For the last three years, my friends and I have celebrated “veder” — a vegan Passover seder.
The animal-protection community is full of Jewish vegans, and many of us find it difficult to sit through a typical seder at a table filled with the body parts of the animals that we love and fight so hard for. However, the meaning and purpose of the holiday is something we connect to very deeply as social justice activists, and, let’s be frank, we missed the flavors and feelings of the dishes we grew up eating.
We wanted to create new traditions that included the traditions of our ancestors, but also included the enslavement and oppression of non-human animals. We were also excited by the challenge of recreating and veganizing dishes we grew up with, such as brisket, gefilte fish, matzoh ball soup and potato latkes.
We weren’t exactly sure what we were creating, only that we wanted to make sure we acknowledged and honored the billions of animals exploited for food, clothing, entertainment and scientific research. We wrote an adapted Haggadah that told their stories, which connected the Jewish people’s escape from slavery with the current enslavement of animals.
We tell the stories of the cows exploited for dairy, who have their children stolen away in their first 48 hours of their lives so humans can drink the milk their bodies produce for their newborns. We tell the stories of the egg-laying hens living in filth, crammed in cages their entire lives until they no longer produce eggs at the rate industry deems sufficient, and are then met with a violent death. We tell the stories of cows, veal calves, lambs, pigs, turkeys, and chickens who live under horrendous conditions until they meet their ends by the slit of a knife across their throats or a bolt in their foreheads.
The saddest part of their stories is that none of this is necessary. We don’t have a biological need to eat their body parts or secretions, to wear their skins, or be entertained by their exploitation. We do so out of habit, tradition and palate desires. The Pharoah enslaved Jews not because of any real-world need, only because he viewed them as lesser beings. This is how we view nonhuman animals today, and Jewish vegans are particularly sensitive to this reality.
Jews and ethical vegans share common values including a belief in justice, fairness, equality and compassion. Both tribes believe unnecessary suffering is wrong. The Passover story reminds us that freedom is one of the greatest entitlements we all have. It reminds us that slavery is no longer acceptable, and viewing and treating each other as property has no place in a just and fair world.
As ethical vegans, we fight for the freedom of other animals. We fight for their right to not be viewed and used as property. We believe and act as if all sentient beings have the right to freedom.
And so we indulge in rich, flavorful foods, drink many glasses of wine, enjoy each other’s company, but we also remember the obligation we have as Jews, which is to fight against oppression, to fight against violence, to fight for justice and compassion.