Working for a Vegetarian-Conscious Israel

After an extensive tour of Israel in 1978, my wife Loretta and I did not visit Israel at all until 1991. Since then we have become "frequent fliers", generally visiting Israel twice a year. Our son, David, also has been traveling to Israel fairly often recently. The reason for this sharp change in our travels is that we now have two daughters living in Israel with their husbands and our six grandchildren.

Our older daughter, Susan, and her husband, David Kleid, live in Ma'aleh Adumim, with their four children, Shalom, Ayelet, Avital, and tMichal. Susan is a physical therapist in a local office, and David is a pediatrician specializing in trauma cases at Shaare Tzedeck Hospital in Jerusalem. Our younger daughter, Deborah, and her husband, Ariel Gluch, live in Bet Shemesh, with their sons, Eliyahu and Ilan. Deborah works locally as a speech therapist and Ariel is a marketing support engineer for a telecommunications company that is based in Petach Tikvah.

As the author of Judaism and Vegetarianism and a vegetarian activist, I decided to turn our frequent trips to share wonderful times with the family into an opportunity to promote the vegetarian cause. After several trips that included talks on vegetarianism to groups in Israel and meetings with key Israeli vegetarian activists, I declared the start of a "Campaign for a Vegetarian-Conscious Israel by 2000". My objective was to help make Israelis aware that the realities related to the consumption of meat and the modern intensive livestock agricultur related to it are inconsistent with basic Jewish mandates to protect our health, preserve the environment, conserve resources, help hungry people, and treat animals with compassion.Israel is a wonderful place to be active because it is a relatively small country with most of the population in or near its two major cities,Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. The abundance of a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, the introduction of many soy-based products in supermarkets and other outlets, the increasing number of health food stores and vegetarian restaurants, and the relatively lower quality of the meats in Israel, are also helpful factors in promoting vegetarian diets. But, most important are the many powerful Jewish teachings that seem to point to vegetarianism as the diet most consistent with Judaism today.

Public transportation is relatively convenient for getting around, and this has enabled me to give talks related to "Judaism and Vegetarianism" in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Raanana, Efrat, and Ramat Sharon. Most of my talks have been in Jerusalem, where I have frequently spoken at the Israel Center at 10 Straus Street and the Jewish Vegetarian Center, affiliated with the London-based International Jewish Vegetarian Society at 8 Balfour Street, as well as at synagogues and schools.

Among the important Israeli rabbis that I have conferred with in Israel are:

1. Rabbi Sha'ar Yashuv Cohen, Asdhkenazic Chief Rabbi of Haifa; as the son of the "Nazir of Jerusalem", Rabbi David Cohen, he is a lifelong vegetarian who is very dedicated to the vegetarian cause.

2. the late Rabbi Shlomo Goren (ZTL), former Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi of Israel; after visiting a slaughterhouse in Canada in 1967 in his role as Chief Rabbi of the Israeli Defense Forces, he vowed never to eat meat again.

3. Rabbi Chaim Dovid Halevi, Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv; since he came out with halachic rulings against smoking and the wearing of fur, I thought that he would be open to considering vegetarianism; he told me that if a solid scientific case for vegetarianism was presented to him in Hebrew, he would consider it.

4. Rabbi David Rosen, former Chief rabbi of Ireland and currently very active in many educational and societal issues and projects in Jerusalem and beyond; he has perhaps been the most outspoken in asserting that Jews who eat meat today are acting contrary to halachic imperatives.

I have also been working with local Israeli groups, including the Jewish Vegetarian Society, "Anonymous" (Israeli's largest animal rights group), and CHAI ("Concern for Helping Animals in Israel"), as well as several Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Also, I have had many letters related to Judaism and vegetarianism published in the Jerusalem Post, often in response to the recent proliferation of McDonald's outlets in Israel, almost all of which are not kosher.

Articles about my vegetarian activities and ideas have appeared in the op-ed section of the Jerusalem Post (August 10, 1995), Yediot Achronot (August 20, 1996, in Hebrew), a local Bet Shemesh publication (October, 1996 issue), and the "City Lights" section of the Jerusalem Post (January 17, 1997). Also, my article contrasting the values of Rosh Hashanah with realities related to the consumption of meat appeared in the "Inside Jerusalem" section of the Jerusalem Post on September 13, 1996, the day before Rosh Hashanah. In addition, I was introduced twice by Kol Yisroel, an English language Israeli radio program.

During future trips to share significant occasions with family in Israel, I hope, with God's help, to continue and extend my vegetarian activities. My study of current economic and ecological problems related to the production and consumption of meat has convinced me that vegetarianism today is not only a significant personal choice, but that it is also a societal imperative, necessary to help humanity avert many current global threats. And Jews, charged with being God's loyal servants, "A light unto the nations", mandated to work for tikkun olam, the preservation and redemption of the world, must take a major role in making others aware of the importance of dietary (and other) changes.

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