Hillel International Program Associate

The Jewish Veg Spotlight Shines On ...

Michelle Haggerty 

One of Jewish Veg's most successful programs is our twice-a-year college speaking tour, featuring Israeli vegan leader Ori Shavit. This tour occurs through a robust partnership with Hillel International, the organization serving Jewish students on more than 500 college campuses. 

We have been working with Michelle Haggerty, a program associate for Hillel International, to make these tours a reality. Not only does she help organize Ori’s tours, she went vegan herself after attending one of Ori's presentations. 

Michelle began her nonprofit career in Philadelphia with the Philadelphia Cultural Fund, a grantmaking arts organization. After moving to San Diego, she fell into working in the Jewish nonprofit community with the Anti-Defamation League and has stayed in the field ever since. She has been working for Hillel International since December 2015. 

Jewish Veg: How did you get involved in the Jewish nonprofit world, and more specifically connected with Hillel International?

Michelle: I grew up Protestant in Pennsylvania and spent the first 28 years of my life there. Until I went to college and entered into a study-abroad program in Rome, I had never met anyone Jewish or known much about Judaism.

The relationship I had with my two Jewish-American roommates was life-changing. My interest in Judaism was strengthened when we went on a trip from Rome to Munich and visited the Dachau concentration camp. The words ‘Never Again’ have resonated strongly with me ever since.

After moving to San Diego, I started working in a support role for the Anti-Defamation League. I strongly believed in the mission of the over 100-year-old civil rights organization and began learning more about Judaism. I was specifically interested in “Tikkun Olam” and how I could personally work to “repair the world.”

When I decided it was time to go home to the East Coast, I was fortunate enough to find out about the position at Hillel International through a colleague and dear friend from the ADL, Tina Malka.

Tina is now the Israel Education Regional Director for the West Coast for Hillel International and interesting enough, teaches a vegan course for The Curious Fork in San Diego. When we worked together at the ADL in San Diego, Tina would occasionally bring in vegan dishes to “try out” on our office.

Jewish Veg: Rumor has it that you recently went vegan! What or who inspired you?

Michelle: Several years ago, I was a vegetarian but started eating meat again because I wasn’t feeling well and somehow I thought eating meat again could help.

Not eating meat was not part of the problem as I later found out. I found vegetarianism again through a combination of things. First, my best friend who has been vegan several years. Secondly, I was horrified when I found out about the Yulin dog meat festival, which by the way is such an atrocious event, but it made me think about how I can’t criticize other countries for eating animals when our farming industry is guilty of crimes against animals too. Lastly, learning more about Ori Shavit through planning the tour and reading her blog hugely impacted me and finally got me to go vegan.

The combination of these things really opened my eyes about how I don’t want to consume any animal products anymore. I really had no idea about the dairy industry until Ori and my friend Laurie, who accompanied me to see Ori at NYU, taught me about it. So many people say things like, “Why be vegan?” and my reaction is “Why wouldn’t you?”

Jewish Veg: You have been incredibly dedicated and helpful with planning Ori Shavit’s Hillel tours. What is so exciting about this for you?

Michelle: First, thank you but no, you are the best. Aiding in planning Ori Shavit’s tour is so exciting because I strongly believe in the message, not just the vegan revolution and being an advocate for animals, but also showing a side of Israel apart from the conflict.  

Jewish Veg: What part of Ori's talk really hit a chord for you? 

Michelle: Besides the fun fact that Dominos in Israel has a vegan pizza, the talk was not what I was expecting. Before her lecture Ori said to me “you’ll be vegan by the end” and I took it to mean I was going to be shown graphic pictures of abuse in the farm/dairy industry.

This could not have been further from the truth. One thing that really struck me was the video Ori showed about the birth of the new calf on a kibbutz. In the video, you can hear Ori asking how much time the mother and the baby will spend together before being separated. The response was 30 minutes. Ori’s response was heartbreak. Mine was too. 

I do not have children besides my two cats, and even so, I can’t even imagine them being taken away for selfish human consumption - all because we want cheese?

Jewish Veg: How have your co-workers at Hillel responded to your change?

Michelle: I work with many Israelis who already have a mainly plant-based diet and they think it's fantastic!

Jewish Veg: What do you see as the intersection between Judaism and veganism?

Michelle: Yes! I believe in the value of Tikkun Olam is very strongly related to veganism - not just for the animals but for the environment as well. They fit hand and hand. 

Jewish Veg: If you could give one piece of advice to a new vegan, what would it be?

Michelle: I believe many people, including myself previously, think, “OK, I can do the no-meat thing, but could never give up cheese.”

At this point, after pursuing a vegan diet since November 17, 2016, Ori’s lecture at NYU, I have felt the effects firsthand. I feel better - not just because of the fact that I am no longer harming animals, but physically as well. My advice is to take it one day at a time, use the amazing resources and people that are out there, Naomi included, and keep at it.

For much more information about our Spring 2017 Hillel tour, click here.

Read past Jewish Veg Spotlights here.