The Making of a Jewish Activist: My Biography From My Book, “Who Stole My Religion?”
I am a ba’al t’shuvah – meaning “one who has returned” – a Jew who started practicing Judaism late in life. I did not grow up in a religious family, and I did not receive a yeshiva education as observant Jewish children generally do today. Most of my current Jewish learning comes not from formal education, but from extensive reading and conversations with Jews from many different backgrounds, plus Torah classes and lectures over the past few decades.
Like most Jewish boys growing up in New York during the 1940s, I went to a Talmud Torah school a couple of afternoons a week after public school in order to prepare for my bar mitzvah. But I was not particularly interested in Jewish teachings or societal issues. Rather, like most of my friends and classmates who did not go to Hebrew school, I was primarily interested in swimming in the nearby Atlantic Ocean, playing handball, baseball, basketball, and other sports with friends, and rooting for the New York Yankees. I would devour every sports section when the Yankees won, but a Yankee defeat would make me very sad. Nowadays I’ve lost most of my interest in spectator sports. I still support most New York teams, but very seldom spend any time watching them.
One aspect of Judaism that did interest me in my early years was the wisdom teachings contained in a section of the Mishnah called Pirkei Avot, the “Ethics of the Fathers.” This tractate, which contains short, pithy sayings from the early Talmudic rabbis and scholars, is a basic manual on how to be a good Jew. Pirkei Avot is still my favorite section of the Mishnah, and its teachings have helped guide me through life, especially the following:
- You are not required to complete the task, but neither are you free to desist from [doing all that you can] (2:21).
- Be of the disciples of Aaron [the brother of Moses]: love peace and pursue peace, love all people, and bring them closer to the Torah (1:12).
- Who is rich? The person who rejoices in his or her portion (4:1).
- Who is wise? The person who learns from every other person (4:1).
After graduating from high school in 1952, I was not sure what career to pursue. I finally decided to study civil engineering, mainly because that was the field that my older brother had chosen. Because I didn’t want to go to an out-of-town college, and tuition was free at the city university, I attended the City College of New York. Since the campus was far from my home in Far Rockaway, I decided to take advantage of the option of taking my pre-engineering courses for two years at Queens College, which was closer to home. This decision was a major turning point in my life. Had I started at City College, I would have interacted primarily with engineering students, people interested mostly in mathematical, scientific, and technical courses and concepts. At Queens College, I took liberal arts courses along with students who had a broader range of views and outlooks.
Because I didn’t drive a car at the time, I rode in various car pools to and from the campus. This put me in contact with a wide variety of people and views, ranging from very conservative to extremely radical. I started investigating current issues in order to refute some of the radical ideas that I was hearing for the first time. I soon began to recognize the injustices in the world and became imbued with the idea that I should be involved in struggling against these injustices. I began reading books like The Grapes of Wrath and viewing films like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, which inspired me to try to learn more and to strive to improve society.
During this time, my involvement with Judaism diminished to practically nothing. I viewed the synagogues and Jewish groups as being primarily concerned with ritual for the sake of ritual, and with maintaining their membership rolls and social status. The Jewish institutions did not seem to be involved with the societal causes of the day, and they were totally irrelevant to me.
I was now so committed to working to end society’s injustices that I seriously considered becoming an English major, in order to write and make others aware of what I was learning. I loved reading novels and non-fiction books about historical events and social issues. I yearned to learn more and to apply my knowledge in the struggle toward a more just, peaceful world.
However, family members, fellow students, and college advisors all pointed out how well I was doing in my pre-engineering classes (I had the top grade point average of all the students in the department) and stressed that I would have a much easier time making a living as an engineer than as a writer. I took their advice and remained in civil engineering, but my feelings about social issues were so strong that I seriously considered not being involved in the world of commerce and business. Instead, I thought about moving to Israel after graduation to work on a kibbutz. I saw that system of communal living, cooperative efforts, and desire to serve one’s community as a model of an ideal community most consistent with my views at that time. I even planned a trip to Israel immediately after graduating from City College, in order to further explore that possibility.
Then, in my final semester, something occurred that represented another major turning point in my life. Because I had the top grade point average in my Civil Engineering class, I was offered a position as an instructor in the Department of Civil Engineering at City College, starting in the spring semester of 1957. I saw this as a great opportunity and quickly accepted the position. This would enable me to help people, and I would stay out of the business world, which I then regarded as a “rat race” that involved advancing one’s career at the expense of others. As a college instructor, I would be able to apply and teach the many concepts I had learned in my studies. I would also be working with material that I had mastered and enjoyed.
I did go to Israel in the summer of 1957, and I did spend some time working on a kibbutz. But my great excitement at teaching, and the honor I felt at being chosen to be a member of City College’s Civil Engineering Department working side-by-side with teachers whom I greatly admired, reduced my interest in living on a kibbutz. I recall spending my last day in Israel excitedly preparing lecture notes for the course on “Strength of Materials” that I would be teaching shortly after my return. At the same time, I had a deep love for Israel, which I regarded as a modern day miracle. Shortly after I returned to the United States, I gave a talk at a “cousin’s club” meeting at which I extolled many aspects of life in Israel.
The next major change in my life came when I married Loretta Susskind in 1960 (yes, we have been married now for over 55 years). When I began dating Loretta, she was a social worker at a center in Harlem. We shared an interest in addressing social ills and helping less fortunate people. Loretta came from a more religious family and background than I did. She had continued her Jewish studies beyond the pre-teen Talmud Torah classes and had graduated from Marshalia Hebrew High School. Loretta wanted to introduce Jewish rituals into our family life once we were married. So she presented me with some books on the Sabbath, the mikveh (Jewish ritual bath), and other Jewish practices.
I read these books somewhat reluctantly at first, and then with increasing interest. I began to see that my ideas about working for a better world were included in the Jewish worldview. I now understood the “task” from which Pirkei Avot says we are not free to desist is the ongoing process of improving the world. There was plenty of opportunity for a fulfilling spiritual, socially-activist life within my own tradition! In fact, the whole saga of Jewish history involved a struggle to maintain the Jewish people and its ethical teachings in the face of oppression, widespread anti-Semitism, hatred, antagonism, and violence.
The more I read, the more I became interested in learning about all aspects of Judaism. In the process, I began to incorporate some Jewish practices into my own life. At first I didn’t attend synagogue services on Shabbat mornings, but would find a nice quiet place outdoors and read Jewish books on a wide variety of topics. Around this time, Loretta and I purchased a set of five wonderful anthologies: A Treasury of Jewish Quotations, A Treasury of Jewish Poetry, A Treasury of Jewish Folklore, A Treasury of American Jewish Stories, and A Modern Treasury of Jewish Thought.
As I read A Modern Treasury of Jewish Thought, I became increasingly thrilled to discover that there were brilliant Jewish thinkers who wrote eloquently about applying Jewish values to the world. I was especially excited by the writings of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. I relished his radical analysis of Judaism and his challenging criticism of “religious behaviorism,” which he defined as performing the mitzvot without any real devotion or any attempt to relate them to the realities of our society. And I loved the powerful but poetic ways that he expressed his challenging ideas.
It was also very important to me that Heschel was both a religious Jew and an activist. He marched with Martin Luther King, advocated early on for the liberation of Soviet Jews, and spoke out courageously against what I regarded as an illegal, unjust, and immoral war in Vietnam – despite the disapproval from many Jewish leaders of his views and activities. Through Heschel I recognized that my earlier rejection of Judaism was not because of any problems inherent in the religion itself; rather, it was because of what the practice of Judaism in the mid- twentieth century had become. As Heschel put it, in a challenging statement that I previously quoted:
Religion declined not because it was refuted, but because it became irrelevant, dull, oppressive, insipid. When faith is completely replaced by creed, worship by discipline, love by habit; when the crisis of today is ignored because of the splendor of the past; when faith becomes an heirloom rather than a living fountain; when religion speaks only in the name of authority rather than with the voice of compassion, its message becomes meaningless.189
I increasingly found that all my social ideals were included within Judaism, and that Judaism provides a structure for leading a meaningful and involved spiritual life – if only people would really practice it! I was amazed to learn how the Jews had maintained their beliefs and practices in spite of persecutions and harassment in many lands and historical periods. The more I learned, the more I was able to relate Jewish theology to current social issues.
Discovering the writings of Martin Buber further reinforced my emerging belief that it was actually the distortion of religion that I was so much against. I concluded that, to some extent, my religion had been “stolen.” Back then in the 1960s, many observant Jews around meseemed to be locked into ritual for its own sake, without seeing or applying the deeper values that could challenge an unjust status quo. People were reading about Moses confronting Pharaoh in the Torah, but few were confronting the oppressors of our own time.
While teaching at City College, I studied for my master’s degree in civil engineering. I was enjoying my teaching and interactions with students so much that I decided to make college teaching my career. However, I didn’t want to seek a PhD, because it would involve doing research in a relatively narrow area. Back then, many engineering colleges were accepting professional engineering licenses in lieu of a PhD, so I decided to pursue that path instead. This involved getting some experience working in industry and passing several tests. My teaching experience and strong academic background made passing the tests a relatively easy matter, but I had to leave teaching for a while in order to get the required experience.
Before entering the engineering field, I decided to take care of my military obligations. At that time, the United States was in a major technological race against the then Soviet Union. In 1958 the Soviets surprised the world by launching Sputnik I, the world’s first artificial satellite. This was a wake-up call to the U.S. government, a warning that we were falling behind in technology. As a result, engineers were classified by the military into a special category called “Critical Skills.” The government’s philosophy at the time was that everyone should get some basic training in order to be ready if the United States was attacked, but that people with special skills should not be taken away for long periods from the important work of improving the nation’s technological abilities.
Therefore, I only had to be in the U.S. Army for three months. Those few months in the army were the only substantial time in my adult life when I was not focused on studying for tests, preparing class lectures and other talks, researching and writing articles and books, and dealing with other professional concerns. It was a valuable time for organizing my thoughts about social issues. After leaving the army, I worked at Ammon & Whitney, the engineering company in lower Manhattan that designed the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge connecting Staten Island and Brooklyn. I did not work on that project, but I did work on many other civil engineering design projects. Although I enjoyed working with other engineers and applying what I had learned, my desire to return to college teaching remained strong. As soon as I had sufficient practical experience, I arranged to take the necessary tests for my professional engineering license. Fortunately, because of my academic and teaching background, I easily passed.
My next step was to seek a position teaching civil engineering at a college. I thought that my academic achievements, my teaching experience, my professional experience, and my professional engineer’s license would make this easy, but that was not the case. The only Civil Engineering Department willing to hire me was at Rutgers University, and then only if I also enrolled as a PhD candidate there. Seeing no other possibility that would enable me to resume teaching, I agreed. So I moved to New Brunswick, New Jersey, with my wife and first child, Susan Esther.
I enjoyed my new teaching activities, and once again did well in my engineering studies. However, I had difficulty choosing a topic for my PhD thesis. This was a source of great frustration to me. I loved teaching and wanted very much to continue it, but I absolutely hated the idea of spending endless hours researching a relatively minor topic that few people outside a specialized field would ever be interested in. I would much prefer to spend the time teaching and promoting positive causes. I became so frustrated over this that I even thought of dropping out of the PhD program altogether. When people warned me that this would end my chances of maintaining a college teaching position, I replied that I would just teach at a two-year college.
Had I dropped out of the PhD program it would have greatly hindered my teaching career, because even community colleges began to require PhD degrees for full-time teachers. Fortunately, I finally found a workable topic, “Analysis of Circular Plates on Elastic Foundations Under Radially Symmetrical Loadings,” that enabled me to use my mathematical skills as well as others. I also received National Science Foundation grants for two consecutive summers, which provided me with some income, enabling me to work full-time on the project. In 1967 I received my PhD in Applied Mechanics. This enabled me to continue my teaching career until my retirement from the College of Staten Island as a full professor in 1999.
As I was completing my PhD requirements, I was informed that Rutgers had a “no inbreeding” policy. This meant that they did not continue employing people who had taught at Rutgers while getting their PhD degrees there. The Rutgers philosophy was that, by hiring people from a wide variety of other schools, they would get the greatest possible cross-fertilization of ideas. An academically laudable position, but one that left me without a job.
So once again I sent out resumes, and this time I received an invitation to teach at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. They offered me a position as an assistant professor with the possibility of a rapid promotion to associate professor, and I accepted. Pratt did not have a civil engineering department, so I served in the mechanical engineering department; many of the courses that I had taught were equally applicable to both civil and mechanical engineering.
In 1968, my wife and I moved to Staten Island to be closer to Pratt Institute. By then we had three children: Susan Esther, David Elliot, and Deborah Ann. In 1970 I learned that there was an opening at Staten Island Community College (SICC). The college was only about five minutes by car from my house, which would make it easier to help out with the kids. The position had a better salary and benefits as well, so I decided to apply. I was accepted, but only as a substitute in the civil technology department for a professor who had left for a year to help set up Hostos Community College in the Bronx. I was told that the professor for whom I was substituting probably wouldn’t return. However, he did decide to return, and that put me in a very difficult position. I had given up a tenured position at Pratt Institute to be a substitute at SICC. Now it looked like I would have to leave. My efforts at finding another position were not panning out, and I was becoming increasingly desperate.
Fortunately, the City University started its “Open Admissions” policy at that time, providing remediation to students who did not meet entrance requirements in Mathematics and English. Because of that program, I was able to join the SICC mathematics department, teaching remedial math. It wasn’t the ideal job, but it provided a salary which helped feed my family. Needless to say, this was a very difficult time in my life. But, as the Chinese philosopher Lin Yutang said in his book The Importance of Living, one does not know what is “good luck” or “bad luck” until the end of a sequence of events, because what appears to be a negative event often leads to a positive result and vice versa. In the Jewish tradition, there is a similar teaching. Joseph, who is sold into slavery by his brothers, ends up becoming an important official in Egypt and saves many people from famine, including those very same brothers who had betrayed him in the first place.
And so it turned out for me, that my “bad luck” became my good fortune. During the difficult period when I was trying to find a new teaching position, I went to the director of an experimental department at SICC known as The Place, which offered a number of interdisciplinary courses. I asked about the possibility of teaching in their department. They had no opening at the time, but later, after I was teaching in the mathematics department, they asked me to teach a course on “The Impact of Science on Human Values and Problems.”
At first I hesitated; this topic was completely different from anything I had previously taught or even considered before. At the same time, it offered the possibility of applying my interest in social issues. I decided to accept the offer. That was a major turning point in my life, because teaching that course started me on the path of environmental activism that I still pursue today.
Through the study of essays, short stories, and plays, the students and I explored the implications of the rapid explosion of scientific and technological advances on society and its problems. This was right after the first Earth Day in April 1970, when there was widespread interest in environmental threats, so we devoted a lot of discussion time to ecological issues. As I became increasingly concerned about the environment, the original course was replaced by a new one called “Environmental Issues on Staten Island.”
I was a relatively new resident of Staten Island, so I had to rely on local resources to help me teach the course. I pored over old newspapers and reports, interviewed Staten Island environmentalists, invited guest speakers, and showed films and videos. We also went on field trips to places like Fresh Kills landfill (then the world’s largest garbage dump). We also visited different types of housing developments, sewage treatment plants, and natural areas. Instead of a final examination, the students were required to write a report and give an oral presentation about some current environmental issue impacting Staten Island.
Because this course was so different from anything I had previously taught, I devoted a great deal of my time, energy, and thinking to developing it. In the process, I became increasingly active in responding to environmental issues, often writing letters to the editor for publication in the Staten Island Advance about local and national environmental and other societal concerns. I also spoke on these topics to various groups at the college and in the community.
After a number of years teaching “Environmental Issues on Staten Island,” budgetary considerations led to an end of The Place. As a result, I was no longer able to offer the course. At first, this was a big disappointment. But I soon recognized that this “disaster” had, in fact, freed up a lot of time and energy that I could now devote to other activities. I was determined to continue educating people about environmental issues, and it dawned on me that perhaps I could teach a course that related mathematics to environmental and other global concerns.
At the time, I was teaching a basic math course for liberal arts majors. This was a course that students had to take in order to fulfill the requirements for their degrees. Most of the students were poorly prepared and even less motivated. So instead of the usual course that included a smorgasbord of unconnected topics, I decided to offer a course called “Mathematics and the Environment,” in which basic mathematical concepts and problems would be used to explore current critical problems. Using basic calculations, ratios and proportions, circle diagrams, bar charts, line graphs, scatter plots, sequences, and elementary statistics and probability, we considered such issues as pollution, resource scarcities, hunger, energy, population growth, nutrition, and health. In short, my course covered similar mathematical concepts to those in the old course, but all the examples and exercises connected with environmental concerns. The course was well received. I found plenty of valuable material in the daily newspapers and weekly magazines, which I used to create mathematical problems. The annual World Population Data Sheet of the Population Reference Bureau and that group’s many demographic reports were also very valuable. The class considered issues like percentages of the world’s population in the United States versus China, projected increases in world population, effects of infant mortality, etc.
Analyzing the computer-generated graphs in a book entitled The Limits to Growth, we saw that the world would face severe future problems if global population and industrial production continued to increase exponentially. Once again, instead of a final exam, I required written and oral reports on environmentally related topics, using the mathematics that students had learned in the course.
Designing this course resulted in my reading, thinking, and teaching about a wide variety of environmental crises. As I worked with the statistics related to these issues, I became increasingly aware of environmental threats and the urgent need to respond to them. During my first sabbatical, in the 1978–79 academic year, I wrote a course text called Mathematics and Global Survival. This book was updated and revised every few years to reflect changing conditions, and became the foundation for my later book, Judaism and Global Survival, which is still in print today.
Throughout my academic career, my involvement in Judaism was also growing. After moving to Staten Island in 1968, my family immediately joined the local modern Orthodox synagogue. I have met wonderful, generous, sincere, deeply committed people in this congregation. I have found many members to be extremely charitable, kind, and deeply involved in learning and davening. Given these involvements and my personal friendships, as well as an awareness of own limitations and weaknesses, it is not easy to be critical of my own community. But I think some constructive criticism might be valuable. Through the application of Jewish teachings on social activism, we can join in the process of moving our endangered planet to a more just, peaceful, and environmentally sustainable path. It is no longer enough to ask “Is it good for the Jews?” We must now also ask “Is it good for the planet?”
I am deeply disturbed by the seeming lack of concern for universal issues among many of my religious Jewish brethren (as well as most other people). Within their own communities they are very caring and generous, but they often seem oblivious to issues that affect the rest of humanity. It sometimes seems that one can be more readily accepted in the Orthodox Jewish community today if one has intolerant, reactionary ideas than if one has a commitment to Jewish universal values.
For this reason, I often need to go outside my immediate synagogue group in order to find support for my Jewish activism. Through my articles, talks, books, and letters to editors, I am able to express my societal concerns, but I often feel alienated from my local community in the process. How grateful I am to be living in the age of email and the Internet! The electronic age has enabled me to be in regular contact with many like-minded people around the world, express my ideas to a wider audience, and to reach beyond the limitations of my own community.
In the early 1970s, partly in an attempt to increase my synagogue’s involvement in social justice issues, I became co-editor of the synagogue’s newsletter and frequently contributed articles. I was (and still am) searching for ways to demonstrate Judaism’s meaning and relevance to the world. I sensed a great gap between the glorious Jewish teachings that I was learning about and the realities that I was seeing in my synagogue and Jewish community. Jews have been chosen to be God’s servants, a light unto the nations and a holy people, descendants of the prophets, the original champions of social justice. Why, then, was there so much complacency in the face of so many critical problems? Why so few dreams of a better world through the application of Jewish teachings?
I saw great potential for applying the values I was reading about in Jewish texts to the real world around us. I wanted to help revitalize Judaism, to harness it to help save our imperiled planet. My reaction to the Judaism of the time is summed up in the following paragraph from one of my articles for the synagogue newsletter:
It is generally not religious values that dominate in churches and synagogues today, but rather materialistic, middle-class values. The problem is that far too few people (sometimes including myself) take God and religious teachings seriously enough. If we did, would we fail to protest against the destruction of the precious planet that God has given us as our home? Would we be so apathetic while millions of people die of hunger and its effects annually (when God has provided sufficient food for every person on earth), and additional millions suffer from poverty and a lack of shelter, clean water, and other necessities, while hundreds of billions of dollars are spent creating newer and better ways to wage war? If a person took God and religious values seriously, he or she would be among the greatest critics of society, where religious values are generally given lip service, at best. She or he would be among the greatest champions of peace and justice.
Unfortunately, these editorials were like crying into the wilderness. Nobody appeared to be listening. I felt as if I were tilting at windmills, engaging in a quixotic quest for “The Impossible Dream.” This book is my latest attempt to turn these dreams into practical realities. The “Mathematics and the Environment” course had another profound effect on my life: it set me on the road toward vegetarianism. Up until 1978, I was a typical American meat and potatoes eater. My mother would be sure to prepare my favorite dish – pot roast – whenever I came to visit with my wife and children. It was a family tradition that I would be served a turkey drumstick every Thanksgiving. And yet, I not only became a vegetarian (and later a vegan), but also now devote a major part of my time to writing, speaking, and teaching about the benefits of vegetarianism. What caused this major change?
While reviewing material on world hunger for my “Mathematics and the Environment” course in the 1970s, I became increasingly aware of the tremendous waste of grain that results from the production of beef. Over 70% of the grain produced in the United States and about 40% of the grain produced worldwide is fed to animals destined for slaughter, while millions of people – many of them children – die of hunger and its effects annually. In spite of my own eating habits, I often led class discussions on the possibility of reducing meat consumption as a way of helping hungry people. After several semesters of this, I listened to my own advice and gave up eating red meat, while continuing to eat chicken and fish.
I then began to read about the many health benefits of vegetarianism and about the horrible living conditions of animals raised on factory farms. As a result, I was increasingly attracted to the vegetarian way of life. I was very fortunate to take a course on “Judaism and Vegetarianism” at Lincoln Square Synagogue (LSS) in Manhattan taught by Jonathan Wolf, founder and first president of Jewish Vegetarians of North America. I learned many things and gained much insight from him.
On January 1, 1978, I decided to join the International Jewish Vegetarian Society. The membership form offered two choices: (1) practicing vegetarian (one who refrains from eating any flesh), or (2) non-vegetarian (one who is in sympathy with the movement, but not yet a vegetarian). I decided to become a practicing vegetarian. I checked that box on the form, and ever since that moment I have avoided eating any meat, fowl, or fish. In 2000, I became a vegan, abstaining from knowingly using any animal products, except those employed for religious purposes to make such ritual objects as Torah scrolls, mezzuzot, and tefillin.
After becoming a vegetarian in 1978, I learned a great deal more about vegetarianism’s connections to health, nutrition, ecology, and animal welfare. Plus, I began wondering about the deeper connections between my vegetarianism and Judaism. I learned that the first biblical dietary regimen (Genesis 1:29) was strictly vegetarian, and that the future age of world peace and harmony, the Messianic period, will also be a vegetarian time. I soon became convinced that there are important Jewish mandates to preserve our health, be kind to animals, protect the environment, conserve natural resources, share with hungry people, and seek and pursue peace – all of which point to vegetarianism as the ideal diet for Jews. To get this message out to a wider audience, I wrote Judaism and Vegetarianism, which was first published in 1982, with revised and expanded editions published in 1988 and 2001.
The more I have learned about the wastefulness of meat production, the negative health effects of animal-based diets, and the cruelties of factory farms – and their inconsistencies with Jewish values – the more I have come to see a switch toward vegetarianism as not only a personal choice but as societal and Jewish imperatives. Reducing meat consumption is an essential component in the solution of many national and global problems, as well as an important symbolic religious move toward the peaceable kingdom envisioned by the prophets.
In recent years, I have been devoting considerable time and energy toward making others aware of the importance of switching toward vegetarian diets, both for themselves and for the world. I have appeared on many radio and cable television programs, contributed many letters and several op-ed articles in a variety of publications, spoken frequently at conferences and meetings, given dozens of talks, and met with four Chief Rabbis and other religious and political leaders in Israel, while visiting my two daughters and their families. In addition:
- I am now president emeritus of Jewish Veg (formerly known as Jewish Vegetarians of North America), and while I was president I produced and sent out almost weekly e-mail newsletters to keep Jewish vegetarians informed.
- I have over 200 articles, 25 podcasts of my talks and articles, and the complete texts of my other Judaica books at JewishVeg.com/schwartz.
- In 1987, I was selected as “Jewish Vegetarian of the Year” by the JVNA.
- In 2005, I was inducted into the “Hall of Fame” of the North American Vegetarian
- I am also president of the Society of Ethical and Religious Vegetarians (SERV), an
interreligious group dedicated to spreading vegetarian messages in many religious
- I served for several years as director of Veg Climate Alliance, a group dedicated to
spreading awareness that a major shift to plant-based diets is essential to avert an
impending climate catastrophe.
- I also helped produce and appear in the documentary A Sacred Duty: Applying Jewish
Values to Help Heal the World, which premiered in Jerusalem in November 2007. Because the issues are so important and the threats are so great, we have given out over 40,000 complimentary copies of the DVD and made it freely available on You Tube. It was produced as a labor of love and dedication, with no professional fee being received,by multi-award winning producer, director, writer, and cinematographer Lionel Friedberg, along with his wife Diana, a professional film editor. The documentary has been acclaimed by Jews, Christians, and others and has had a significant impact.
In 2015, I spent two months in Israel increasing awareness of the importance of switches to plant-based diets to efforts to avert a climate catastrophe and other potential environmental disasters. I gave eight talks and two radio interviews, and interviewed key Israeli environmentalists, animal rights activists, rabbis, and other influential Israelis. The interviews and five of my talks were filmed and uploaded to YouTube. The links can be found at my Times of Israel blog.
As I reflect on all of the above, I am so thankful that I have been blessed by God to have been able to make at least a small difference in trying to help produce a better world. Of course there is much more that needs to be done, and I hope to be able to devote much of the time that I will be granted by God to continuing the struggle. I hope that this book will help inspire many others, especially young people, to work in the struggle to shift our very imperiled planet to a healthier, more just, peaceful, more humane, environmentally sustainable path.