plants, which is a “reminder that you can survive with a plant-based diet.” 

The Four Questions part of the Vegan Haggadah asks, “How did we choose to make a commitment to vegan living and what brought us to that choice? How do we continue to reaffirm and uphold that choice?”

The Four Questions part of the Vegan Haggadah asks, “How did we choose to make a commitment to vegan living and what brought us to that choice? How do we continue to reaffirm and uphold that choice?”

Of the Four Children, the Vegan Haggadah asks, “What can we say to the wicked child, who believes that animal suffering is not their responsibility? How do we explain to the simple child, who does not understand the ways in which animal agriculture poisons the planet? And what of the wise child, who already knows all there is to learn and yet does not act?”

The Vegan Haggadah also uses each of the Ten Plagues as “a call for change.” For the first plague (blood), the Vegan Haggadah states, “The global slaughter of 60 billion farmed animals a year is the biggest source of bloodshed and violence on Earth.” For the plague of hail, the Vegan Haggadah states, “Animal agriculture is the leading cause of climate change, producing even more greenhouse gases than all forms of transportation combined.” And for the plague of the death of the firstborn, the Vegan Haggadah states, “Millions of babies are born each year without enough to eat, while more than a third of the world’s corn, soy and alfalfa are grown for and fed to livestock.”

During the meal portion of the seder, attendees were served vegan matzo ball soup, and vegan gefilte fish made out of chickpeas and seaweed. The main course was portobello pot roast; brisket braised red cabbage, and roasted vegetables with sage, thyme and rosemary. Sides were sweet potato kugel, green beans and asparagus. 

For dessert, attendees could choose between blueberry or vegan chocolate cheesecake.

Toward the end of the seder, Klein explained that the final cups of wine signify the hope that “we can overcome the evils of animal agriculture and factory farming. We pray, we hope that the healing that all of us so desperately desire will become manifest and live fully self-actualized to who we are, as Jews, as animal rights activists.” 

Attendee Paulette Gindi told the Journal that she liked how she was “finally” able to go to a Jewish event in Los Angeles where she didn’t have to question if the food came from “an unethical source. I really appreciated how [Klein] and the vegan seder that [Jewish Veg] put together really created a modern-day approach to celebrating Passover while also being cruelty-free and compassionate to animals and the environment.” 

Aaron Ferber said although he isn’t normally a vegan, he thought the event provided a “great treat” in having “a break from eating animals” and becoming healthier.

 Mmamalema Molepo, who is visiting from South Africa, said although he also isn’t a vegan, he enjoyed the food because it was still the type of food that even a meat-eater or vegetarian would eat. He also said that the seder’s focus on animal rights made it a unique event.

Jeffrey Cohan, the executive director of Jewish Veg, told the Journal that the event met the organization’s expectations.

“I was so proud to see the room packed with so many people and to see people really enjoying every aspect of it,” he said, “from the haggadah to the food and everything in between.”

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