Tools for Elul: Jeffrey Spitz Cohan

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My wife Kathryn and I were sitting in the balcony of Rodef Shalom's historic sanctuary on Rosh Hashanah, 12 years ago, when the Torah reader reached Verse 29 of Genesis 1.

"God said, 'I give you every seed-bearing plant that is upon all the earth, and every tree that has seed-bearing fruit. They shall be yours for food."

Kathryn turned to me and whispered, "It looks like we're supposed to be vegetarians. Let's do it."

So began a journey that has greatly benefited our physical and spiritual health. We became vegetarians 12 years ago, vegans 9 years ago and, I feel 100 percent certain, we'll be vegans for the rest of our lives. Our daughter, Killian, has been a vegan for almost as long as we have.

Much to my surprise, what we heard on that Rosh Hashanah 12 years ago was not an outlying verse, but rather just the first of many statements in the Torah that, collectively, establish veganism as a lodestar, if not an imperative, for all Jews.

I realize "imperative" is a strong word. But the reality is this: For the past 7 years, I've had the privilege of serving as executive director of the national nonprofit organization Jewish Veg, and during that time, no rabbi has been willing to publicly debate us as to whether Jews should be transitioning to plant-based diets.

As I write this, literally billions of farmed animals are suffering in hellish conditions in the United States alone. And the farm workers who are toiling in our factory farms and slaughterhouses are doing work that is low-paying, soul-crushing and dangerous.

And as I write this, the Amazon Basin is burning. For decades, the beef industry has been burning down forests in the Amazon Basin to clear land for growing livestock feed and grazing cattle. This summer it reached the crisis point. For sake of life on this planet - for ourselves and for future generations - we can no longer justify consuming animal products.

Here is the good news: It has never been easier for you to make the same transition that Kathryn and I made 12 years ago. Today, there is an abundance of plant-based alternatives in our restaurants and supermarkets, hundreds of vegan cookbooks and, seemingly, millions of vegan recipes online.

At Jewish Veg, you can receive free resources to help you transition at a pace you choose. Just go to

If not now, when? Indeed.

-Jeffrey Spitz Cohan, Congregant

Rodef Shalom