"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)


A Sacred Duty: The New JVNA Documentary

On November 20, I attended the U.S. premiere of A Sacred Duty: Applying Jewish Values to Help Heal the World in Staten Island, N.Y. The film is a presentation of Jewish Vegetarians of North America (JVNA) and looks at environmental devastation, health concerns, treatment of animals in agriculture, and other issues as they pertain to Jewish teachings and vegetarianism. (Click here to read my December 2005 post, "The Video That Can Spur Action").

Although the film had already opened to positive reviews in Israel (see related articles in The Jerusalem Post and Ha'aretz), the U.S. premiere felt like a pretty big deal to those in attendance. It was finally an opportunity to see the movie that, as I said in my previous post, "has more potenetial than anything else I can think of to generate long overdue dialogue about vegetarianism and related issues within the Jewish community." In attendence were JVNA president and A Sacred Duty associate producer Richard Schwartz (it was such an honor to finally meet him), JVNA secretary/treasurer John Diamond, 101 Reason Why I'm a Vegetarian author Pamela Rice, and Mid-Hudson Vegetarian Society president Roberta Schiff (who will be providing a vegetarian perspective at next weekend's Hazon Food Conference).

A Sacred Duty is not the Jewish "Meet Your Meat"; check out Jonathan Safran Foer's "If This Is Kosher ..." if that's what you're looking for. While its discussion and footage of factory-farming and related issues is powerful and persuasive, there's a lot more to this film. The hour-long documentary was poignantly and beautifully put together by award-winning director Lionel Friedberg. It serves as tikkun olam in action, portraying the message that a time for healing is upon us.

A Sacred Duty focuses a great deal of attention on environmental issues (particularly in Israel) and goes on to talk about the effects of animal agriculture on global warming. The film discusses "one of the least known and seldom discussed aspects of global warming:" 18% of greenhouse gas emissions come from animal agriculture. The film shows graphics that illustrate how animal agriculture is an inefficient way of providing food for the world and discusses the health considerations of an animal-based diet. And of course, the case to prevent tza'ar ba'alei chayim (unnecessary animal suffering) is given as a call to action after portraying the horrendous abuses of animals raised for food. The film shows that these issues aren't just important on their own; they're crucial as Jewish issues as well.

What makes A Sacred Duty such an effective outreach tool for the Jewish community? While all the above info can be found in books and on Web sites, the film takes viewers face to face with pro-vegetarian rabbis, activists, and Jewish thinkers. In addition to hearing about Rav Kook (the first Ashkenazic chief rabbi of pre-state Israel), we hear powerful words from Rabbi David Rosen (the former chief rabbi of Ireland) and Rabbi Shear Yashuv Cohen (the Ashkenazic chief rabbi of Haifa). We hear powerful calls to action from Schwartz, Jews for Animal Rights president Roberta Kalechofsky, and many other key figures. In a way that a book simply cannot do, A Sacred Duty puts the message out so that it can be easily accessed by synagogue congregations, youth groups, and community organizations.

A Sacred Duty has premiered, and mass mailings of the DVD have begun. But there's a lot more work to be done. Please consider organizing a screening for a local Jewish group; prepare to give a short speech and host a discussion as well, perhaps bringing with you some vegan food samples and copies of PETA's "Vegetarian Starter Kit" or "A Case for Jewish Vegetarianism" brochures. (Click here for my post about giving a talk about vegetarianism in the Jewish tradition.)

Please go to www.ASacredDuty.com to read more about the film and to learn how to order copies of the DVD.


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