"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)


Renouncing My Former Favorite Holiday

For a while, Groundhog Day was my favorite holiday. I used to live in Pittsburgh, about 80 miles away from Punxsutawney, the home of Punxsutawney Phil. I went to Punxsy twice for Groundhog Day and, at the time, was enamored with the holiday.

I've since come to see Phil's side of things and can no longer support Punxsutawney's Groundhog Day celebration. I have an op-ed about Groundhog Day in this week's issue of The Tartan (the student newspaper of my alma mater, Carnegie Mellon). Click here to read the article. I conclude the piece by saying:
We must do away with cruel traditions and instead choose compassionate events that bring people together without harming animals.
If you need any suggestions for celebrations that bring people together without harming animals, I highly recommend Tu B'Shvat, which starts this Friday night. I'll be hosting a Tu B'Shvat dinner at my apartment, and you can be sure that I'll be writing a blog post about it afterward.


The Struggles of a Jewish Air Guitarist

The personal side of heebnvegan is usually an attempt to balance my "identities" as a Jew and a vegan. This post is about the balance between my Jewish and air guitarist identities.

When I competed on the first night of a local air guitar competition in June (I wound up coming in second place later that month), I had to miss a Lost Boys of Sudan event at my shul. As someone who had schlepped to DC with my Vegan Jews Against Genocide brigade for the Save Darfur rally less than two months earlier, I was disappointed to have to pick and choose. Last week I decided to miss out on the penultimate night of a month-long local air guitar competition because I'd had a long day after going to see a speech by Rafael Harpaz, the minister of public affairs for the Israeli Embassy in DC. Similarly, I'd told myself that I wouldn't compete in the last night of the contest because it was more important to attend an AIPAC meeting. But when I was driving home from the AIPAC meeting at 8 p.m. last night, I felt compelled to rock.

Very quickly, I threw together a costume, picked a song, and got four friends to come out to support "CroBar." I did Guns N Roses' "Welcome to the Jungle" in the first round, and Blink-182's "Dammit" was picked for me in the second. I wound up coming in third place and winning $250, which means that I'm now a professional air guitarist.

Why is it such a struggle to be a Jewish air guitarist? My hero, To Air Is Human author Dan "Bjorn Turoque" Crane, is a Jewish air guitarist. 2006's Los Angeles air guitar champion is a Schwartz, so he's probably a member of the tribe. But have Crane or Schwartz ever had this identity struggle?

I thought about wearing a yarmulke and performing to Jewdriver's "Manischewitz" last night, but I doubt that would have gone over well with the crowd. When I paraded around like Santa Claus at an air guitar contest in May and paused before telling a Jewess that I was Jewish, clearly my Jewish and air guitarist identities were in conflict. I also felt conflicted when I heard the Holocaust-glorifying lyrics of the song picked for that competition's air-off. Why do I have to pick and choose between Jewish events and air guitar competitions? If I plan a big vacation in the not-too-distant future, should I visit Finland (the homeland of air guitar) or Israel (the homeland of the Jewish people)? And why was the Oyhoo Festival (aka the New York Jewish Music & Heritage Festival and Sidney Krum Conference) so adamant about not letting me ("one of the world's leading Jewish air guitarists") perform? These are tough questions that are perhaps best suited for rabbis.


My Four-Year Vegan Anniversary

Four years ago today, I went vegan. I had already been vegetarian for three-plus years. After attending the national Animal Rights conference the previous summer, I began pondering my consumption of eggs and dairy products more critically. If I was vegetarian because I opposed the way animals were treated in factory farms and slaughterhouses, shouldn't I also oppose the industries that subject animals to comparable if not worse conditions for their milk and eggs? (Those animals will be slaughtered for their flesh eventually, I might add.) I'd like to share a few points about adopting a vegan diet:

* I went vegan the day I returned to college for the spring semester. I had planned everything out: I didn't want to throw out and waste nonvegan food in my refrigerator during the previous semester, so I went vegan when I felt I could have a "fresh start."

* My first meal as a vegan was at a Chinese restaurant that has the wonderful slogan "Think Globally. Act Locally. Eat Noodles."

* January 11, 2003, was also the first time I drank alcohol outside religious contexts. I was at a college party ... yada yada yada. I had considered myself straight-edge up until that point (and I screamed my brains out singing Minor Threat's "Straight Edge" eight days earlier), but for some reason, I felt liberated and chose to drink that night--although it certainly wasn't a lot, and I still don't like to drink too much. One of my friends said going vegan instead of being straight-edge was the best tradeoff I could possibly make, and another joked that I'd wind up on crack if I ever went kosher. (I essentially am kosher "by default," but that's another story for another time.)

* I adhered to a vegan diet strictly for about three months, until late April. For about a year after that, I avoided milk and eggs but ate foods that had those animal products as ingredients. I was embarrassed to admit this to other animal rights activists at the time, but now I see things differently. I highly encourage people to transition to a vegetarian or vegan diet if they think that's how they'll be able to stick with it. After being vegan for a while, I really don't miss animal products, and I think being vegan is easy. If transitioning is what can help get people to that point, then I think it's a good thing.

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