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Questions and Answers
Applying Jewish Values to Help Heal the World

What is the main message of the movie?

The movie stresses three major themes:

1. The world is imperiled as possibly never before by global warming and many other environmental threats. Many examples of environmental problems in Israel and worldwide are shown.

2. Judaism has teachings that provide a powerful basis for responding to current environmental threats. Examples of groups in Israel and the US applying these values are discussed.

3. A shift toward vegetarianism is an essential part of the necessary response to global warming and other environmental threats. All the reasons for Jews (and others) to be vegetarians are carefully considered.

Who produced the movie?

The documentary was produced by the highly acclaimed, multi-award-winning documentarian, Lionel Friedberg. His background in cinematography includes 18 feature film credits as Director of Photography. He has worked all over the world on both dramatic and non-fiction productions. For the past 30 years, he has supervised, produced, written and directed documentaries, reality, investigative report and educational programs, and has garnered many rewards, which include: A Primetime Emmy, a National Emmy, the American Association for the Advancement of Science 'Westinghouse' Award for Science Programming, three Columbus and three Golden Eagles for Best Documentaries, and various awards as a dramatic and episodic TV director.

Is the movie's release tied to any campaign?

We are planning to build a massive, unprecedented campaign around movie showings to help shift our imperiled world to a sustainable path, help revitalize Judaism and get vegetarianism and related issues onto the Jewish and other agendas.

We plan to use our many contacts in the vegetarian, animal rights, Jewish and other communities and the increasing awareness of current environmental and health crises to challenge all societal groups to make the major changes necessary to move our imperiled planet to a sustainable path, including a shift toward plant-based diets.

Starting in late November, we would like the movie to premiere in as many JCCs, synagogues, Jewish schools, meetings of Jewish organizations, etc., as possible. We plan to provide free DVDs to people who will help set up such events and see that they get widespread media coverage and a sizable attendance, including rabbis, educators and other key people in the Jewish community and other communities. We will also strive to arrange showings for other religious audiences and for general audiences.

What other steps will be taken to further that campaign?

To build on and magnify the publicity related to the movie premieres, we are also planning the following:

1. A press release announcing the movie's release that will be sent to the Jewish media, the religious media and other media contacts.

2. A major letter writing campaign building on the themes of the movie.

3. Ads in major Jewish newspapers discussing the nature of present threats, why Jews should be involved, the importance of a shift toward vegetarianism and information about the movie and how people can order it.

4. Hiring a PR person who can get me and possibly others on many radio and TV programs over a three month period. I have a good person who got me on 30-40 programs several years ago as part of a grant I received from NALITH, but if you have any suggestions re this, please let me know.

5. Sending out free DVDs to rabbis and other key members of the Jewish community and other communities. We are planning to produce 10,000 DVDs.

6. Trying to get blurbs from key rabbis and key vegetarian activists that we would use to help promote the movie.

7. Challenging rabbis to respectful email discussions/debates on "Should Jews Be Vegetarians?" We will also try to arrange debates on "Should Religious People Be Vegetarians?" and "Should People Be Vegetarians?" to try to reach wider audiences.

8. Challenging the media to stop generally ignoring the messages we are presenting re the major threats to humanity, the failure of the Jewish community to adequately respond and the necessity for major dietary shifts in response to current threats.

Through these and more steps (suggestions very welcome), we aim to do nothing less than change the consciousness of Jews and others re the threats facing all of humanity and the entire creation, vegetarianism, the need to respond to current environmental threats and much more. We have great potential and your help in promoting the movie and our messages will be extremely important.

Will the movie result in people leaving the theater feeling overwhelmed and hopeless?

Although the movie deals with very weighty and serious issues, it ends on a positive and optimistic note, using a collage of dramatic images and inspiring music, to encourage viewers to consider how they can play their part in helping to heal the planet and improve their lives.

Also, the movie shows the Israeli university-based environmental group Green Course discussing responses to environmental threats and discusses the “greening†of two American synagogues, so viewers are shown some positive responses.

What showings are already scheduled?

1. The world premiere will be at the Orthodox Union's Israel Center in Jerusalem on the evening of Monday, November 12, as part of an all-day program I am organizing on global warming and other environmental threats to Israel. The event will be very well publicized through the weekly Torah Tidbits that is distributed at synagogues throughout Israel and through the many contacts that the sponsoring group “Root and Branch†has. I also plan to let my many Israeli vegetarian and environmental contacts know. Of course, all of the Israeli media will be invited. I and others have some very valuable contacts in the media. I plan to invite Rabbi Shear Yashuv Cohen, Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi of Haifa, and Rabbi David Rosen, former Chief Rabbi of Ireland (both of whom have prominent parts in the movie), to speak. I think this can be a very valuable initial event that can get very valuable media coverage. I hope that the Israeli college environmental group "Green Course" (which is also part of the movie) will set up a showing soon after at an Israeli college and invite its many members.

2. The US premiere will be at the Staten Island JCC on Tuesday evening, November 20, as part of their already scheduled Jewish film festival. I believe that the religion editor of the Staten Island Advance would attend and write an article about the event (she has written about my vegetarian and environmental efforts several times in the past). I would encourage her to send her article to the Religious News Service, which would provide the possibility of coverage on religious papers throughout the country. Of course other members of the Jewish and secular media would also be invited, as would local rabbis, educators, politicians, etc. The SI JCC has some valuable media contacts so that should help.

Is the world really so seriously threatened?

As you know, the modern world is threatened as never before by climate change and other environmental crises. Recent articles have pointed out Israel's special vulnerabilities to global climate change, in terms of reduced rainfall, severe storms and flooding from a rising Mediterranean sea. Key climate scientists, including James Hansen of NASA, are warning that we may reach a tipping point within a decade after which global warming will spiral out of control, with disastrous consequences -- unless major changes are soon made. Recent reports, including the landmark "Livestock's Long Shadow," by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, have highlighted the major contributions of animal-based agriculture to the crisis our planet faces. It is therefore urgent and more timely than ever that the message of "A Sacred Duty" -- with its emphasis on the urgent need for a global shift to plant-based eating and agriculture -- be widely spread and heeded.

How will the movie be distributed?

As a non-profit organization, JVNA will make the movie available completely free of charge to religious groups, educational institutions, the media and others that might be interested in it.

What has been the general response of the Jewish community (and other communities) to the issues raised in the movie?

Regrettably, in spite of the severity of the global environmental crisis and Judaism's powerful teachings on environmental stewardship, the Jewish establishment largely continues to ignore the issue. The most recent example of this was the outrageous Halachic Seudah of the Orthodox Union and the failure of the Jewish community and the media to pay attention to our protest demonstration. "A Sacred Duty" must be completed as professionally as possible so we can employ it to end this state of denial.

Why does the movie make a strong argument for vegetarianism?

"A Sacred Duty" makes a very strong case for vegetarianism from a Jewish perspective by dramatically showing that animal-based diets and agriculture violate basic Jewish mandates to preserve our health and the environment, to treat animals with compassion and to feed the hungry. These are strong "buttons" to push, and in the format of our passionate, professionally made film they can influence thousands of Jews (and other viewers) to choose a more compassionate diet.

While all the arguments for vegetarianism are fully presented, "A Sacred Duty" includes especially challenging coverage of the mistreatment of animals on factory farms, thanks to the powerful footage provided to us by animal rights groups. Again, these are "buttons" that can transform (and save) lives.

Who are some of the key people interviewed in the movie?

The movie includes interviews with leading vegetarians, animal rights activists, environmentalists and health professionals in both the United States and Israel. Among the interview subjects that we have been fortunate to have in the movie are:

Rabbi Shear Yashuv Cohen -- Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi of Haifa and a life-long vegetarian
Rabbi David Rosen -- Former Chief Rabbi of Ireland
Rabbi Yonassan Gershom - A Breslov Chassid and author
Jonathan Wolf - Founder and first president of Jewish Vegetarians of North America (JVNA)
Roberta Kalechofsky - Founder and director of Jews for Animal
Rights (JAR) and Micah Publications; author, editor and publisher.
Richard H. Schwartz - Author of Judaism and Vegetarianism and president of Jewish Vegetarians of North America (JVNA)
Rabbi Michael Cohen - Director of the Green Zionist Alliance (GZA) and a teacher at the Arava Institute in Israel
Rabbi Adam Frank - Rabbi of the largest Conservative synagogue in Israel
Rabbi Warren Stone, Chairman of the Central Conference of Reform Rabbis' Environmental Committee
Rabbi Fred Scherlinder Dobb, a Reconstructionist rabbi who is also an environmental activist
Dr. Joel Fuhrman, M.D. - A leading author and physician who specializes in natural healing
Rabbi Simchah Roth - Rabbi of a Conservative synagogue in Herzilia, Israel

Israeli Environmentalists
Alon Tal - Leading Israeli environmentalist; founder of the Israel Union for Environmental defense; author of Pollution in a Promised Land.
Samuel Chayen - Israeli environmental activist
Raanan Boral - Environmental expert for the Society of Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI)
Yael Cohen Paran - A leader of Green Course, an Israeli student-based environmental group.
Yair Cohen - A leader of Green Course, an Israeli student environmental group.
Yael Ukeles - Israeli environmentalist
Eli Groner - Teacher of environmental studies at the Arava Institute

Is the movie of interest only to Jews?

Although it is primarily intended for a Jewish audience, "A Sacred Duty" speaks to people everywhere about the ethics of our relationship to the natural world in which we live. The movie's universal message will appeal to anyone interested in such topics as Judaism, Israel, vegetarianism, the environment, health, nutrition, hunger and resource usage.

The movie may be said to be like Levy's jewish Rye bread - you do not have to be Jewish to appreciate it.

How important is Israel in the movie?

As a model of what is wrong with planet Earth due to human activities, A Sacred Duty hones in on the land of the Bible, on Eretz Yisrael itself. Israel is fraught with environmental problems that never make the headlines. Rivers are dirty; the Dead Sea is drying up; air pollution in metropolitan areas kill thousands every year. There is progress in these fields, but that too never makes the headlines. The movie will shed light on many of these issues while considering the environmental threats faced by the planet as a whole. Again, there is much interest by Jews and non-Jews alike in "the Holy Land" and its future.

Why "a sacred duty"?

The movie reminds us that, as Jews, it is our sacred duty to become aware of these realities. As Jews, it is our responsibility to apply the teachings of the Torah to how we obtain our food, tap into the resources of the environment, and live among the many creatures that God created alongside us. Since this is really a universal duty for all human beings, A Sacred Duty will challenge and inspire non-Jews as well.

Is the movie more of interest to certain types of Jews, such as religious Jews, secular Jews, etc.

The movie represents the thinking of Israelis and Americans, with interviews drawn from the Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist and secular segments of modern-day society in both Israel and the US. It conveys a truly broad-based message.

  • There are many quotations in the movie from the Torah and other Jewish sacred texts, including the Talmud, since these texts are full of lessons and laws prescribing how we should live mercifully, efficiently, compassionately, and remain responsible custodians of this magnificent, yet highly imperiled world that God has bequeathed to us.
  • Though powerful and challenging, "A Sacred Duty" does not issue decrees or lecture its audience. It offers information on a wide variety of sensitive issues and food for thought. The net effect is a very positive message for all age groups.
  • The movie spells out how contemporary diets, lifestyles and agricultural practices are playing havoc with the environment, contributing to problems like global warming, endangering human health, and adversely affecting the myriad creatures that share our planet. Needless to say, this is a subject that resonates with many, many people today.
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