I have a lifelong love for meat. But I was always fascinated by the ethical reasoning for veganism or vegetarianism. When I made Aliyah, I discovered an increasing number of Israelis who are vegans. Especially since moving to Pardes Chana eight years ago and working with a lot of tech clients in Tel Aviv. Which drew me to wonder, why are so many Jews vegan when eating meat has always been a part of Jewish tradition? And, why are secular Jews more likely to be vegan if the reasoning for veganism is rooted in Jewish tradition. That is why I had Rabbi Akiva Gersh, The Vegan Rabbi, as my premiere interview for my YouTube channel, Israel Unfiltered.
I hope you enjoy this video discussion below, and you can learn more about Akiva from this Q&A, so you, too, can expand your perspective on veganism and living an authentic Jewish Life.
Akiva Gersh has been working in the field of Jewish and Israeli Education, including Jewish Environmental Education, for 20 years. Originally from New York, he moved to Israel in 2004 and from 2007-2020 taught Jewish History and Modern Israel at the Alexander Muss High School in Israel. He has since taken his Israel education work online through his business @Israel, providing courses, classes, and virtual tours about Israeli history, society, and culture. Akiva is also a contributing blogger at the Times of Israel and, in 2017, published his first book, “Becoming Israeli,” about the experience of making Aliyah and acclimating to life in Israel. He shares his teachings about Judaism’s views of animal welfare and veganism through his “Vegan Rabbi” pages on Facebook and Instagram. Akiva holds a BA in Religious Studies from Brown University and an MA in Jewish Education from Yeshiva University. He and his wife Tamar live in Pardes Hanna with their four children.
We’ll use this Q&A to guide our conversation. I will be using these answers along with our recording for publicity.
What attracts you most to the work that you do?
I love helping to realize the great abundance of Jewish teachings related to compassion for animals, and that gives support for a vegan lifestyle. Though many of these teachings come from classic sources, they are often unknown to the general Jewish population.
What is your greatest motivator to continuously create content?
The feeling that I am sharing content that is of value to people, helping them to better understand certain things or have a different perspective on issues that I am sharing about.
What is your best memory related to Israel?
I have tons. But one is walking to the Kotel years ago on Yom Ha’Atzmaut. We were living in Jerusalem, and we had three kids at the time- 5, 2.5, and a 3-month year old. I decided to take a walk with all of them to give my wife time to rest, and we walked up the street to see the Yom Ha’Atzmaut parade. My oldest was walking, the middle one was in the stroller, and I was carrying our baby on me in a baby carrier. From the parade, I saw the walls of the Old City, and I said to my kids, “Let’s walk there!” So we did. And when we got to the walls, and I saw our baby was still sleeping, I said, “Let’s walk to the Kotel!” So we did. Standing at the Wall with my three kids on Yom Ha’Atzmaut was so powerful. It was one of the moments that you realized you were taking part in the great return of the Jewish people to their homeland. After some time, we began our long walk home, which took about an hour. And all the while, my baby was sleeping on me!
What is your favorite book recommendation?
One of them: Like Dreamers by Yossi Klein HaLevi.
What’s your favorite Israeli snack or cuisine?
Fresh hummus with really yummy pita.
Share an “Only-in-Israel” experience.
I was walking into a store with my son when he was three years old. The armed guard at the entrance says, “Let me give him a blessing. I’m a kohen.”
About Vegan Rabbi: Vegan Rabbi is a social media platform through which Akiva Gersh shares ancient and modern teachings from the Jewish tradition regarding animal welfare and veganism. He teaches an online course entitled “Judaism, Animal Welfare and Veganism” for people who want to deepen their understanding of the Jewish imperative to show compassion for animals.