"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)


One From the Vaults for Yom Hashoah

I first met Coby Siegenthaler (and her late husband, Hans) at the Animal Rights 2002 conference. When they received the Grassroots Animal Advocates Award, they were praised for their devotion to a variety of animal-related causes, but I had a tear in my eye as they got a standing ovation for helping rescue Dutch Jews in the Holocaust.

When I was out in Los Angeles for the Genesis Awards in 2005, I knew I had to meet up with Coby. I had the honor of interviewing her at her home in nearby Northridge. Without a doubt, Coby is one of the warmest, most compassionate people I've ever met. I keep the picture of Coby and Hans that she gave me in my bedroom. Below is the article that I wrote for a journalism class in college.

Coby of Compassion
by Michael Croland
April 2005

Visitors often stumble upon opening the front gate outside Coby Siegenthaler’s home in Northridge, Calif. But once they enter, they are treated with the warmest hospitality.

“I never stayed anywhere else in Los Angeles, that’s it, in almost 13 years,” says Mad Cowboy author Howard Lyman. In 1983, Lyman, a fourth-generation cattle rancher from Montana, gave up his business in favor of animal advocacy. After he walked away from his livelihood and all he knew, lifelong vegetarians Coby and her late husband Hans came to treat Lyman like an adopted son. “They are my parents,” he says.

Lyman is far from the only houseguest to have stayed in the Siegenthaler residence – a quaint, European-flavored home with an antique Dutch spinning wheel in the front hallway and a cuckoo clock that sounds hourly. Many companion animals have lived there through the years, although currently just a cat named Kitty. The blind and homeless join famed nutritionists and animal rights leaders in having stayed at this place of lore. Coby loves to serve all guests organic, decaffeinated tea- and grain-based “fake coffee” with soymilk.

Coby’s willingness to house those in need traces back to her childhood in the Netherlands. Her family helped hide a half-dozen Jews in their attic during World War II.

Coby DeCrasto was born on June 7, 1925 in Driehuls, Holland, and went to school in Velsen. During the war, Germans took her family’s home and relegated them to Amsterdam. They lived in what Coby’s mother called a “matchbox” apartment, where they had to wash in the kitchen because there was no shower.

Above the apartment, however, were two little rooms in an attic. Other residents of the apartment complex shared the staircase, but that didn’t stop Coby’s family from hiding Jews up there. After all, lives were at stake.

“Anybody in their right mind, I think, would help,” recalls Coby.

At least six Jewish refugees, some of them strangers, inhabited the attic during the war. Coby would sleep with the refugees in the attic, which had a window that led to a rooftop, thus enabling a quick escape if need be. Food was in short supply, but Coby’s family shared with their guests anyway. Because it was not safe, they never stayed for more than two or three weeks.

As a public schoolteacher, Coby’s mother had to sign a pledge that she would not do anything to hurt Germany’s war efforts. The entire family could have been sent to a concentration camp if the Germans discovered their secret operations.

Coby met Hans through the Witte Guilde, a vegetarian youth group in Holland. Hans’s family also helped rescue Jews, for which they were formally honored as “righteous among the nations” by Holocaust remembrance societies in 2001. The soulmates married in December 1951.

Many friends and observers have recounted how throughout their marriage, Coby and Hans still looked at each other with twinkles in their eyes. “They are the only couple I have ever met, who after 51 years of marriage, were still like newlyweds, still thrilled to be in one another’s company,” said close friend Marr Nealon after Hans passed away. “I believe their secret has been sharing the heartfelt bond of a cruelty-free lifestyle.”

In 1955, with poverty still gripping post-war Europe, the Siegenthalers decided to move to the United States. They would not go anywhere but California, which they viewed as a progressive hotbed, ahead of the rest of the country.

At one point, it looked like it might be easier to move near their friends in Alabama. But they absolutely refused. They knew they would have gone to jail immediately for protesting against segregation. “If they hate some sort of people, it’s just crazy,” recalls Coby.

After moving to California, Hans worked as a chemical engineer for 3M. The couple settled in their current home, across the street from Northridge’s 3M plant, in 1973. The Siegenthalers were often torn about supporting 3M, particularly because of the company’s animal testing practices, which have recently come under criticism in animal rights circles. Coby attributes Hans’s pancreatitis in 2001 and death in 2003 to his work with “foul chemicals.”

Coby made her living as a registered nurse. She thrived on being able to work in tandem with others to improve patients’ health. She has always been very health-conscious: she and Hans never smoked nor drank, and their son and daughter never missed school because of illnesses.

For Coby, concern was never limited to people’s health. It extended to animals and the environment, as well. “It’s all connected,” she insists. She never sprays herbicides or pesticides in her luscious green garden, which flourishes with ladybugs, snails that eat other snails, and Mother Nature living in peace.

When Coby learned of the Animal Protection Institute several decades ago, she donated money and became a member. Today, animal protection groups compose the majority of the 44 charities she contributes to annually. (There used to be 80, but as a widow living off of Social Security checks, she had to cut back). She certainly supports a host of other causes, but she chooses the Salem Children’s Trust over other children’s homes, for example, because it is the only vegetarian one in the country. She volunteers at an animal shelter and tries to educate people about animal suffering whenever possible.

In the early 1980s, Coby and Hans became vegan, a vegetarian diet that also shuns eggs and dairy products. She has participated in protests against zoos, rodeos, circuses, animal experimentation, fur, fast-food restaurants, and nearly every other animal issue under the sun. The Siegenthalers won the Grassroots Animal Advocates Award at the national Animal Rights 2002 conference.

“She never met a critter that she didn’t have love for,” said Lyman. “It didn’t make a difference whether it was a skunk or a porcupine or a rattlesnake; she loves all critters.”

For nearly fifteen years, Coby has hosted vegan potlucks in her home on the fourth Saturday of every month. Sometimes when a prominent speaker like vegan nutritionist Dr. Michael Klaper appears, up to 27 people attend and spill out from the living room to the outdoor poolside patio. The Siegenthaler home was also well-known for its alcohol-free New Year’s parties.

Coby also hosts monthly meetings in her home for the Green Party, whose presidential candidate received 0.10 percent of the popular vote in last year’s election. Coby finds comfort in the Greens’ progressive ideals and opposition to the Bush administration. “In this so-called democratic land we had better get with the 10 points of the Green Party,” she told Vegetarians in Paradise in 2001.

A who’s-who of prominent figures have stayed in the Siegenthalers’ spare “Lincoln bedroom” – including Lyman, Klaper, Farm Animal Reform Movement founding president Alex Hershaft, sports nutritionist Douglas Graham, and anti-vaccination activist Viera Scheibner.

Temporary housing is not limited to their heroes. The Siegenthalers have hosted vegan exchange students from Sweden and Germany. “Because they are vegan, we helped them,” Hans told Vegetarians in Paradise. They also hosted a blind California State University, Northridge student for two years and several homeless men and women for over a year.

As an immigrant, Coby says that her proudest accomplishment in life is that she owns her home. She recognizes how difficult that struggle can be, which is why she is eager to help homeless people, particularly those who are motivated to work.

In Hans’s absence, Coby is fighting to stay active, welcoming, and kind. She spent seven hours distributing free literature about veganism at the twentieth annual “National Meat Out” last month. “I promised him I would do it alone. I’m doing it, but it’s not easy,” she says.

The doors to Coby’s home and heart are still wide open for all in need. As she promoted in a recent Jewish Vegetarians of North America newsletter, “I have a 3 bedroom home very cruelty free and there for [sic] trust all Vegan friends who need a temporary place.”


Vote for the Most 'Gentile' Animal!

Often when I read the term "gentle animals" (it comes up a lot in animal rights literature), I think about how funny it would be if someone misspelled it "gentile animals." Thanks to Google, this typo has gone from a hypothetical situation to an online phenomenon.

Below are some of the animals that are listed as gentile animals on the World Wide Web. Which one best exemplifies what it means to be a gentile animal? Cast your vote by writing the gentile animal of your choice in a comment following this post. The most gentile animal will be announced on heebnvegan in May. And tell your friends to vote! Let's see if we can turn the list of gentile animals into a bigger phenomenon than that list of kosher imaginary animals that's been popping up on lots of J-blogs lately.

Alpacas: According to a rescue group, alpacas are "wonderful gentile animals."

Deer: A Web site for North Carolina mountain biking describes does as "very beautiful, gentile animals."

Dogs: One E! Online reader contends that corgi mixes are "loving, gentile animals" and a video promoting greyhound adoption prompted one viewer to say that the video "[t]ruly shows the beauty of these gentile animals and the unconditional love they give," but there's a lot of stuff out there saying how "gentile" pit bulls are. A Web page titled "The Truth About Pitbulls" says that pits can have a "gentile disposition," are "gentile dogs," are "really quite gentile dogs," are "gentile giants," and are "the most gentile and loving breed of dog." And a pit bull breeder in Florida talks about devoting "a great deal of time and effort" to "[b]reeding gentile animals." (Note: This should not be seen as an endorsement of breeding. Millions of dogs and cats die in U.S. animal shelters each year because there aren't enough good homes to go around.)

Guinea Pigs: "I am sad that some people use these gentile and docile creatures as lab animals," writes an apparent anti-vivisectionist. And a commenter on a Yahoo! forum noted that "guinea pigs are some of the calmest and most gentile animals in the world." (Note: If you're tempted to vote for pigs as the most gentile animals, guinea pigs are the closest option.)

Horses: In response to an article about wild horses in the Hawaii Tribune-Herald, one reader commented that it's "a big disgrace that people are 'allowed' to kill these beautiful majestic gentile animals."

Monkeys: "Monkeys are gentile animals," says a guest on the Sun Developer Network forum.


'Are You Religious?'

I never know how to respond when someone asks if I'm "religious." On the one hand, I'm proud to tell people how much my religion means to me—I couldn't just say "No" if I say the Shema twice daily, celebrate the holidays as much as I can, and go to shul most Saturdays. On the other hand, as someone who doesn't keep kosher (not in the conventional sense at least), isn't shomer Shabbos, and doesn't wear a kippah, I couldn't say "Yes" because the extent of my religious involvement probably doesn't meet the expectations of the person asking the question.

Generally, I say that I'm a Conservative Jew and that Judaism defines my life in more ways than people might realize. Or I say that I'm religious in my own way.

There's no reason to think that everyone has to fit neatly into one camp: ultra-religious or not religious at all. While researching my upcoming posts about tefillin, I came across this quote from a November 2006 e-mail from Dan Kliman to the Veggie Jews Yahoo! group:
People do indeed define down Judaism and often use the "buffet method" for their mitzvot. … On Yom Kippur, my Rabbi talked of how it is nearly impossibly for anyone, even a great tzadik (righteous person), to fulfill all the commandments; therefore, we should think in terms of bettering ourselves rather than achieving perfection.

I think we can all find ways to go down the path of self-improvement in terms of religiousness and religious observance.

One of the ways I've managed to do something new is by counting the omer. (The counting of the omer will begin on Sunday.) I'd never counted the omer before last year, and I had a lot of doubts about whether I'd be able to keep it up for 49 consecutive nights. But I affirmed the importance of this mitzvah and became determined to do it. In fact, I was so determined that I blogged for 49 consecutive nights (counting the omer with a different reason to go vegetarian each night). I will not be blogging the omer again this year—it's too much work. However, I'm definitely up to the task of counting the omer for seven weeks in the conventional sense.

In the last few months, I've had a lot of opportunities to assess my pick-and-choose manner of religious observance. It's not perfect, and I aspire to do better. But so long as I keep moving in the right direction on the path, I'm proud of where I am now.


Guest Post: Vegan Passover Guide for Hungry Jews

This guest post was written by Jenny Goldberg, the head chef and co-owner of Spork Foods. Spork Foods is a Los Angeles-based gourmet vegan food company that offers cooking classes, food consultation, and catering. As you get ready for Passover, you might also want to check out last year's Passover guest post by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and heebnvegan's 2006 post about surviving Passover as a vegan.

When Passover comes to mind I immediately find myself closing off my nostrils and breathing through my mouth. This innate physical reaction is due to trauma – gefilte fish trauma. I think of the beautiful traditions associated with Passover, like the Four Questions, and leaning to the left in our seats to eat the way royalty used to eat. But I personally find myself leaning left to avoid the dinner guest next to me with the gefilte fish breath, who is all hopped up on Manischewitz and wants to give me a loving embrace. I lean to retreat. That is no way to enjoy a Seder.

Last year, word got out to the family that my sister and I had recently started our own vegan food company, so of course they said that if we wanted our Passover to be animal-free, we would be cooking – for all 40 of us! We couldn’t slide by anymore with our own veggie side dish. It was time for some action. We knew there would be a few skeptics in the crowd, so we had to act strategically, with everyone’s food preferences in mind.

In planning the menu the first thing I did was make some changes to the Seder plate. We said no thanks on the lamb shank. Instead, we used a beet grown in a friend’s garden. Not only are beets used to symbolize the color of the blood that lamb shanks represent, their high iron content can revitalize our own blood as well. I don’t want us to be too selfish, but let’s get the most out of our Seder experience. Beets have other amazing nutritional benefits, including detoxifying the liver. After guzzling four cups of White Concord Grape Manischewitz (my personal fave), who wouldn’t appreciate that?

Instead of the hard-boiled egg, we used fresh flowers. Flowers are symbols of spring and new growth. They are beautiful and they smell a million times better than their hard-boiled counterparts. You can also go the extra step to get some roses, pansies or other edible flowers for the Seder plate. Eating flowers with loved ones is sure to make your Passover more memorable, and roses are known to be a powerful antioxidant. Click here to learn more about edible flowers.

My sister and I knew we had to do something about the gefilte situation, so we decided to make fresh spring rolls instead of gefilte fish for our first course. Spring rolls have the same shape, and, oddly enough, similar color to gefilte fish, so they do the trick. The whole family was elated to try something deliciously different.

Below is my recipe for Passover Spring Rolls. The recipe is not too traditional, but when tradition involves opening a jar of compressed fish in a jelly and letting it thump out of the glass, don’t feel bad about breaking tradition. If your Jewish family is like mine, as long as something is wrapped in some sort of doughy wrapper, with a little sauce, everyone will be happy. Involve friends or family in rolling these guys if you have a big party. They do take a little time and effort. Note that these spring rolls do include rice ingredients. While Sephardic Seders permit rice, you may want to consult your Ashkenazi relatives if you think it will be a problem for them.

The lesson that I learned in treating my family to a vegan Passover is that the most important traditions are those of tempting smells, new experiences, and good karma all the way from the Seder plate to the meal. There is so much love and thoughtful preparation that go into creating a Passover dinner that it only seems fitting to make it cruelty-free.

As an end note, though it may be a pain in the tuchas to cook food for the entire family just to prove to them how right we are for being vegetarian, you kind of have to because even if you only make food for yourself, everyone else will want a bite anyway when all of your food smells the best. That is why the recipes below are portioned to feed ten hungry Jews. Double the recipes for bigger parties or really hungry Jews.

Fresh Spring Rolls

Yields 10 servings


1 Tbsp. roasted hot sesame oil

1 Tbsp. rice vinegar

1 tsp. agave

2 cups thin rice noodles, or bean sprouts

2 cucumbers, peeled and sliced into thin strips

6-8 shiitake mushrooms

2 avocados, sliced into strips

1 cup shredded carrots

8-10 rice wrappers

*Optional: ½ cup pine nuts


Bring a quart of water to a boil and cook the rice noodles as directed. Set aside when finished. Add sesame oil, rice vinegar and agave to the noodles. If using bean sprouts instead, blanche the bean sprouts and toss with the sesame oil, rice vinegar and agave.

Place the sliced pre-cooked rice noodles, cucumber, avocado, and shredded carrot in separate bowls or plates, like an assembly line.

When you are ready to roll your fresh rolls, soak each rice wrapper in water until slightly softened. This should only take about 10 seconds. Place the wrapper on a flat working surface and fill with a line of your choice of the fillings, beginning with about 2 tablespoons of rice noodles or bean sprouts.

Begin by folding the bottom flap over your filling. Bring the two sides over the folded bottom flap and then bring the remaining side over the entire roll, to create a burrito shape. The trick is to not overfill the spring roll. This will make it much easier to wrap.

Almond Sauce:

½ cup almond butter

¼ cup hot water

1/4 cup organic tamari

3 Tbsp. maple syrup

1/4 cup rice vinegar

2 Tbsp. sesame oil (with or without chilies)

Juice of 1 lime

2 Tbsp. finely chopped ginger

3 cloves garlic, finely chopped

* Optional: 2 Tbsp. red pepper flakes


In a medium pot, add almond butter and hot water. Whisk until the almond butter is thin. Add remaining almond sauce ingredients. Whisk until uniform and creamy. Add water if the sauce is too thick.

Roasted Beet Salad With Maple Glazed Walnuts

Serves 10



6 medium-sized beets, either golden or red

¼ cup olive oil

Dash unbleached sea salt

6 cups fresh baby greens

2 ripe large avocados

2 large Japanese tomatoes, medium dice

2 English cucumbers, peeled to the core

Maple Glazed Walnuts:

2 Tbsp. vegan non-hydrogenated margarine (Earth balance margarine preferred)

2 Tbsp. maple syrup

1 ½ cups raw walnut halves or pieces

Dash sea salt

*Optional – 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper

1/2 cup of your favorite dressing


Preheat oven to 375°.

Wash and trim beets and place them in a small roasting pan. Coat them in the olive oil and salt. Roast for approximately 25 minutes, or until a knife can be inserted and taken out with no resistance, and the skin appears wrinkled.

Remove from oven and cover to steam. This helps separate the skin from the beet. Set aside.

To prepare the remaining salad ingredients, wash and dry the lettuce and set aside in a shallow bowl or platter.

Cut the avocado into fourths, and slice small slits along the length of the avocado, but keep the avocado wedge intact. Spread gently with your knife to make a fan shape. Place along the salad, either in 4 corners or in a row.

Peel the cucumber with a peeler, and discard skin. Continue to peel cucumber lengthwise until you reach the core. You should have long strips. Place in bunches along the platter of salad. Sprinkle diced tomato over the salad for color.

To prepare glazed walnuts, melt the margarine in a medium sauce pan. Add the maple syrup and stir with a spatula. Syrup will bubble. Quickly add the nuts and coat in the mixture. Add salt and cayenne pepper (optional).

Once the liquid has disappeared, turn off the flame and let the nuts cool. Set aside.

To peel the cooled beets, put on a glove. Using your knife as a guide, peel the skin from the beets. Slice and place on salad.

Top the salad with the cooled candied nuts and serve with the dressing of your choice on the side.

TIP: Look for smooth, hard, round beets, with the darkest color to ensure freshness. The beet greens should be green for the most nutrition!


Natalie Portman: Heeb and Vegan

Natalie Portman in New York I Love You
Photo from BangItOut.com (used with permission). Photo credit: Eitan Dvir

It's no great secret that Natalie Portman is a Jewish vegetarian. And it was pretty widely reported that she came out with her own vegan shoe line earlier this year. But about a month ago, Natalie told the world some big news: She went vegan. Here's an excerpt from an article in Marie Claire:
She grabs an energy bar from the display basket and studies the contents of the label. She wonders if the energy bar contains milk. That's Tobey's fault. For the past ten days she's gone from being vegetarian to vegan. "I was around Tobey Maguire in rehearsals [for upcoming film Brothers] and he's vegan and I was, like, this is nice. I'm honest about caring about animals. You know, eggs and milk products, there's a lot of animal discomfort in that, too."
In other news, Natalie has had to deal with some controversy with a couple of her upcoming films. She's going to be in a wonderfully titled film called Kosher Vegetarian, as I noted last month. Following a post about the film on The Jew & The Carrot, "a few more right-leaning readers got bunched up about the very thought of an interfaith relationship portrayed – and therefore somehow validated – on the screen," as The Jew & The Carrot's Leah Koenig wrote on Lilith. Natalie ran into a rather different problem while working on New York I Love You: Her romantic interest in the film, a Hasidic actor, was pressured into leaving the movie by the Hasidic community, which disapproved of his presence in a Hollywood film alongside a woman.

Clarification (12/31/09): The photo caption originally identified the man pictured as Abe Karpen. A comment in response to another post said that he is Eitan Dvir. The original actor quit at one point, and I do not know the name of the man in this photo. I have taken out the references to Abe Karpen in this post and one other.


Klezmer 'Expert'

My friends Anna and David are getting married on Sunday. Anna e-mailed me last week to say, "Since you are indeed the expert on the subject of awesome cool klezmer-type tunes, would you consider putting together a rollicking good-time medley of festive songs to put our guests' toes to tapping? We are thinking our little reception will definitely need some klezmer/gypsy accordion-rockin' type pizazz." I immediately agreed to do it and couldn't have been more excited.

Where did this supposed expertise in Jewish folk music come from? It was about six years ago that I had my formal introduction to klezmer: an outdoor concert that I went to with my grandma. My grandma recalls that I was "bored," that I "didn't like it," and that I was "not at all" into the concert. In 2003, I interned for the Long Island Traditional Music Association's Old Time Fiddle Festival. This exposure to folk music led me to appreciate various subgenres of folk-rock and folk-punk. I eventually became very interested in Jewish punk, leading me to write an article for New Voices in 2005 and travel to California in 2006 to cover a Jewish punk tour for the Forward. In the last year and a half, I've seen klezmer-punk group Golem four times and zydeco-klezmer-Celtic-punk band The Zydepunks three times. My exposure to Golem and other modern klezmer acts has evolved from my interest in Jewish punk.

When I told my grandma about my apparent expertise, she said, "It shows that you grew up and that your tastes change." When I e-mailed my friend Sherri asking for song suggestions, she replied, "So everything I know about present-day klezmer has come from you ... so I'm not much of a help." (This is coming from someone who just got asked to play trombone with a klezmer band at a wedding!)

There's just one small problem with all this: I'm not a klezmer expert. I barely know enough klezmer to do a passable job! Fortunately, I do have enough familiarity with klezmer to serve as a good starting-off point. I was able to pull various klezmer songs from my Golem and Zydepunks CDs as well as some compilations I've acquired and burned through the years. I also knew some friends who provided some help. One sent me songs from Yarmulkazi, the Freilachmakers, and the Cracow Klezmer Band, all of which I'd never heard of before.

All in all, I'd say my klezmer mix turned out pretty good. Maybe I could pass as an expert to even more people!