Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

How a Local Jewish Vegan Movement Was Born

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

How a Local Jewish Vegan Movement Was Born

Article excerpt

Jeffrey Cohan was raised an omnivore and loved being an omnivore. His proverbial last meal on death row, he said, would have been a carne asada burrito.

But about seven years ago, a simple reading of Genesis 1:29 in synagogue changed his diet for the rest of his life.

When the Torah reader read, "And God said: 'Behold, I have given you every herb yielding seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed - to you it shall be for food,'" Mr. Cohan said he turned to his wife, Kathryn Spitz Cohan, and said, "It sounds like we're supposed to be vegetarians."

They haven't looked back. In fact, three years into their vegetarian journey, they narrowed their diet further to become vegans. Mr. Cohan's advocacy of the lifestyle from a Jewish perspective became so strong that he took the helm of a movement now called Jewish Veg.

At 7 p.m. on Wednesday, he will discuss Judaism and plant-based diets as part of a series on veganism at Congregation Rodef Shalom in Shadyside. The remaining two programs in the series will cover eating in local vegan restaurants (March 10) and how to implement a plant-based diet (April 15).

Once a Grant Street reporter for the Post-Gazette, Mr. Cohan went on to work for the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh while earning a master's degree from Carnegie Mellon University. As part of a master's project, he did a presentation for a small group in New York City on how to grow a nonprofit organization. At the end of the presentation, he was asked to become the executive director.

Then known as the Jewish Vegetarians of North America, the group had yet to make inroads with the institutional Jewish community. But as the group grew - and shortened its name - it began to establish those mainstream ties.

Now the national organization has three full-time employees: Mr. Cohan in Pittsburgh, plus staffers in New York and California.

Even though the Torah permits meat eating, Mr. Cohan contends it was permitted for ancient Israelites as a concession and not as a diet that expresses the heart of God. Meat eating is "generally presented in a negative context" in the Torah, he said.

Another big reason for Jews to eschew meat is out of concern for animal suffering, Mr. Cohan said, noting the Torah also includes rules for the proper treatment of animals. …

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