"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)


Sarah Silverman Discusses Vegetarianism, Judaism in New Memoir

Sarah Silverman's memoir, The Bedwetter, was published last week. Frankly, Silverman's comedy makes me feel uncomfortable. I try to see through to the bigger picture of shining light on bigotry, as she explains in The Bedwetter with regard to her controversy with the Media Action Network for Asian Americans. Still, I think Silverman crosses the line. At least when it comes to edgy Jewish jokes, her seemingly honest admission (in a chapter titled "Jew") hits the nail on the head:
To be perfectly honest, I would like to go about my life exploiting the subject of Jewishness for comedy, and not be saddled with the responsibility to actually represent, defend, or advance the cause of the Jewish people.
I blogged about Silverman's public statements about vegetarianism in October and March, but a passage in The Bedwetter seems to be her most comprehensive discussion of the topic so far. She starts off by telling the story of why she went vegetarian:
We lived on a farm, but it wasn't operational like our neighbors' farms, which produced stuff; we bought our meat and vegetables from them. When I was six years old, my dad took me there to see the turkeys. The farmer, Vic, told me to look at all the birds carefully and choose one that I liked. I saw a cute one with a silly walk and said, "Him!!" Before my pointing finger dropped back down to my side, Vic had grabbed the bird by the neck and slit his throat. Blood sprayed as the turkey's wings flapped back and forth in a futile attempt to unkill itself. Without realizing it, I had sentenced that turkey to death, and while maybe this sort of thing gave fat British monarchs a rush, to me it was horrifying. And though I'm probably projecting, I don't think it was in the turkey's top-five favorite moments, either.

I should mention that this was late November, so what I had witnessed was not random cruelty, but a long-standing American tradition. This wasn't just a random turkey killing, it was a thankful turkey killing. Until that day I didn't even know where meat came from, so if that trip to the farm was Dad's deliberate attempt to teach me about the food chain, I wish he'd used a tad more finesse. ...

In hindsight, I'm sure my dad feels bad about our little excursion, but I see it as a gift. My father might not have realized or intended it, but that day he gave me the knowledge to make an informed decision for myself at a very early age: I would never eat turkey again. And once I figured out the connection between Happy Meals and cows, I would never eat beef again, either. Or any other meat.
Silverman then recounts a story from her high school years, when a bully named Adam "discovered that I was a vegetarian." She explains Adam's rationale for one bullying incident by saying that "he just found out the Jew doesn't eat Big Macs." She explains:
While Adam stood by, clutching a heaping stack of cold cuts from the cafeteria, Gade and J.R. held me down on the cafeteria table ... and J.R. clamped my nose shut with his free hand. Then they waited patiently, giggling, for my body's breathing instinct to force my mouth open. At which point, Adam, not missing a beat, stuffed the cold cuts inside. I gagged at the taste and smell, simultaneously gasping for air through the blockade of highly processed dead-animal flesh. By now it had been seven full years since I'd last tasted meat. To call this event unpleasant would be something of an understatement. . . .

What had he hoped to accomplish? If he wanted to teach a dumb vegetarian a lesson, it failed. I did not, after that encounter, say to myself, Well, message received: Meat is appetizing, and it's time to put this childish vegetarian thing behind me. If anything, my negative attitude toward eating meat deepened.


Six Consecutive Potato Dishes? I Thought Passover Was Over

After receiving honorable mention in Veggie Conquest 3: The Battle of the Cranberry Desserts, I stepped aside and let my protege compete in Veggie Conquest 4: The Battle of the Potato Appetizers. Chef Sherri Cohen and I have known each other since high school, but this was the first time I'd seen her delirious in a mad rush to get dozens of stuffed potato balls into an oven:

Sherri took a bus from Philadelphia to New York City on Saturday so that she could show off her vegetarian cooking prowess at Veggie Conquest on Sunday evening. She had originally set out to make Papas Rallenas Al Horno, a Cuban-style dish of stuffed potatoes. Her plan evolved over the course of a week, and by the time she decided to give the dish an Indian flavor, it was too late to change the name.

We started our shopping tour at an Indian grocery store in Curry Hill, so that she could purchase such hard-to-find ingredients as ajowain, garam masala, ground fenugreek, gram (chickpea) flour, and masoor dal (red lentils). I lost track of how many trips we made to the supermarket, the "farmers market," and specialty stores in my neighborhood.

On Saturday night, Sherri made a plethora of masoor dal mixed with onions, garlic, and spices; I'll be savoring the leftovers for quite some time. The lentil mixture became the stuff with which the stuffed potato balls were stuffed. Beginning Sunday morning, she made a mixture of potatoes and soft tofu, which formed a shell for the lentil core. Each ball was then dipped into a concoction of gram flour, cornmeal, and olive oil for a coating. The balls were baked, and they were served with a tamarind sauce and cilantro.
All the food at the event was delicious, prompting me to exclaim "I love Veggie Conquest!" on multiple occasions. If my memory serves me correctly, the Tiny Tater Nori Roll, Sweet Potato Cigars With Plum Sauce, and Chipotle Sweet Potato Soup won first, second, and third place, respectively. Sherri's dish, Loaded Baked Potato Pirogi, and Curried Mash Canapes With Tamarind and Cilantro Chutneys each won honorable mention. Check out the beautiful presentation of all the dishes below.

Veggie Conquest
has evolved into a can't-miss extravaganza. About 80 people paid $25 each to attend, and the event sold out only 30 minutes after tickets went on sale. A panel of judges reviews and comments on each contestant's dish. The real winners are the "tasters" (attendees), who get to sample the delectable vegan creations of a half-dozen hard-working amateur chefs as well as a full meal prepared by volunteers.



Update on Punk Jews
In September, I blogged about Punk Jews, a documentary in production about unconventional practice of Judaism. Punk Jews will now be an online documentary series instead of a feature-length documentary film. The filmmakers are hoping to raise $10,000 in the next couple of months and are accepting donations through Kickstarter. In return, donors can get CDs, concert tickets, DVDs, or even a Shabbat dinner.

Recent Punk Content on Jewcy

It should come as no surprise that ever since Jason Diamond (formerly of the bands Fear of a Blue Planet and Shabbos Bloody Shabbos) took over as editor of Jewcy, the blog has featured some terrific punk content, Jewish and otherwise.

Check out Jewcy's interview with The Taqwacores author Michael Muhammad Knight, whom I've blogged about a few times myself. Patrick Aleph from CAN!!CAN has a post about PunkTorah's brand-new English-language siddur and tips for writing your own. There's a whole series about "Jewish Punk Rock Baseball"; in the first post, Josh Intrator of the Sleepies is asked about his favorite ballpark food and says, "I would say the classic ballpark hot dog but since becoming a vegetarian I'll have to go with the garlic fries at AT&T Park in San Francisco." There's also a review of the new book Gimme Something Better: A History of San Francisco Bay Area Punk Rock.

The Four Questions: Classic and Infamous?
I started heebnvegan's "The Four Questions" interview series in November. I have featured only six interviews in the series. After being featured in the fifth post, the Gangsta Rabbi blogged that the series was "classic." After reading Matisyahu's interview in the sixth post, Matthue Roth (who was featured in the third post) called the series "infamous." I'm very amused by the reputation that "The Four Questions" is getting, and I don't understand it at all.

A Few Quick Points
  • Vegetarian Star noted that vegan (and Jewish) actor Alicia Silverstone is working on Butter, a film about a butter-carving competition. As a three-time veteran of peanut-butter sculpting, I think that peanut butter is a suitable vegan alternative to butter when it comes to sculpting and carving.
  • If you're looking for a vegan cooking show with a heavy metal edge, look no further than Heavy Metal Vegan Cooking.
  • I counted the omer on a blog in 2007 and considered counting the omer on Twitter last year. Earlier this month, Jewschool featured a post about efforts to count the omer on blogs, Twitter, and Facebook. I like to think I was ahead of the curve.
  • A post on The Jew & The Carrot sought to weigh desires to be vegetarian and the traditional cuisine of Jewish deli meat. The writer concluded, "I have chosen to be vegetarian, but I will always be a card-carrying delitarian. I’ll just have to admire the pastrami from afar."
  • Failed Messiah posted about a kosher chicken slaughterhouse that narrowly avoided closure after discharging more than four times the limit for waste.


PETA Investigation Uncovers Shackling and Hoisting at Another Kosher Slaughterhouse in Uruguay

In February 2008, PETA released an undercover video it shot at a Uruguayan kosher slaughterhouse that performed shackling and hoisting, a cruel manner of cattle slaughter that has been phased out in the U.S. kosher meat industry. Israel and the U.S. both import large quantities of kosher meat from Uruguay and other South American countries. In March 2008, I wrote, "The good news is that Israel's Chief Rabbinate will phase out shackling and hoisting. The bad news is that the Rabbinate apparently isn't committing to any sort of time frame for the phase-out."

Nathaniel Popper, who has done excellent reporting on the kosher meat industry for the Forward in recent years, has an article in tomorrow's Los Angeles Times about a new PETA investigation showing that shackling and hoisting has yet to be phased out. The investigation took place in December at Frigorifico Las Piedras in Uruguay; the slaughterhouse is a major supplier of Alle Processing, which became the leading kosher meat supplier in the U.S. in the wake of AgriProcessors' collapse. Popper noted, "Meat from Las Piedras and other South America factories is used to produce most of the processed kosher meat consumed in America, including deli favorites such as salami and pastrami, kosher authorities say."

From the article it seems that various parties are pointing fingers rather than taking responsibility or initiative to phase out shackling and hoisting. Menachem Genack, chief executive of the Orthodox Union's kosher certification unit, said that while the group still favored a phaseout, it didn't want to "disrupt a very fragile industry" and threaten the supply of kosher beef. Ezra Harari Raful, head of meat imports for Israel's Chief Rabbinate, said that the decision to change procedure was up to the slaughterhouse owners in South America. Joe Regenstein, a kosher meat expert and a food science professor at Cornell University, said that the burden to take action belongs to Israeli Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger.

Popper quotes animal welfare expert Temple Grandin as saying, "I'm getting fed up with it. It's a really terrible practice and it needs to stop. It's that simple." On PETA's Web site, Grandin is quoted as follows:
I watched the video. This plant is definitely doing the method of shackling the live bovine and then hoisting and dragging [the animal] out of the stun box and holding [the animal] down. This is a cruel, dangerous practice that should be stopped. This cruel method should be replaced with upright restraint.
The new video footage can be viewed on PETA's Web site.


Jewish Animal Rights Advocate Mentioned for Supreme Court Pick

Legal scholar Cass Sunstein, a Jew and an animal rights advocate, has been mentioned as a potential replacement for retiring Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens. Reports by The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, ABC News, and FOX News, among other media outlets, have floated around his name. To the best of my knowledge, there is no compelling reason to believe that Sunstein is currently on President Barack Obama's "short list" of potential nominees.

In January 2009, when Obama tapped Sunstein to oversee the White House's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs as "regulatory czar," I discussed Sunstein's advocacy of animal rights in legal writing, public speaking, and his co-editing of the book Animal Rights: Current Debates and New Directions. In May 2009, I noted that Sunstein was mentioned as a potential replacement for retiring Supreme Court Justice David Souter and that CBS' Andrew Cohen had said, "If the White House picks a white guy then I’m betting that Sunstein’s the man." Justice Sonia Sotomayor was eventually nominated and confirmed for that open position.

Sunstein's nomination for regulatory czar did not go as smoothly as I initially expected. In June 2009, I blogged about how Sunstein had still not been confirmed for the position because of opposition to his animal rights advocacy. It wasn't until September 2009 that the Senate finally confirmed Sunstein. According to The New York Times' The Caucus, the Senate approval followed criticism "on both the right and the left," a cloture vote, and 30 hours of debate.

"If Sunstein was getting this kind of flak when he was a nominee for an obscure regulatory position, imagine the controversy if he was nominated to the nation's highest court," Mother Jones noted in predicting that Obama "probably won't nominate" Sunstein. I'm not an expert on the politics of Supreme Court nominations, but like it or not, Mother Jones' assessment seems pretty logical.


Baruch Dayan HaEmet: Malcolm McLaren

Malcolm McLaren, the manager of the Sex Pistols and the New York Dolls and the mastermind behind the British punk scene, died Thursday from cancer. He was 64.

In some regards, McLaren was a nice Jewish boy. McLaren might not be a Jewish-sounding name, but he was raised mostly by his mother, his stepfather, and his grandmother, who were all Jewish. He attended a private Jewish school in England for six years and had a bar mitzvah. At least one of his marriages was to a Jew. When he initially sought to put together the Sex Pistols, he offered the job of lead singer to members of the tribe Sylvain Sylvain (guitarist of the New York Dolls) and Richard Hell (bassist of Television).

His obsession with Nazi symbols and regalia deviates from the "nice Jewish boy" image. At his London store, Sex, in the mid-'70s, McLaren sold patches and shirts with swastikas, SS handkerchiefs, and Gestapo buddy rings. "Malcolm was in awe of the symbolism," said a former Sex employee in Jon Savage’s England’s Dreaming. "Not just the swastika, but a lot of artifacts from that era. The Nazi Youth badges. They were extremely rare. He had a lot of rings, including gold SS wedding rings, which weren’t for sale because they were originals." (For more information, see my 2008 New Vilna Review article, "Jewish Punks Embrace Nazi Rhetoric and Imagery.")

McLaren carried over this fascination with the Nazi taboo to the Sex Pistols. Bass player Sid Vicious infamously wore shirts with swastikas on them. In the book El Sid, David Dalton wrote that "Malcolm McLaren programmed him" and that Vicious "was fed a steady diet of poisonous ideas by his cynical handlers. Books on Charles Manson, Nazi paraphernalia, murderous hatred toward the establishment." In addition, the Sex Pistols song "Belsen Was a Gas" is an offensive song about the Holocaust and a musical depiction of the Nazi imagery touted by Vicious and McLaren.

McLaren might have invited controversy and offended many, but at the same time, he deserves credit for his controversy-laden success with punk music and fashion. As Paul Taylor wrote in Impresario: Malcolm McLaren & The British New Wave, "Malcolm McLaren didn’t invent punk. All he did was envisage it, design it, clothe it, publicize it and sell it."

In an obituary, BBC News quoted Savage as saying, "Without Malcolm McLaren there would not have been any British punk. ... He could be very charming, he could be very cruel, but he mattered and he put something together that was extraordinary."


The Four Questions: Matisyahu

Last week, Matisyahu tweeted that he had gone vegan. I'd heard rumors that he was vegetarian, but once and for all, I needed to get to the bottom of the story. I am very pleased to post an interview with the one and only Matisyahu so that he can explain things for himself.

I've been following Matisyahu since the Shake Off the Dust ... Arise days, when I saw him sing and beatbox at a Chabad house's Shabbat dinner. Matisyahu has since gone on to mega-stardom, including having his song "One Day" be an anthem for the 2010 Winter Olympics. I think the novelty of seeing a Hassidic reggae singer is gone for a lot of people because so much time has passed since the live version of "King Without a Crown" was a radio hit. Matisyahu is still out there making heartfelt music and inspiring Jewish kids (and plenty of other people) to rock out.

Here he is in his own words.

1. I was excited to read your tweet that you've gone vegan. What led you to go vegan?
I'm not exactly vegan, not religously like keeping kosher at least. I stopped eating chicken and red meat 'cause I just figured it would be more healthy. I figured it would be more ideal to stay away from eating animals, from having meat sitting and digesting in my gut, like if I ate more plants and greens, intuitively, that seems more holy and more natural. I started thinking back on kapparos, which is the closest I ever came to an actual chicken, and how the Israeli kids were kicking around the cages and [the] noises the chickens were making before being slaughtered, and bringing my kids there to take part in the ritual, the blood, the dirty chicken feet, the sh*t everywhere. Something always kind of freaked me out about it. Then I started to really let myself think about what I am eating, i.e., that's it's actually these animals. I felt so far removed from the animals that I am actually ingesting, it just doesn't seem to me like the way it is supposed to be. I tried that for about a month and felt more conscious and clean. I noticed I was eating a lot of dairy and fish. I figured that dairy is pretty fattening, and fish these days has a lot of mercury. Also, there is a concept in chassidut of not over-indulging and keeping your desires in check, so I figured it wouldn't be so bad all around if I could eventually cut that stuff out as well. I read a couple of pamphlets on the mistreatment of milking cows, getting eggs from chickens, etc., and that pretty much sealed the deal. I haven't had any dairy in a couple months, I have eggs if they're cage-free and a couple bites of of wild salmon here and there. That's pretty much the story.

2. To what extent does Judaism inform your decision to be vegan?
I feel that while it is relatively normal to follow the ins and outs of Judaism with all its rules and regulations, especially when it comes to food, we often miss the big picture. The main idea is to be conscious of what we put in our bodies, to be healthy, to not partake in the karma of mistreating or disrespecting anything that is a part of this world, especially living creatures, etc. While I felt this way for some time, it was only recently that I was able to get past my own habits and such and to make a move, to do something, which as far as I understand, [in] Judaism is what it's all about. Action.

3. As a touring musician, do you find that it's easier to be a kashrut-observant meat-eater or vegan on the road?
Both are not simple but actually quite easy and simple when it comes down to it. It just takes preparation and not being overly attached to food. Sometimes you might have to have a protien bar and an apple for 6 hours on a plane ride instead of abusing yourself with the food everyone else is eating. It's really not the end of the world. Almost all vegan food is kosher, so it is pretty doable.

4. Several years ago, Heeb Magazine (which heebnvegan is not affiliated with) noted that Burger King tried to recruit you for an ad and have you say something along the lines of "I can't eat this, but you should" while holding a cheeseburger. Is this true, and what was your reasoning in saying no?
I believe it is sort of true, although I don't remember the exact details. The reason for saying no is pretty obvious on many levels, but mainly, cheeseburgers? Come on.



Has Matisyahu Gone Vegan?
When I Google "Matisyahu vegan," the top result is a 2007 heebnvegan post saying, "There's an unconfirmed rumor out there that Matisyahu is vegetarian (I didn't start the rumor)." On Thursday, in response to a quip that Matisyahu should throw a "shrimp on the barbie" while he's touring in Australia, the reggae-rock star tweeted, "hey there. Sorry babe not kosher plus I went vegan. But I'll eat some matzah tonight in your honor."

I'm waiting to receive confirmation from Matisyahu's management before concluding that he has indeed gone vegan, but The PETA Files is accepting his response to the quip as truth. PETA's blog noted that when Matisyahu performed in the organization's hometown recently, "PETA delivered him a basket of vegan treats along with the video 'If This Is Kosher …' narrated by Jonathan Safran Foer. The video shows footage from an investigation at Agriprocessors ...."

Israel's Kitniyot Rebellion Rolls On
On Wednesday, YNet reported that more Orthodox Jews in Israel are apparently eating kitniyot (roughly translated as legumes) on Passover. "Each year I am contacted by an increasing number of people who inform me that they are no longer adhering to the ban on eating kitniyot," said Rabbi David Bar-Hayim, the head of the Machon Shilo Institute. He added:
It was probably erroneous for [Ashkenazi] Jews to take this custom with them [from Eastern Europe] to other areas like the United States where there was no local custom, and certainly erroneous for them to bring it to the Land of Israel where the practice throughout the ages was to eat kitniyot.

Eating kitniyot during the holiday is the true custom of our forefathers in the holy land. Rice was even included on the Seder plates of antiquity.

Hot Lixx Hulahan's Retirement
American air guitar legend Craig "Hot Lixx Hulahan" Billmeier, who won first place in the world championships in 2008 and second place in 2009, has announced his retirement. A quotation on the U.S. Air Guitar Blog, attributed to Hot Lixx's likely fictitious "press secretary," compared Hot Lixx's announcement that he would no longer compete professionally to "the Colonel going vegan."

Click here to read my 2008 interview with Hot Lixx Hulahan, in which he discussed air guitar, his vegetarian diet, and Israel.

Meat-Free Mondays at Tel Aviv University
On Wednesday, YNet reported that students at Tel Aviv University have joined their peers at dozens of other universities around the world in launching a "Meat-Free Monday" campaign. YNet noted that "hundreds of vegetarian meals were handed out to students free of charge, including smoked tofu appetizers, seitan (wheat gluten) shawarma, soya goulash and an Indian legume dish."

YNet quoted Prof. Dan Rabinowitz, former president of "Life and Environment", the Israel Union of Environmental NGOs, as saying, "Changing our eating habits, as suggested by 'Meatfree Monday,' is the simplest and most effective way for each of us to help, quite without effort, the global campaign aimed at stopping climate change."


The Four Questions: Gangsta Rabbi

The Gangsta Rabbi waves his flute high and lets his tzitzit hang low while on stage with Weezer at Madison Square Garden.

JDub Records' first digital-only release, Steve "Gangsta Rabbi" Lieberman's DiKtaToR 17, comes out on April 20. The number refers to the fact that DiKtaToR 17 was the Gangsta Rabbi's 17th CD. That tally doesn't include the 38 cassette albums he recorded previously.

This prolific one-man band combines bass guitar (with the distortion turned way up), vocals, drum machine, and flute. Add that up, and you get a combination that isn't the epitome of commercial appeal. What the Gangsta Rabbi does embody is a dedicated artist who has stayed true to his craft for two decades, with punk aesthetic and a shout-it-out-loud Jewish identity. It's not for everybody. But if JDub signed him, he must be doing something right.

Here he is in his own words.

1. Your album is the first release for JDub Digital. What is it about your music that leads to success in the online niche?
Firstly, to be on JDub Digital is a dream and could be a subject of a future trivia question on Jeopardy! The answer: DiKtaToR 17. What was the first release of JDub Digital? LOL. I've been "stalking" them since the summer of 2008, inviting them to any big show I had. Then, because of their new platform, and my tireless self-promotion, I was able to sign with them.

What may have contributed to my online "success" (my gross income for 22,000+ sales in 7 years has been about $2,000, as Napster and others pay $.0002 per stream--they have to stream a song 50 times for me to earn a penny, but nevertheless a "sale") is I was here as a punk solo artist since 1991, and never went away, building a small but burgeoning cult following. Before the 17 CDs, there were 38 cassette tapes between 1991 and 2001. Then there was the house fire, and I lost my Tascam 4-track and replaced it with a 2002 Korg D1600, which I still use. I got GangstaRabbi.com in 2003 and updated it every day during the Jewish Lightning sessions. In 2005, I joined MySpace, where you first found me right before the release of Punkifier and did your first interview with me. Now I have 42,000 friends there and 137,000 hits to GangstaRabbi.com, ranking it like 4,000,000th in the world. As you know, I blog every aspect of my life, from the details of every show and every record release as well as the more personal aspects, such as my battle with bi-polar/major depressive disorder. Perhaps people relate to this. And musically, some who thought of my early records as "trainwrecks" went there in curiosity and some became devoted. I take many controversial stances, as you know, being ferociously openly Jewish in a time many hide their Judaism for safety purposes and trying to be the spokesman for the downtrodden. All of this adds up but very slowly to "success."

In the "live" arena, however, success is harder to find. In 2009, I played all of 5 shows. 2010 is way better so far. I did the JDub Purim show, where I saw you, and am having at least momentary success in the Long Island Punk Scene. I work very hard for everything. Some love me, many more hate me, and it all adds up.

2. Not too many musicians can claim that they've shared the stage with Weezer at Madison Square Garden. How did that come about?
Now this is kind of cool. A new rock radio station called 101.9 WRXP came on the air in February 2008. At least for the following year, radio was again worth something, for the first time since the '80s anyway. So to promote Weezer's 2008 Red Album tour and their stint at the Garden, WRXP had a contest open for players of guitars, winds, horns, and miscellaneous instruments: the 2 winners from each category would join Weezer on stage for 2 songs--at MSG! For me, I just had to decide which category I should enter. LOL. I was finishing up my Overthrow the Government CD at the time, and there was a song called "I'm Jethro Tull," which has a like 20-second-long a capella flute intro. Right before Shabbos, I think 9/19, I submitted it, not thinking anything would happen. I went on the WRXP site after Shabbos, and there was "Steve L-Overthrow the Government" under 'Wind" entries, going against a very talented classical flute player. So I posted bulletins all over the net to [get people to] vote for me, and when the voting was over, I won with like 60.4% of the vote.

I got a call the next day from the Promotions gal at WRXP with the instructions--to play the Garden! I had 1 day to memorize like 6 possible Weezer tunes. The big problem here was I found out that Weezer tunes everything down 1/2 step, causing the chords to be lots of F#'s, Bb's, and the like, which I avoid in my own compositions. They had picked "Beverly Hills" and "Island in the Sun" for that night. I memorized them. I and the other flute player were asked to stay in front of the guest musicians, which was cool for publicity purposes! The roar of the 20,000+ crowd was overwhelming, but to me, not half as loud or half as important as 20 people who came to see me!

3. You've called yourself "The King of Jewish Punk." In what way does your music capture the essence of "Jewish Punk"?
Michael, I know if anyone would have a degree in all things "Jewish Punk," it would be you, based on your extensive research and writing on the subject, and far more artists in your theses would qualify over me as "king." But what's cool is that both "Jewish" and "punk" are outsider groups, and no researcher can ever deny my outsiderness, or my Jewishness, or my punkdom.

In my own beliefs, I am so not a "king" but a "servitor" based on [the idea that] we all must possess humility to properly serve G-d. But a proper "king" must have gotten there by suffering, toil, battle for one's beliefs, and the like, all of which I did much of just in order to make music. I was in college when the Ramones and Sex Pistols first came out, so unlike most if not all of Jewish punk artists, I witnessed the birth of punk and its evolution and wanted to do something about it when it first died.

Years after my 1st tape, 1991's Bang the Bass Bopmania, as I studied, it was a natural thing to meld this abrasive music with stories of the plights of the Hebrew people, from Biblical times to post-Holocaust. And I did it, in different degrees over the 18 CDs [including one already recorded album that has yet to be released in either CD or digital format], perhaps peaking with #16, 2009's Diaspora, which is a concept CD going historically from Abraham to the 2008-9 Gaza conflict.

I go on stage anywhere from a biker bar, where danger lurks all around for a proud Jew, to a much more safe JDub Records-sponsored event, with the star of David, my heritage, and service of my G-d all shouted proudly to the punk beat and chords. I've been doing this for 20 years and will do it for 20 more. I hope at least some think it's "Cool to Be Hebrew" because of me and proclaim me the "servitor of Jewish punk" (not as catchy as "king" but more true!).

4. Do your Jewish beliefs inform your decision to be vegetarian?
It was actually a very pivotal time in my life, the winter of 1994-1995. I was 36 1/2 and already going through mid-life crisis for years. In December 1994, like 2 weeks before I played my first big show as a solo act, the Freeport First Night New Year's Eve thingy, someone left a gift-wrapped Bible in my office, anonymously. For the 7 years following my bar mitzvah, I was very religious, but I lost my way because of playing in bands and multiple marriages/divorces in a short time. On the night of 12/19/1994, I opened the Bible and read the entire Torah. When I got to Genesis 12, Abram's calling, I thought again, "Wow, I'm one of G-d's Chosen people." By early 1995, I studied feverishly and became observant overnight.

At this same time, for the 3rd time in my life, I pondered vegetarianism. The first 2 times, in 1979 and 1980, after 6 weeks I became progressively quite sick with anemia both times. This seemed like a perfect time to try again. Originally, although G-d gave man dominion over the animals, both were given only plants for food. It wasn't until Genesis 9, after the fall of mankind, that He give Noah and his sons the right to eat their fellow creatures. Although throughout the Scriptures there are Commandments dealing with the kindness to animals, epitomized in Numbers 22, when G-d gives Bala'am's donkey the power of speech after his cruelty to her, much of the Torah and history accounted for in the Books of the Prophets dealt with ritual animal sacrifice to G-d, so vegetarianism is not in itself required to serve G-d.

I went to the Long Island Game farm and was petting a cow, and she licked me, just like my puppy Buttons would do. Buttons was my first dog, a subject of many of my early tunes. If this cow had a related soul to Buttons, I should no longer have her kind killed for my benefit. So on the 18th of Acher'on-13 3445, 3/20/1995, in this spirit, I became vegetarian, never to stray for 15 years this month.