Traditions Can Change - Even Religious Traditions
My name is Diana. I’m a mother, an aunt, a grandmother, and an artist, but I feel at this time in my life, my most important role is as an activist for the liberation of all beings, which is why I find the Passover story inconsistent. At Passover, we celebrate the liberation of the Jewish people from slavery with a family dinner called the Seder, which includes the reading of the Passover story called the Haggadah. Yet we celebrate with symbols of violence and oppression of animals. That’s why my husband Daniel and I started a new tradition to celebrate Jewish culture by rescuing animals instead of eating them.
I never thought much about the violence in my traditions until I went on a vacation to Hawaii where I saw wild chickens up close. They were everywhere on the Island. They were on the beach, in the mountains, in shopping areas, living their lives freely. I was a serious home cook and my specialties included things like cheese souffle and “rosemary chicken.” Spending time with these birds, who had personalities and families I realized that these beautiful, free animals don’t belong trapped inside industrial farms or killed in slaughterhouses. I became vegetarian right then and there. It wasn’t until later, once I went on Facebook, that I learned about the cruelties of egg and dairy agriculture, and I went vegan.
In the bible, God punished the people of Egypt for not allowing the Jews to be released, by sending 10 plagues upon them. The Jews were told to slaughter a lamb and mark their doors with blood so they would be passed over by the Angel of Death and that allowed the Jews to escape. This is why we call the holiday Passover. Jews celebrate this exodus from Egypt with a traditional Seder dinner where every dish has symbolism.
We eat Matzo, which is unleavened bread, because the Jews didn’t have time to let their bread rise when they had to flee Egypt. On the Seder table will be a Seder plate. What is on it varies a little between families and countries, but on my family’s plate we have the bitter herbs which represent the bitterness of slavery. There are two on the plate, one is horseradish which brings tears to the eyes, and the other is parsley which is dipped in saltwater to represent the tears of the Jews. The nut and fruit mixture called haroset represents the mortar that the slaves had to make to build the pyramids. The hard boiled or roasted egg is a reminder that slaves had no voice, as an egg has no mouth. There is also a lamb shank to represent the lambs who were slaughtered and whose blood was used to mark the doors of Jewish homes. But the bone on the plate is not just symbolic. It comes from a real living animal, a baby lamb that wanted to live, but who was actually horrifically slaughtered.
I started new traditions. I learned new recipes to cook. This was before there were good vegan cheeses to buy so I learned to make my own. I figured out how to make the richest most delicious mushroom broth to substitute for chicken soup. My extended family came to my house for holiday dinners and birthday celebrations, and they all were happy with my vegan feasts.
Daniel and I transformed our family’s Seder dinner. We had already created a feminist Haggadah, and now we made it anti-speciesist as well. It is a story of escaping slavery, of liberation! We had always focused on the human aspect of freedom, for not just Jews, but all humans. Now we include animals in that message. Our traditional Seder plate was transformed. Instead of using a roasted lamb shank, I use a roasted red beet. When we came to the part of the Seder where we mention what is on the plate, we say the roasted beet represents the lambs that were sacrificed. It is roasted like the sacrificed lambs and the red color represents their blood. We do not have to sacrifice or enslave animals, they want to be free, just like us. Instead of the egg, I used an egg shaped quarts rock that is only used for that purpose. The rock is there to remind us that we have no right to take eggs from birds or breed them to produce more than what is natural for them. We should not enslave others, not humans and not animals, and we should not take what is not ours. Animals should not be enslaved for their eggs, their milk, or their bodies. It’s so important that we keep our minds open and let our traditions evolve. At first I was concerned that our Seder plate wasn’t really Kosher, so I asked a wise family friend Ernst, who is a learned conservative religious Jew, what he thought about what I was doing, and he said, “The story and the plate are traditions, and traditions change.”
I wanted to change the world for animals. I donated money to animal causes, but I wanted to do more. I didn’t know how. But because of Facebook I met other animal activists online, and they inspired me, and I wanted to inspire others. I got involved with DxE because they are a grassroots organization that enables people to become activists for animal rights. Since then, four and a half years ago, I have organized animal rights demonstrations in my community to help change society’s perception of animals. I have even gone to the frontlines of animal abuse to document the conditions and rescue dying animals.
I believe in Jewish liberation. I believe in all human liberation. I believe in animal liberation too. I’ve been arrested three times already for taking action for animals, and I’m not going to stop! I’m showing the world that even in your sixties, and beyond you can help change the world for the better. You can update your traditions and build a better future. I hope that with time, more Jews will celebrate Passover by protecting animals. How can we celebrate the liberation of one group while oppressing another?
Please sign the petition to support animal rescue at RightToRescue.com