Experiencing veganism as a Jew

By Lily Drabkin
This past summer, I had the opportunity to explore Israel for ten days, in the company of 40 vegans. I went on Birthright Israel’s first ever vegan trip. This themed trip differed from other trips in that we ate all vegan food, and we learned about Israel's history with animal rights in addition to the typical Birthright experiences. Our group was able to visit a farm sanctuary, where we learned about the work being done to save the animals in this country, and we visited a primate sanctuary. Both of these trips were mind-blowing experiences that I will treasure forever.
One stereotype about Jews is that we love food. I’m sure many of us can relate to being fed every time we visited our grandparents, or feasting at holidays. This stereotype is true for vegan Jews as well. Before I left for Israel, I was excitedly anticipating all the hummus I would eat, but I didn’t end up eating as much as I thought, due to the variety of diverse options. Of course I had the best hummus and falafel of my life, but I also enjoyed vegan shawarma & schnitzel, fried cauliflower, and junk food.
Because this was the vegan trip, we went to a lot of vegan restaurants. They were all incredible. Even when I would go into non-vegan restaurants, I didn’t have to worry about finding food. This country is the most vegan-welcoming place in the world, and everyone knows what the word means. In the US, I live in New York and California, two of the most vegan-friendly places in my country. However, Israel is far more vegan friendly that either of these.
I was worried about the language barrier, and being able to communicate, but not only did most people speak English, but they understood the word “vegan.” Everyone in Israel knows someone who is vegan, and most non-vegan Israelis that I spoke to told me that they were intrigued by the idea and they wanted to help animals.
Our trip was in late August, less than a month before the world’s largest animal rights march in Tel Aviv. We got to visit Ginger, the community center for animal rights, and we were able to learn about the history of this march and what led up to it. That experience was extremely inspiring, and made me want to stay in Israel!
Our group was mostly vegan, with a few vegetarians. We all bonded extremely quickly. I think we bonded more quickly than other Birthright Israel groups because we all had such a fundamental thing in common. Veganism is about compassion for animals, and so we all felt compassionate and open towards each other. I have never been in the company of so many people that I know and trust before, and I’m not sure I will again. It’s a really special thing to be in a group of 40 people and feel that you can trust each one of them with your life.
I had a special trip because I got to celebrate my birthday on the bus. I can say without a doubt that it was the best birthday of my life. This is not just because of the adventure filled day, the three different vegan cakes, or the fact that I was in Israel. It was an amazing day because I got to celebrate being alive on a bus with 40 friends. It was a literal party bus!
I have been back in the states for a while now, but I dream about going back every day. I know that this experience will stay with me forever, and I can’t wait to return to Israel. Now that I am in the states, I carry with me a knowledge that I am part of something. Not just the animal rights movement, but also a member of the Jewish community, which shares my values. And the knowledge that in Israel, there is a huge community of vegan Jews like me; who share my faith, my values, and my love of hummus.
Lily Drabkin is an artist and writer living in California and New York. She currently works for the nonprofit Jewish Veg, and writes for the magazine New Voices.