"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)


Books Tying the Holocaust, Other Jewish Topics to Animal Rights and Punk Enjoy Success Overseas

In recent years, two groundbreaking American books have made connections between the Holocaust and other Jewish themes and two topics frequently covered by heebnvegan: animal protection issues and punk rock. Both of these books are now enjoying international success.

Eternal Treblinka: Our Treatment of Animals and the Holocaust
On this blog, I generally try to steer clear of the controversial Holocaust/animal rights analogy, but author Charles Patterson addressed the comparison in a proper, respectful academic context in his 2002 book Eternal Treblinka. As Patterson said in an interview, the book “examines the roots of the Holocaust and relates it to the human arrogance behind animal exploitation and the vast array of injustices against humans which have flowed from it.”

Eternal Treblinka was initially rejected by 83 publishers, as the book was deemed “too strong” by some. Now, the book is in its third printing in the U.S. and will soon be available in 13 languages. Just last month, a new edition was published in Spain.

Eternal Treblinka has received fantastic critical acclaim around the world. In the words of a press release last month, “In February 2005, a jury of 30 of the Germany's leading scholars and media figures chose … the German edition of Eternal Treblinka as one of the country's ten most important non-fiction books.” (A sampling of other reviews from around the world can also be found in the press release.) Patterson told heebnvegan, “The book is of interest only in countries with a European/WWII background where the Holocaust means something. It was also published in Japan, but there seems to be little interest.”

The Heebie-Jeebies at CBGB’s: A Secret History of Jewish Punk
A German edition of The Heebie-Jeebies at CBGB’s has just been published, in addition to hard-cover and paperback versions in the U.S. in October 2006 and April 2008, respectively. In the book, Steven Lee Beeber makes a compelling case for why the Jewish roots of punk should be considered when reviewing the origins and history of the punk movement and many of its key players.

Beeber says that the German edition’s publisher and independent German label Trikont are in talks about releasing a compilation featuring many of the musicians featured in The Heebie-Jeebies at CBGB’s. Beeber has already put together a prospective track list.

Beeber went to Germany last month to promote the book’s release there, and he shared a few thoughts and highlights with heebnvegan:

  • "While I was there, people thanked me for writing the book and were really interested in many aspects of it, especially my take on the use of Nazi imagery in punk. The press has been equally enthusiastic since it came out. I was interviewed by newspapers and on television and radio and I’ve been seeing some articles and comments since returning."
  • "The publisher is a great indie press called Ventil Verlag (Valve Publishing House). They heard about the book via a German journalist who interviewed me for an alternative paper there called Jungle World. Her name’s Doris Akrap …. After interviewing me herself, she approached Ventil Verlag and ended up translating the book into German for them. During my recent tour of Germany, she and I appeared together onstage in a kind of UN-simultaneous-translator meets vaudeville-team act."
  • "[T]he introduction for the German edition was written by Peter Waldman, the young leader of the Jewish community in Meinz, a city near Frankfurt that used to be a center of Jewish learning …. He wrote a very scholarly piece about the book, putting it in the context of [Theodor] Adorno and other critical thinkers …."
  • "Though not Jewish, Max Mueller, of the infamous punk band Mutter (Mother), was great to meet and gave a wonderful performance at my debut appearance there. I now and henceforth crown him an honorary JudenPunken."
  • "Many Germans today are fascinated by Jewish culture. I compare it to the American interest in Native-American culture, especially in the 1960s: a younger generation realizes what it lost due to the sins of the fathers."

For More Information
Eternal Treblinka: http://www.powerfulbook.com/
The Heebie-Jeebies at CBGB’s: http://www.jewpunk.com/


Useless ID: That Hard-Working, Real-Deal Band From Israel

The Lost Broken Bones, the new album from Israeli vegetarians Useless ID, came out on Tuesday. There's the fast punk rock of "Already Dead," the sheer power-pop of "Undecided," and the catchy, melodic pop-punk of "Night Stalker." There's criticism of activism on both sides ("Mouse in a Maze" and "Always the Same") and an out-of-this-world politipunk anthem ("Misconception"). And all that doesn't even account for the lead single/video, "Blood Pressure." The Lost Broken Bones is a rockin', well-rounded album.

The political statement in "Misconception" is a force to be reckoned with, but don't let one song sum up the entire band. "There's more to our band than politics, so we deal with it, but don't want to be 100% recognized as the political band from the Middle East," says guitarist Ishay Berger. "We're much more into being that hard-working, real-deal band from Israel."

Useless ID's music doesn't jump out as being Israeli. Unlike some of the other punk groups featured in the 2006 documentary Jericho's Echo: Punk Rock in the Holy Land, Useless ID sings in English. Singer Yotam Ben Horin spent part of his childhood in New York and lacks any kind of detectable accent.

And Useless ID's career path is unique. The Lost Broken Bones is the fourth Useless ID album recorded in the U.S., and Berger says that in Israel, it'd be impossible to have "a producer that knows this type of musical aggression and can make it sound in control without losing the basic energy." The band recently toured China and Japan, will soon be in Russia, and hope to come back to the U.S. at some point. Berger says that Useless ID has played in more places than any other Israeli artist, punk or not. As Berger points out, no other Israeli punk band has ever released five albums on U.S. labels!

Last but not least, Useless ID is adamantly pro-vegetarian and pro-animal rights. Their Web site refers fans to several other animal protection organizations, and the lyric book for The Lost Broken Bones directs fans to PETA's site. (The band's site also notes how falafel is "the fuel and the main force behind" Useless ID.) Says Berger:
We feel that it's legitimate to let people know that we don't eat meat and going against the cruel industry that we always hated. If people don't want to hear about it, it's a good enough reason to inform them about what's the alternative to a cruel, mindless lifestyle. We don't push anything down anyone's throat, though; we just feel it's important to be somewhat vocal about it, 'cuz after all, I think bands like Conflict had a lot to [do] with why I've been a vegetarian for most of my life, so it's a good tradition, I think.
heebnvegan gives The Lost Broken Bones two big thumbs up. Here's hoping Useless ID comes to North America sooner rather than later!

Related Posts
Interview With a Vegetarian Whose Band Toured Israel and Released a Split Album With Useless ID (August 2008)
I Met My One True Love in Israel, and Its Name Is Falafel (June 2007)


Nothing Says Chol Hamoed Like a Miscellaneous Post

On a Personal Note
I'm moving to Long Island on Monday. Starting in January, I'll be attending NYU's MS in Publishing program and living in New York City. I expect New York to provide a great deal of inspiration for heebnvegan posts, in particular because of the large Jewish community and the exciting vegan options.

Chag sameach! I was supposed to eat and sleep in a friend's sukkah last night, but Mother Nature had other ideas. We did enjoy a wonderful all-vegan Shabbat dinner indoors, though. Click here to read Rabbi Rachel Kahn-Troster's post on The Jew & The Carrot about reusing your lulav and etrog.

My New Favorite Quote About AgriProcessors
"By now, the scandal of Agriprocessors has been chronicled from Stephen Bloom's book Postville to Nathaniel Popper's investigative reports in the Forward to Julia Preston's coverage in The New York Times to the muckraking blogger FailedMessiah.com. No sensate American Jew has any reason to be unfamiliar with the rudiments of the case ...."
—Samuel Freedman, The Jerusalem Post, October 2, 2008

On Sunday, the JTA published another article about kapparot. It included this great quote from PETA's Hannah Schein: "I want kashrut to live up to what it's supposed to be, and to be this model, the whole 'higher authority.' It’s been very frustrating. It's been a real sort of embarrassment to see how the kosher industry has conducted itself. As a Jew, that impacts on me."

Yochanan Lavie's Parodies
Last month, I linked to "Rubbishcan Rock," a hilarious parody of "Jailhouse Rock" by FailedMessiah commenter Yochanan Lavie. Click here to read FailedMessiah's post from Thursday counting down Yochanan Lavie's 13 best parodies.

(Update 9/19/09: I reflected back on my promotion of "Rubbishcan Rock" and regret making light of Sholom Rubashkin's situation in this manner.)

In July, Mike Gruss from The Virginian-Pilot wrote about some of the fun contests I've entered. As Gruss discussed on his blog on Monday, I had a big milestone last weekend: I entered two contests in one day!

I've talked about New Orleans' Zydepunks a few times. They're a fantastic folk-punk band that plays some zydeco and klezmer. It's nice to see that last month, another blog talked about the Zydepunks from a klezmer perspective.


Vegetarians and Tefillin

"You're acting out a farce. You know damn well that the phylacteries are hunks of leather torn from the skin of a cow."
—The Evil Spirit challenging Joseph Shapiro (the vegetarian protagonist) in Isaac Bashevis Singer's The Penitent
I often get questions about what vegetarians should use for tefillin. The quandary is that tefillin is required to be made from leather, and as I discussed last week, leather is a big no-no, in part because animals killed for leather are treated cruelly. Click here to read a comprehensive overview of the subject from Kolel: The Adult Centre for Liberal Jewish Learning.

I have yet to come up with a solution that I feel comfortable with. I don't endorse any of the views below, but they are worth sharing. As far as I can tell, there are four options:
  • You can refrain from donning tefillin altogether. I expect that no rabbi would recommend this.
  • You can use nonleather tefillin, which is not considered kosher. For example, artist Ayana Friedman made "Women's Tefillin." Friedman explains, "I wanted to create a ritual object that would be different from men's, made of synthetic fabric, not dead animal's skin, and would elevate women's craft and abilities which have been pushed aside throughout history." In a 2006 e-mail to the Veggie Jews Yahoo group, Dan Kliman wrote, "Someone very honestly said on this list some time ago that he indeed understood that non-leather tefillin were not the mitzva in its purest form, but he felt something is better than nothing. . . . The Hebrew word 'Chet,' which we often define as 'sin,' is actually a 'missing of the mark.' Due to some people's convictions, they are willing to 'miss the mark' on tefillin being made completely from leather in order that they should at least pick up the mitzva of binding of the arms with the proper words. The only caveat is that you should not fool yourself into thinking you are getting the full mitzva."
  • You can use so-called "vegetarian tefillin" from Rabbi Shmuel Rosenberg of Tzefat, Israel. Says Rabbi Rosenberg, "I make the Batim out of the sh'lil (baby calves that weren't born yet). Either they die by a miscarriage (stillbirth), or the mother gets injuried or otherwise dies of natural causes, and they find the calves inside. However, they DON'T kill the mother for the babies." Adds The Vision of Eden author Rabbi Dovid Sears, "Anyone who hesitates to fulfill this fundamental mitzvah of the Torah to don Tefillin every weekday due to apprehension that the animals used may have been subject to cruel handling may rest assured that Rabbi Rosenberg's 'vegetarian Tefillin' reflect the utmost effort to eliminate this problem as far as humanly possible."
  • You can use conventional leather tefillin under the assumption that it's impossible to be 100 percent vegan in every facet of life. If the tefillin is already purchased (e.g., you've had it since your bar or bat mitzvah, it was passed down through your family) or you buy used tefillin, one could argue that the use of this tefillin would not contribute to the overall demand for leather. In February, Half-Jew in Granite featured a great post about one vegan's struggle with the tefillin issue; the following month, blogger Andrea Eshelman concluded, "I'm going to get myself some animal skin tefillin. . . . I'm so drawn toward the practice that I feel as though I can't ignore it. I feel like my Jewish prayer is incomplete without it."
I've been preparing this post since March, but I decided to publish it now in response to a post titled "Vegetarian Tefillin?" that appeared on Jewschool on Sunday.


DIY Tashlich

I didn't go to my shul's tashlich ceremony on Rosh Hashanah because of the weather, so I did my own tashlich in between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. I said my own prayers in English and cast my sins into a nearby lake. (I used matzo meal—advertised as a "perfect substitute for breadcrumbs"—because I didn't have any breadcrumbs.) It wasn't quite the same as doing tashlich with a synagogue congregation, but it was personally meaningful. And while I might've been alone at the lake, I'm not on my own when it comes to taking tashlich into my own hands.

California-based LEHKEEROOVERS (which stands for Lively Enthusiastic Happy Kosher Ethical Raw Organic Optimistic Vegan Equal Rights Sympathizers, of course) organized a hike, vegan potluck, and tashlich event at Temescal Canyon in the L.A. area. One participant said:
As we cast our crumbs at the waterfall, I saw the beauty of Judaism overwhelm the beauty of nature. ... Anyway, this was the first time I mixed Judaism and nature and I am better off for it.
Greg Rothman, a Jewish vegetarian I met on my 2007 Birthright trip, put his own spin on things. When we were looking at Judaica items in the Old City of Jerusalem, I kept joking that I wanted to find a vegan shofar. Greg, a cycling enthusiast, came up with the unique idea of using "ram's horn" handlebars from a bike in place of a ram's horn. Greg e-mailed me the other day to say:
Did you get a chance to call in the new year with some drop bars? I pulled mine right off of my fixie bike and grabbed some molding dumpstered bread off of my friend's table and had an impromptu last-minute tashlich.
There you have it, folks. heebnvegan has talked about celebrating the High Holidays with punk rock shows, coverage on other blogs, raw mock gefilte fish and sprouted lentil salad, a vegan "ram's horn," and tashlich (with matzo meal, moldy bread from a Dumpster, and a nature hike). This completes heebnvegan's High Holidays coverage, just in time for Sukkot.


High Holidays Recap

Rosh Hashanah
I had a guest post featured on the PETA Prime Blog about Rosh Hashanah and "food teshuvah." I wrote, "Now is as good a time as any for all of us—regardless of our religious beliefs—to think about our eating habits and ask, 'Do my dietary choices cause others suffering?' The best way to help animals—and do food teshuvah—is to go vegetarian or vegan."

PETA's VegCooking Blog discussed Rosh Hashanah dishes and featured a recipe for date honey. I got an amusing but unexpected shout-out in the first sentence: "After asking my friend Michael what delicious recipe I should feature on the blog for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, I received, literally, five e-mails packed full of ideas."

The Jew & The Carrot featured a "Rosh Hashanah Round Up" post, saying, "To welcome in such a special time, we’ve rounded up a number of great Rosh Hashanah stories, ideas, and recipes from the Jewish food blogosphere. The creativity coming out of these bloggers' minds and kitchens is truly inspiring ...." heebnvegan's Rosh Hashanah guest post from Robin Silberman was among the posts mentioned.

Yom Kippur
I had a guest post featured on the PETA Prime Blog about Yom Kippur's prohibition against leather. I wrote, "On Yom Kippur, we apologize for our sins in the previous year, and we hope not to repeat our mistakes. So why is it that after today, most Jews consider it permissible not to show 'compassion to the creatures of G-d'? If we are honest with ourselves on Yom Kippur and seek to avoid sins—and if we aspire to be compassionate beings so that G-d may treat us with compassion—we should cease promoting suffering in our attire and daily decisions on a regular basis, not just one day a year. "

The efforts of various animal rights groups to challenge the use of chickens for kapporos have been in the news a lot lately. (Check out my August 25 and September 4 posts about kapporos.) B'nai B'rith Magazine ran an article about kapporos and included this quote from United Poultry Concerns president Karen Davis: "We’re not asking that Kapparot be abandoned; just the use of chickens. We don’t want to see any animal go through suffering when there is no requirement.”


Truth On Earth: Tikkun Olam Set to Music

“We could change it if we wanted to.
To stop ’em suffering, don’t buy it.
Let’s build a planet that’s good for me and you.”
—Truth On Earth, “Starvation Diet”

Serena, Kiley, and Tess—better known as Truth On Earth—rock. And that’s not just because these vegan, Jewish, teenage sisters sing in a rock band. Truth On Earth’s lyrics—which the sisters write themselves—are hard-hitting and deep. Truth On Earth is all about social action set to music.

“On a large scale, our primary goal is to bring solutions to problems in an entertaining way that leads to a safer, healthier, happier world that will be worth inheriting by future generations,” says Kiley.

Serena, Kiley, and Tess don’t just kvetch. Their lyrics are a call to action. Everything from their Web site to their press pack is filled with tips on how to make a difference on a variety of issues, including cruelty to animals, world hunger, and child abuse. They give 70 percent of their profits to tzedakah. And the music video for their song “Factory Farm” includes eye-opening video footage to show viewers exactly what the band’s talking about.

“Factory Farm” exemplifies how Truth On Earth songs make listeners think about issues for which people might otherwise take an ignorance-is-bliss approach. The powerful lyrics get listeners to empathize with animals on factory farms and in slaughterhouses:

From the time I was born, this is all I recall. Blood and guts on the floor, smell of death down the hall …
Is it normal, I wonder, to live in fear and pain? Never loved for a minute. Just tormenting my brain.
What kind of a person slaughters the helpless all day long? If a child kills animals then humans, is it wrong? …
Have a look inside my jail. You eat my suffering. I’ll stand in one place all my life while you’re digesting my misery. And when your end is near, you’ll feel our agony.

Serena, Kiley, and Tess have been vegan their entire lives, but as with everything else, adhering to a vegan diet is not something they do blindly. Serena noted that she considers veganism to be beneficial for spiritual, environmental, and health reasons. And while their nonviolent diet can be seen as a foundation for their general outlook, so is their connection to Judaism.

“Jews have historically been quite possibly the most persecuted people and at the same time maybe the most blessed by G-d proportionately to the small size of our population,” says Serena. “Because of this experience, we believe we must be fully respectful and obligated to G-d by always practicing the most peaceful and humane lifestyles possible. In our case that has manifested in our diets, our views and our music, and we plan for it to continue in all of our activities throughout the course of our lifetimes.”