"I've noticed that quite a lot of people who are prominent in the animal liberation movement are Jews. Maybe we are simply not prepared to see the powerful hurting the weak." --Peter Singer (Author, Animal Liberation)


Last Day at the Kosher Store

There's only one kosher restaurant/market in my area, and today was its last day in business. After growing up in New York and going to school in Pittsburgh (right near Squirrel Hill), not having any kosher places is somewhat of a foreign concept. There are other places to get kosher and Jewish-style food, but it's just not the same as walking into an eatery that's so overtly Jewish.

I went around lunchtime today but wound up not eating there, as they were all out of falafel and knishes. There were some terrific bargains in the market, so I took advantage of my last chance to buy farfel and some other goodies.

I have a conflicted view of the restaurant. On the one hand, it was essentially a deli. The abundance of meat at such places always reminds me of the challenges of promoting vegetarianism in the Jewish community. A Citysearch review of the place said that "the laws of kashrut demand that animals be raised on a restricted organic diet and slaughtered in the most humane manner possible," and this utter lie represents to me the uphill battle of educating people about the kosher meat industry. ... On the other hand, they had the best falafel in town. I catered a falafel platter from there for a "Vegetarianism in the Jewish Tradition" talk that I gave at a local shul in March, and it was a huge hit. One attendee came up to me after trying the falafel and said something like, "If that's what vegetarian food is like ... I could do that!" I couldn't ask for a better response.

I spoke to my grandma this morning. She started talking about how Grabsteins, a legendary kosher delicatessen in Brooklyn, went out of business. I couldn't help but make a comparison to the definitive Long Island bluegrass song, "Bergold's Farm." This beautiful song--performed by Buddy Merriam & Back Roads and written and sung by former member Ron Feinberg--laments the closing of the last farm in town: the end of an era. Give it a listen; I've had the song stuck in my head all day.


"Jewish Punks Unite" in the Forward

My article "Jewish Punks Unite" is now out in the Forward. It talks about the Eight Crazy Nights tour that took place on the West Coast earlier this month. The tour featured performances by Yidcore, Jewdriver, and the Zydepunks as well as excerpts of the documentary Jericho's Echo. Click here to read the article in the Forward.

Click here to read about the history of the Forward.
Click here to read my blog post about my trip to San Francisco and Berkeley.
And while we're at it, click here to learn more about vegetarianism in the Jewish tradition!



Happy Chanukah! My last post didn't talk about the holiday too much, so I wanted to try again before the "eight crazy nights" come to an end.

Last night, some friends and I gathered together for a delightful Chanukah celebration. We had Manischewitz latkes, sans eggs, with apple sauce and Tofutti Sour Supreme on the side. A local grocery store sells greasy vegan donuts, which are a nice addition to any celebration. I was able to find a couple of bags of dark-chocolate gelt hidden amongst the milk-chocolate variety at a local kosher store. We lit the menorah together and played a few rounds of dreidel, despite persistent interference from Tucker. We also listened to "Lonely Jew at Christmas" as well as "Maoz Tzur" and some other Chanukah-themed songs by Yidcore.

I have a letter to the editor about Chanukah in this week's Jewish Journal of Los Angeles:
My mouth was watering as I read about Follow Your Heart's annual all-vegetarian Chanukah feast ("Follow Your Heart to a Vegetarian Chanukah Feast," Dec. 15). But are latkes and vegetarian liver really that foreign to us? Indeed, there are tons of vegan dishes that are common Jewish foods, from falafel and hummus to blintzes and vegetarian cholent.

My favorite part about Chanukah and other Jewish holidays is getting together with loved ones and chowing down on the easily vegan versions of virtually all Jewish staples. Not only is it easy to be vegetarian, it's easy to be vegetarian and eat Jewish foods.


San Francisco and Berkeley: Oy Vey!

I got back from San Francisco / Berkeley last night. I successfully pulled off my two goals for the trip: attend Jewish punk shows and eat at as many vegetarian restaurants as possible.

On Thursday night, I went to see Eastern-European folk-punk band Golem at an event called "Vodka Latka: Festival of Rights." Before Golem and an a capella band played, an assortment of social justice activists gathered onstage to light a menorah and dedicate each candle to a different cause (the event was cosponsored by California's wonderful Progressive Jewish Alliance). Golem played a rousing set in front of "every Jew in San Francisco," as one girl said on her cell phone. Their punked up klezmer was danceable and outrageously fun, and I'm ecstatic that I get them to see them again in less than a week. All hell broke loose when they played the hora, which got half the people in attendance to dance around the room while Golem's "Hanukkah Horas," singer, fiddler, and drummer showed off underwear with Hebrew lettering.

On Friday and Saturday, I attended shows for a punk rock Hanukkah tour featuring Yidcore, Jewdriver, Zydepunks, and Jericho's Echo. I went out to California to cover this tour for a newspaper, and I'll refrain from talking about it here until the article comes out later this month (I'll certainly post the article when it comes out). In the meantime, I'm posting a picture of Yidcore from the tour's opening night.

When I went to San Francisco's and Berkeley's legendary vegetarian restaurants, I often told servers that I wanted to make the most of the experience because I might never be back in the area. In retrospect, they were so wonderful that I have a feeling I'll be back. Millennium, an upscale all-vegan restaurant that publishes a cookbook called The Artful Vegan, served up quite possibly the best meal I've ever had. Golden Era (where I had the opportunity to meet up with Veggie Jews founder Pete Cohon), Herbivore, and Cha Ya were all wonderful in their own right. I walked away from the experience motivated to be more adventurous in my cooking, because vegan dishes can be absolute masterpieces and there's no reason not to try making some semi-masterpieces in my own kitchen.


Tucker's Bris Party

heebnvegan faithful may remember Tucker, my friends' kitten who got blessed at an Episcopalian church earlier this fall. Tucker got neutered a couple of weeks ago, and his guardians decided to have a party as though he'd had a bris! All the attendees were eager to celebrate making Tucker celibate, admiring his responsible sacrifice. (Did you know that approximately half of the estimated 6-8 million cats and dogs who enter U.S. shelters each year have to be euthanized because there simply aren't enough homes for them? An unspayed female cat can produce 36 cats in just a year and a half, and an unneutered male cat can beget an infinite number of offspring. As Bob Barker says, "Help control the pet population. Have your pet spayed or neutered.")

In honor of the special occasion, I brought a bottle of Manischewitz. Vegan versions of non-Jewish foods were served, including a pizza puff pastry and pigs in a blanket; as has been been pointed out before, pork and the like can be completely kosher if they're vegan. I sang an original song called "Thank You, Mr. Mohel," altering the lyrics to refer to Tucker, with Tucker's proud father on acoustic guitar. (For some reason, my family wouldn't let me sing the joke song at my nephew's bris in September.)

Really, who doesn't love a bris? I guess Kramer comes to mind, but few people are willing to take his side these days.


Shalom, Mousey. I Wish You Shalom. And While We're at It, Shalom!

This evening, I noticed that the Humane "Smart" Mousetrap in my kitchen had caught a mouse. I took the trap to a nearby park and liberated the mouse there. He quickly ran out of the trap and darted away upon realizing the door was open. On my way over, I said a spur-of-the-moment brucha asking G-d to take care of this lost little fellow and let him live out the rest of his life safely and peacefully.

I told the story to my grandma, who recalled that her father used to flush mice down the toilet. Call me crazy, but I think it's better to be humane.

I couldn't help but think that although this mouse was probably frightened and hungry, he was much better off than the many animals who are caught in hideous glue traps and other cruel rodent-control products. He was much better off than the week-old mice who are placed in nearly oxygen-free chambers for 45 minutes, causing them severe brain damage; these mice are then killed and have their brains dissected so that experimenters can make claims about the supposed health benefits of POM Wonderful/Horrible. Last but not least, he was much better off not getting flushed down the toilet by Aron Hallender, a septlingual teacher who emigrated to the U.S. from Mistichiva, Hungary, in 1905.