"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)



Baruch Hashem!

I was much better about seeking out locally grown produce before I moved to New York. After moving to Astoria, Queens, in January, I frequently went to the 24/7 fruit and vegetable store half a block away from my apartment, which was local in another sense. That store has gone out of business, and a 24/7 farmers market is taking its place. My eyes lit up earlier this week when they saw the brand-new signs for the not-yet-open store. I'll be better about buying locally grown and organic produce now!

Correction (12/31/09): Although I would never want to rescind "Baruch Hashem," I should clarify this situation. Now that this store has opened, I have no reason to think that any of the produce is locally grown or that much of it is organic. I assumed that the store would carry local produce because it's called a "farmers market," but I was wrong.

Controversy About the Hazon Food Conference
Last week, VeggieJews founder Pete Cohon wrote an open letter criticizing Hazon for its plans to slaughter chickens at its food conference next month and for its promotion of a diet including meat despite the environmental consequences of animal agriculture. "The conference will only encourage the continuation of a meat-based diet despite the negative health, environmental and ethical consequences. I urge you to stop the bloodletting and start healing the planet by promoting to the Jewish community a diet based solely on plant-based foods," wrote Cohon.

While I agree with many of the points raised in Cohon's letter, I applaud Hazon for providing a forum about food issues in the Jewish community and posting Cohon's letter on its blog, The Jew & The Carrot. The post also includes a response from a Hazon representative, which is worth reading. A comment from Roberta Schiff notes that she and Jews for Animal Rights' Roberta Kalechofsky will be speaking about vegetarianism in the Jewish tradition at the Hazon Food Conference this year.

Click here to read heebnvegan's 2007 post "'Shechting a Goat at the Hazon Food Conference?' No!"

Veggie Conquest Follow-Up
In my November 15 post about Veggie Conquest, I juxtaposed pictures of my "Swedish-Style Charoset" and the winning dish. All the dishes besides mine were quite beautiful, and both the Veggie Conquest blog and Vegan Dance if You Want To have posted pictures of each dish.

Update (12/31/09): The Veggie Conquest blog has posted recipes for the winning dish and the runner-up. I only had four ingredients in my dish!


heebnvegan Rock Stars: Live and In Person

The Internet is a funny thing. It has the power to connect likeminded people who live far away and foster discussion via blogs, YouTube videos, e-mails, and Facebook statuses about such topics as Judaism, vegan cooking, and music. But if you live in New York and the other person lives in Georgia, Michigan, or Oregon, it's not too often that you get to meet in person. In the last week, some of heebnvegan's favorite out-of-town people (and most frequent subjects) have come to the Big Apple.

Last Wednesday, CAN!!CAN opened up for Golem on the Lower East Sidethe first time in three years that I've seen multiple Jewish punk bands at the same show. CAN!!CAN singer Patrick A. runs the Web site PunkTorah, and when I arrived at the venue, I was starstruck to see that Patrick was filming a video in which Matthue Roth (of MyJewishLearning.com) was giving a devar Torah for Parshat Toldot as Heshy Fried (of FrumSatire.net) looked on. In a video they filmed shortly before I arrived, Patrick A. said, "This is, like, the most epic Punk .... You've got so much blog right here that it's, like, stupid." As Fried wrote on FrumSatire today, "It seemed like everyone was there– well, everyone important, that is — a bunch of minor Jewish celebrity artist types ...."

Jack Zaientz is in the New York area for Thanksgiving, and we met up for coffee on Sunday. Zaientz runs the Jewish music blog Teruah, which talked about my "Jewish air guitar" career last year and has linked to heebnvegan posts about Jewish punk music, Jewish punk films, Di Nigunim, and, yes, even food issues. I continue to be impressed by Zaientz's breadth of knowledge about Jewish music. We talked about Jewish punk, Jewish hip-hop, klezmer, haredi music, and NaNach trance, and his expertise really runs the gamut. Earlier this month, Zaientz gave a talk at Ignite Ann Arbor titled, "The Silver Age of American Jewish Music Is Happening Now! And Why We're Missing It." I'll post a link to the video as soon as it's online.

Isa Chandra Moskowitz, the reigning rock star of the vegan food world, was in town last night for the book launch party for Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar along with New Yorkbased co-author Terry Hope Romero. Moskowitz and Romero also co-authored Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World and Veganomicon, and Moskowitz runs The Post Punk Kitchen Blog. Dozens of guests at the nonleather-shoe store Moo Shoes were treated to many delicious varieties of vegan cookies, in addition to sandwiches from Foodswings. In the photo below, from left to right, you'll see me, Moskowitz, Romero, and holistic health counselor Jackie Topol. This is yet another great they're-in-the-same-place-at-the-same-time snapshot, as Moskowitz and Topol wrote my two all-time favorite heebnvegan guest posts"Cooking Up a Vegan Passover" and "My Experience as a Farmer and Why I've Decided to Go Vegan," respectively.

I doubt that I'll have time to attend all these sorts of things when I'm both working and going to school next semester, but it's wonderful when out-of-town heebnvegan rock stars appear off the computer screen.


The Four Questions: DJ Lil Ray

DJ Lil Ray, aka Rachael Spiewak, got her start as a DJ last year. This Jewish vegan specializes in hip-hop and had a weekly gig at a Saturday night dance party called Radiotron in Atlanta. She recently moved to Brooklyn.

How did the 1994 Ft. Lauderdale bat mitzvah scene influence you as a DJ?
I grew up in a suburban Jewish enclave 30 minutes from Ft. Lauderdale Beach around its Spring Break heyday. Thanks to radio stations like Power 96, freestyle and booty bass were a normal part of the pop music soundscape. And rollerskating was THE thing to do. So all of that youth culture music worked its way into the bat and bar mitzvah scene, and as a result, I belonged to a tribe of adolescents whose weekends were taken up with formal dance parties where it was normal to hear the 69 Boyz and Debbie Deb alongside the Hora and the Macarena. And this went on for about 2 solid years between all of the kids around my age who went to one of the two synagogues in the area. I guess this was the one saving grace, right? The suburbs are pretty depressing and devoid of culture, except for this weird thing that emerged from what's essentially an ancient rite of passage. Given all of that, to me, it makes perfect sense that I would grow up to be a dance party DJ.

You DJed Veggie Conquest last weekend and Vegan Drinks on Thursday. Are you already becoming the dominant DJ in the NYC vegan event scene?

I only moved to Brooklyn recently from Atlanta, where I had a resident Saturday night gig for the last year, so instead of starting from scratch here, I've been lucky to join a certain vegan community that makes a point of supporting its members. My roommate Jessica Mahady, who's an old friend from ATL, is responsible for Veggie Conquest, and we've been talking about having me come up to DJ it for months, even before I decided to move. So I thought, if I need to have a following to get booked anywhere, and here's this community I would join anyway that's presenting all sorts of DJing opportunities, I might as well work that. Everyone benefits, and I'm grateful to have met such friendly and supportive people. And now I really do have an NYC following (ahem, booking agents/bar managers).

Speaking of having a following, I would be remiss if I didn't add that I'm also a part of a crew called Astoria DJ Group, and whenever one of us plays somewhere solo, the rest of us show up.

I see you'll be at Shalom Queen, billed as the "most fabulous Chanukah party ever," next month. What kind of songs will you be playing?
Well, I billed it that way, but I think the promoters would agree. Hey Queen parties are all about camp and glam, so I'm going to pull out bangers, sing-a-longs, and club hits, mostly from the 80s and 90s. Lots of female vocals, nothing down tempo. If people Jazzercise or do the Running Man to it, I've done my job. Oh and Madonna. I will play lots of Madonna.

Suppose you were volunteering at a soup kitchen and you were monitoring the line where people enter the building. What would be the perfect soundtrack to play?
I was managing the line at a soup kitchen recently, and I suggested that funk is the universal genre and that's what we should listen to if we had the means to listen to anything. I was informed that Johnny Cash would be much more relevant and enjoyable. Loretta Lynn, too.


Rabbi Yoffie Encourages Reform Jews to Eat Less 'Red Meat'

At the Union for Reform Judaism's (URJ) biennial convention earlier this month, URJ president Rabbi Eric Yoffie delivered a sermon calling on Reform Jews to eat less " red meat." He reportedly said:

My proposal is this: let’s make a Jewish decision to reduce significantly the amount of red meat that we eat. . . .

[M]eat consumption in North America has doubled in the last fifty years, and we can easily make do with far less red meat than we currently eat. And contrary to what many think, Jews are not obligated to eat meat on Shabbat and holidays. ... [F]or the first 2,500 years of our 3,000 year history, Jews consumed meat sparingly, and we can surely do the same.

And we must. The meat industry today generates nearly one-fifth of the man-made greenhouse gas emissions that are accelerating climate change throughout the world. According to a U.N. report, animal agriculture is responsible for more greenhouse gas than all transportation sources combined. And the preparation of beef meals requires about fifteen times the amount of fossil fuel energy than meat-free meals.
Jewschool talks about Rabbi Yoffie's speech in much greater depth here. Click here to read Sue Fishkoff's JTA article.

Jewish Vegetarians of North America (JVNA) issued a press release stating:
JVNA commends Reform leader Rabbi Eric Yoffie’s call to Reform Jews to eat less meat so as to be more consistent with the values of the Reform movement. ... We hope it will lead to an increased dialog on the many moral issues related to our diets and will encourage other Jewish leaders to speak out. . . .

We believe that it is essential that our rabbis and other Jewish leaders increase awareness that a major shift toward plant-based diets is essential to avoid the unprecedented climate-catastrophe that the world is rapidly approaching and to move our precious, but imperiled, planet to a sustainable path.
Of course, total abandonment of all meat, not just cutting back on red meat, would be preferable. But this revelation is a welcome step in the right direction.



Jewcy has started posting "LOLjewz" photos in the same vein as the popular LOLcats series. My favorite one so far, titled "Chicken," deals with kapparot. The caption says "Iz vegatarian nao."

The Swine Flu Top 10
Last week, BangItOut.com came up with a list of the "Top Ten Signs Someone Has Swine Flu in Shul":
10. Nobody is kissing the Torah
9. First time you've ever seen men actually taking schmaltz herring without their hands
8. Big macher who never says good shabbos to you, now has an excuse
7. Children groups have a special "Quarantined tots 'n snots program"
6. Most irreligious members suddenly have their Talis draped over their heads, primarily to serve as Flu masks
5. Rabbi's Yasher Skoyach Handshake replaced with fist-bump
4. Women suddenly pro higher-mechitza
3. Shul Gossip not revolving around how much someone paid for their new kitchen
2. Kiddush club shots actually vaccinations
1. First time in the history of mankind: teens are actually shomer negiah
Book News
On October 28, Vegan.com (a Web site run by Vegan: The New Ethics of Eating author Erik Marcus) noted that three vegetarian/vegan books were in the Amazon top 100 sellers list. Marcus wrote, "I’d bet a lot of money that never before have" three items on Vegan.com's list of top 10 books been on the Amazon list at the same time. I've talked about the three books, all written by Jews, in the last month-plus: Jonathan Safran Foer's Eating Animals, Alicia Silverstone's The Kind Diet, and Tal Ronnen's The Compassionate Cook.

On November 9, a week after Eating Animals was released, Marcus wrote, "It’s fair to say that no vegetarian-oriented book has ever received as much exposure as Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals has received this past week."

Speaking of Erik Marcus ...
On Friday night, I had a nightmare that Marcus merged with fellow Jews Michael Pollan and Peter Singer to form one monster that was trying to sabotage my dating life. This might have been even scarier than the nightmare I had a couple weeks ago, in which Natalie Portman ordered a Big Mac at McDonald's and only removed the bacon. Oh, the dreams of a Jewish-vegan blogger!


Veg-Friendly Kosher Restaurants in the NYC Area

Cathy Resler, organizer of the NYC Jewish Veg*ns MeetUp group, has compiled a very handy resource. This list features vegan, vegetarian, and veg-friendly restaurants that have kosher certification and focuses on places in Manhattan, Queens, and Brooklyn.

The list includes some great places I've enjoyed in the last year (including Babycakes, Blossom, Buddha Bodai, Chennai Garden, Green Melody, Maoz's Vegetarian, Peacefood Cafe, Quintessence, Sacred Chow, Taim, and Tiffin Wallah) as well as many I have yet to try.

If you're looking for a kosher establishment with plentiful vegetarian and vegan options, there's no need to check both vegan and kosher restaurant guides when you can check only one list.


'Swedish Chef' Makes Charoset for Vegan Cooking Competition

Last night, I went in character as Swedish Chef from The Muppet Show and made "Swedish-Style Charoset" for Veggie Conquest, a vegan cooking competition in New York City. If people didn't already know my history of contest antics, they probably could've guessed from my over-the-top Swedish Chef gimmick that I didn't go in expecting to win. (I did at least hope that people would find the dish edible and enjoyable.) The judges appeared to take me seriously and didn't quite know what to think! Click here to see a video of my Swedish Chef presentation and the Q&A.

Charoset is a Passover dish not commonly served otherwise, which led to some laughter and confusion among the in-crowd: The organizer, the DJ, the emcee, and two of the three judges were all apparently vegan Jews. The rules of the contest said that each dish must be a dessert containing cranberries. They did not say that cranberries had to be featured prominently, but some people thought that my combination of just apples, walnuts, cinnamon, and cranberry-plum wine lacked sufficient cranberry emphasis. On pieces of scrap paper left on the tables at the end of the night, they also had some other not-so-nice things to say:
  • Apple walnuts, eh?
  • UGH. raw apples, poorly seasoned, not marinated. NO CRAN.
  • Charoset – taste a lot of cinnamon, not much else 'til I got to the wine & walnut. Couldn't taste cranberry.
  • Cranberry not prominent
  • Ehhhhh .....
  • Horrible – no cranberries
  • Presentation foul ... Taste foul
  • Interesting thought. Can't taste cranberries. Not that good.
  • Nasty
In contrast, the winning dish (Rice Crepe With Cran-Ginger Sauce) got much better reviews from tasters:
  • So well rounded. Good texture, full combo. Cranberry essence. Sweet & tart. Beautiful presentation.
  • Nice crepe – beautiful! Very original! Cranberry sauce tangy & sweet, pistachios delicious – nice textures – very subtle ginger – lovely combination of flavors.
  • Yum!
  • Very good
  • Great presentation – yummy
  • Presentation nice
  • Crepes Rule!! (when vegan)
  • Good cranberry in Asian dish
Photos of both my dish and the winning dish are below. I'll leave it to you, dear reader, to determine which is which.


Guest Post: A Story About Challah Making

This guest post from Celia Harary was recently posted to the VeggieJews discussion group and has since been slightly edited. Celia has been vegetarian and "mostly vegan" since 1995. This year, she helped start a Tuv Ha'Aretz CSA at Forest Hills Jewish Center in Queens, N.Y.

A shul friend of mine asked if I would like to go to her cousin's house in Long Island, where women often gather to make Challah. My friend has serious eye problems and sometimes we are fortunate enough to find each other, when one of us needs help. She invited me during the Simchat Torah service, where I assisted her in finding a Torah with which to march in the Hakafot "parade." She said she had prayed to G-d on the way to shul, that she would find someone to help her participate, to feel closer to G-d before her upcoming week of eye treatments, which starts today [October 25]. (All prayers are appreciated, for Rukhama bat Sarah.)

We went to her cousin's that Friday. I was told to bring salt, sugar, and oil -- but was devastated at the last minute as I was driving to get her when I realized that I had forgotten my "special" ingredient -- the ground flax seed, my egg replacer. The sacredness of the ritual would be ruined for me if I had to break eggs into a special bread I would later say blessings over -- for separating challah and for making Hamotzi. I decided not to go back to get it (and be late). I kept driving, and when my friend got in, I told her the problem. She said, "No eggs!" I thought maybe I didn't understand her Persian accent or that she was mistaken. The flour would be provided, so I figured she meant that the eggs would also be provided. I was anxious about this, though happy to be in R's company. We talked deeply as we drove, about happy and sad parts of our life. She empathized with me about a lost love to whom she had introduced me. I thanked her so much for lifting my spirits and inviting me to make challah.

We arrived at her cousin's house, which was large, and beautiful like her. S warmly welcomed me and we all chatted. She said she had some soup on the stove; I thanked her but disregarded her comment, since I figured the soup would be non-vegan. We began by first slipping some money into a Tzedakah envelope, then ritually washing our hands, just the three of us. She said she wasn't religious, but there was something special in her way.

S started us with measuring the 3 tablespoons of salt, the "criticism." She explained that we had to overfill the tablespoon measure, and then push off the over-level amount with the index finger -- to accept a level amount of criticism about ourselves, and then "brush off" the rest; we were OK without that extra criticism. I was feeling good.

The salt went into a huge pot, one for each of us. On top of that went 5 pounds of flour (1/2 white, 1/2 wheat), which I was always too intimidated to use the few times I had made challah on my own! So I was never able to say the bracha of separating. And I was always worried about how warm the water was; would the yeast froth? In unison, we formed mountains with our 5 pounds, combined with 1 cup of sugar. Around them, S told us to sprinkle the four packages of yeast! Next we began kneading, with the addition of 6 to 6 1/2 cups of hot water, one at a time, which S poured to us lovingly. No one was worried about activating the yeast, combining wet into dry -- what a relief! We kept kneading and kneading -- it sometimes became harder, and S explained that's because life isn't always easy. I had never needed 5 pounds of flour to learn that! Somehow when I physically exerted myself, the message came more clearly. She also reminded us many times over that we were creating. Though sometimes women feel like an accessory, helping others, this time we were the creators; women are blessed with the ability to create. We were told to add 3/4 cup of oil ourselves as we kept kneading, creating.

Next came the separating: pull off from the four corners of the dough, the four corners of the Earth, different parts of ourselves, into a small ball about the size of -- an egg! It was only the semblance of life that I was using -- I did not add any eggs or take any life to create this ritual bread. What a blessing I said after the ritual one! Thank you, G-d, for not making me put one of your creatures into my creation. Thank you, S.

Each of our doughs went into a big white plastic garbage bag. No worries about how warm the room was or what to cover the dough with! It could expand to its delight. Now what were we going to do with all of this dough? S said that we would have to give some challah away to complete the circle, just like the separated challah was something that was given away, not for our use.

While it rose, S ushered us to the lunch table, where her sister joined us and the cousins exchanged boisterous laughter. Before us, she placed that steaming tureen -- of vegan soup! Greens, potatoes, and love. Next came curried halves of butternut squash, along with a vinegared red-cabbage salad -- we were treated to a gourmet vegan feast, in a home where meat kebabs were the norm. S hadn't known I was vegan; how did this happen? We were all amazed. One of the stories she told was about giving a gift basket to an Indian neighbor as a thank-you for a favor. The neighbor said thank you for the New Year's gift -- who knew?

I thanked R and took her home. After a business appointment with my customer's child sitting next to the dough blob in the back seat of my car, I returned home and frantically braided two large and four small challot, hoping I would finish baking before candlelighting. I missed the Shabbat service that night in favor of delivering challot, riding the elevator up just minutes before Shabbat. I had two thankful elderly Jewish neighbors. One had recently lost her husband. She said she was just sitting down to eat.

Yes, the challah was delicious.

When I stepped into the elevator of my building on Motzei Shabbat, I saw the one Indian family who lives there. I said hello and then noticed the beautiful Indian outfits they were wearing. The couple and their 2-year-old were all glowing, as if reflecting candlelight. I said Happy New Year, and they said thank you. As soon as I sat down at my computer, I Googled to find out that this was Diwali, the Festival of Lights.



Vegan Cookie Invasion
Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar, the latest cookbook from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World co-authors Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero, came out yesterday. While in a bookstore this afternoon, I couldn't help but make various embarrassing noises while looking at the beautiful cookie pictures in the book.

Yesterday on Etsy, the cookbook co-authors were selling the four coolest handmade aprons I've ever seen. The aprons sported the logo for Moskowitz and Romero's Post Punk Kitchen, but they've already been sold.

Reform Rabbi Cares for Animals
Last week, the Forward ran an article about Reform Rabbi Robin Nafshi, the president of the Seer Farms animal sanctuary in New Jersey. Nafshi said, "We are a very human-centered religion, and most Jews who are passionate about animal kindness don’t find they have a voice within their religious tradition, which is unfortunate, because it’s such a deep part of our tradition. From the very beginning of our creation story, we are the caregivers." She added, "Our hearts and our souls are big enough to embrace multiple species. It’s not either-or; there’s room for both, and that’s very much part of our tradition."

The article notes that her shul, Temple Beth-El, hosted an "animal-awareness week" last month. Activities reportedly included "animal-themed Hebrew lessons, a dog and cat food donation drive, and a Sabbath sermon on the theme of kindness to animals."

Rubashkin Trial Update
In the first federal trial of former AgriProcessors executive Sholom Rubashkin, the defense and prosecution made closing arguments yesterday. Jurors are now deliberating over the 91 financial charges that Rubashkin faces.

I've noted before that not one of the charges pertains to the slaughterhouse's treatment of animals. COLlive.com reported that on Thursday, KAJ Rabbi Chaim Kohn, a witness for the defense, "recalled how People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) castigated Agri for what they claimed was the practice of ripping out live cows' throats." COLlive noted that Kohn's comments were made "[o]utside the jury's presence (which U.S. District Chief Judge Linda Reade dismissed citing irrelevance)." Today, Failed Messiah pointed out that Kohn was the head of ritual slaughter at AgriProcessors "who permitted and endorsed the trachea excisions" of cows.

Ban on Horse-Drawn Carriages in Tel Aviv
On Sunday, YNet reported:
Tel Aviv has become the first city in Israel to prohibit the entry of horse-drawn carriages into its territory.

The Tel Aviv Municipality and the Ministry of Transportation recently completed the posting of 23 road signs across the city's southern entry routes which ban the entry of horses.

The step completes a six-year long struggle to remove metal traders and junk peddlers from the city, who do their business using horse-drawn carriages.


Cooking a Vegan Shabbat Dinner

Last Friday, I hosted a homemade vegan Shabbat dinner for friends. A lot of time and effort went into preparing the food, but all the dishes (with the possible exception of the challah) came out terrific. I've been shul-hopping quite a bit since I moved to New York City and I've enjoyed many Shabbat stops along the way, but there's a special feeling when you have friends over for a healthy, vegan meal in a relaxed setting. The menu featured challah, carrot-parsley salad, cucumber-chickpea salad, charoset, tempeh-potato salad, polenta with bruschetta, curried lentils with wild rice, and roasted cauliflower and carrots. Two guests brought homemade cupcakes and cookies.

I've cooked Shabbat dinners for my parents and grandma a few times in the last year, but until fairly recently, I didn't feel up to the task. Not too long ago, my idea of adventurous vegan cooking was rolling GimmeLean Ground Beef into "meatballs" and mixing them with white-flour spaghetti and a jar of tomato sauce. As recently as early 2008, I was a lazy cook who relied too heavily on mock meats and other processed foods. At that point, I'd never hosted a non-potluck meal for more than two guests. I assumed the identity of a bad cook, and I never tried to get past it.

Thanks largely to the influences of The Jew & The Carrot, Michael Pollan, my boss, and a couple of lead-by-example friends, I saw the need to cook healthier food and stop being a mockmeatatarian. All it takes to become a better cook is a can-do attitude, the willingness to follow some more exciting recipes, and some practice. As one friend who gave me a cooking lesson said, being a decent cook is as simple as following a recipe. Even if you make a few mistakes along the way, you'll get the feel of how different spices impact a dish and what ingredients go well together. Usually the experiments gone wrong are still edible. Almost always, the feeling you get from making a tasty dish yourself is very satisfying.

I don't claim to be a great cook. But I've gotten to the point where I truly enjoy many of the foods I make, and I'm confident enough in them that I want friends and family members to enjoy them too.

On my birthday last November, I spent the whole day in the kitchen and was proud to cook a Shabbat dinner for the very first time. As my birthday approaches this year, I feel as though I can conquer the world, or at least a vegan cooking competition. All joking aside, I actually will be spending the day in the kitchen and then competing as a chef in Veggie Conquest 3. If you're a processed-foods kind of vegan, put forth a little effort and you, too, can make this transformation.

Photos of my tempeh-potato salad and curried lentils by Val Zimmer. Click the images for a better view.



PunkTorah Featured on CNN.com, Launches Indie.Yeshiva
On Friday, CNN.com ran an article about "New Jews." The article discussed older "New Jews" institutions like Heeb and JDub and also featured some new voices, including PunkTorah founder (and CAN!!CAN frontman) Patrick A.:
For Atlanta, Georgia, punk-rock musician Patrick A, or Aleph (the first letter in the Hebrew alphabet), this means he can seamlessly blend who he's been with his newly embraced religious observance.

"When I'm on stage screaming, hitting my face with a microphone and pouring beer on my head, at least I'm singing about the Torah," said the 26-year-old founder of PunkTorah, an outreach effort to inspire Jewish spirituality.
Last month, PunkTorah launched a new project called Indie.Yeshiva. The site aims to "to bring the Light of the Torah to the people; to open the book for everyone to read and understand as best as they can." Indie.Yeshiva encourages people to contribute essays about Tanach, rabbinic literature, halacha/ritual, spirituality/philosophy, Hebrew, liturgy/prayer, history, and lifecycle/holidays.

Rubashkin Trial Update
The first federal trial of former AgriProcessors executive Sholom Rubashkin is in its fourth week. The defense began presenting its side earlier this week, Rubashkin is expected to testify today, and lawyers will likely make their closing arguments on Monday.

I noted last month that not one of the combined 163 charges that Rubashkin faces in two federal trials pertains to treatment of animals. His supposed livestock-related charges are for allegedly violating the U.S. Packers and Stockyards Act, which has apparently never been invoked in a criminal case before. I've seen very little coverage of these 19 or 20 charges since the trial began, but the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier did devote an article to this topic last Tuesday. The article noted that the 1921 law requires "buyers pay cattle providers within 24 hours of a sale." The article explained:

Prosecutors presented several checks from Agriprocessors to Equity Cooperative Livestock Sales Association, based in Baraboo, Wisc., that showed the plant frequently mailed a check several days after purchasing cattle.

The paper trail, which relied on Agriprocessors records and hand-written notes from Equity's office staff, showed Agriprocessors sometimes waited a few days to write a check, let a few days pass before time stamping the envelope, followed by another few days delay before receipt at Equity. . . .

Another executive at a livestock provider company, Waverly Sale Co., offered similar testimony.

Co-owner Ronald Dean said Agriprocessors, while sometimes late in payments, always paid its bills in full before its next purchase.

Source: Failed Messiah

"Kosher and Vegan"
Last month, The Jewish Week ran a letter to the editor titled "Kosher and Vegan." The writer said, "For me, to be kosher is to be vegan. I don’t want to be involved in destroying the life of any animal, regardless of how that killing might be rationalized. True, we must eat organic matter, but we can at least avoid killing living, feeling creatures and restrict ourselves to a plant-based diet."

Spork Foods' "Hanukkah Gone Wild!"
Spork Foods offers vegan cooking classes in Los Angeles, and the December 16 class has a "Hanukkah Gone Wild!" theme. The class description says, "If you know the story of Hanukkah, it’s all about oil – and traditional Hanukkah recipes use a lot of it! But why not create healthier and lighter variations, without sacrificing taste?" The menu features baked zucchini and potato latkes with a lemon dill sour cream topping, fresh green salad with roasted beets and spicy maple-glazed pecans, herb-roasted chickpea dip with vegetables, and jelly doughnuts. Click here to read last year's guest post from Spork Foods head chef and co-owner Jenny Goldberg, titled "Vegan Passover Guide for Hungry Jews."

"Kosher Punk"
Last week, an ethnomusicology student at Penn blogged about "Kosher Punk" and used information from heebnvegan as her starting-off point. I don't agree with some of what she says in the post, including her assessment that Jewish punk is a "trend" that's "surfacing in the late 2000’s," but it's still fun to see that someone has called the Jew-punk scene a trend.


Religious Leaders Eat Vegan Lunch at Windsor Castle

Earlier this week, more than 200 representatives of the world's major religions gathered together for a vegan lunch at Windsor Castle in the U.K. Jewish, Bahai, Buddhist, Christian, Daoist, Hindu, Muslim, Shinto, and Sikh leaders involved in environmental efforts were participating in the "Many Heavens, One Earth: Faith Commitments for a Living Planet" interfaith conference. Prince Philip and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon were also on hand.

According to Reuters UK, the local and sustainable menu reportedly included "a salad of roasted English pear, celeriac and cobnuts (a type of hazelnut grown in Kent)"; "mushrooms stuffed with artichoke, red onion and thyme, served on pearl barley and butternut squash risotto"; and "non-alcoholic cranberry and orange cocktails."

In the Forward last week, Leah Koenig wrote that the eight Jewish delegates from the U.S. and Israel included Rabbi Yedidya Sinclair (founder of the Jewish Climate Change Campaign in Israel), Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Naomi Tsur, and Hazon founder Nigel Savage.

Koenig explained that conference organizers "chose vegan food to provide a low-impact meal that accommodates the widest spectrum of the delegates’ dietary needs." Nevertheless, she noted that despite the organizers' "least-common-denominator approach," "the lack of a mashgiach and separate dishes means that kosher-keeping Jewish delegates will not be able to eat the lunch." They are apparently "the only participants unable to do so." Koenig added that some of them declined an offer to order food from "an outside kosher kitchen" because, as Rabbi Sinclair said, "I realized I'd be eating food that was triple-wrapped in plastic with disposable cutlery at an environmental conference."


Girls in Trouble's Debut Album Out Now!

While going through the Book of Maccabees, have you ever come across the struggle between Judith and Holofernes, read about how the latter was sent (by Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar) to get vengeance against nations that hadn't assisted the king, threw up your devil horns when decapitation ensued, and thought, "This needs to be an indie/folk song!"? If the answer is yes, I have an album recommendation for you!

Even if you've never experienced that kind of thought process, Girls in Trouble's eponymous debutout today on JDub Recordsis worth a listen. Singer-fiddler-guitarist Alicia Jo Rabinsbetter known as the fiddle player from Golemwrote the songs in tribute to female characters in the Bible, who are often obscure and sometimes even anonymous. That motif is underlying and shouldn't alienate listeners who don't typically rush to Biblical music, as themes like seduction, adultery, and violence are most noticeable in the lyrics. The music ranges from upbeat, poppy rock to much slower folk numbers.

My favorite track is "Mountain / When My Father Came Back," which tells the Book of Judges story of how Yiftach inadvertently vowed to kill his daughter, who is never named. The tale is haunting, and the lyrics are quite beautiful:
When my father came back from the war
I knew he would want to see me first
So I ran out to greet him
But he fell to his knees in the dirt
He told me daughter
I have promised G-d to offer
The first creature that I saw . . .

The night he took me to the mountain
Neither of us spoke
We reached the peak together
Just as sunrise broke
I could have run from him
I almost thought he wished it
But I could not run from G-d
Check out Girls in Trouble's MySpace page and JDub's "lyric guide" for the album.

Image courtesy of Girlie Action