Shalom! My name is Itai and I listen to your podcasts here in Tel Aviv. I’m currently a graduate student reading History, but for ages I was a kibbutznik (a member of a collective Israeli farm). On the kibbutz, I worked with children (one of only two men to do so) and I worked in our commercial dairy, doing veterinary chores, milking our approximately 500 cows three times a day and feeding them. Once a week, I made the 5-hour bus ride to the conservatory in Tel Aviv to study piano. On one fateful trip, a little boy sitting next to me who had been looking out the window turned to me in tears, asking why the men were hitting the mama cow. (They were separating the calf from his mother and she wasn’t happy about it).
In that moment, the little boy’s compassion made the scales fall off my eyes. Yes, I’d been a vegetarian for 25 years. Yes, I knew all my cows by name, played them music in the milking parlor and never used the electric prod. Yes, I was sometimes that man stealing a baby from its mother.
I quit working in the dairy that day and took on the challenge of running the collective kitchen of the kibbutz. I ordered food, planned and prepared meals for 50 or 60 members and friends three times a day and then, washed up. At first, I had 50 carnivores, some folks on Weight Watchers, one other vegetarian and a member with diabetes to cook for. I started each morning baking fresh breads. Israelis are not shy about sharing their likes and dislikes. My friends let me know what they enjoyed. I figured I didn’t have to announce that the kitchen was now only serving vegetarian fare; I only had to make the meals delicious, satisfying and healthy. After the first month, I had 48 vegetarians on my hands and I was dreaming in recipes!
In April, 2003, I woke up one morning and became vegan. I didn’t have a word for it, yet. (In Hebrew, TEVA means ‘nature’ and from the same root, TIVONI means ‘vegan’). By the end of the month, my plate was free of animal products and gradually, the rest of my life has followed suit. Now, each May 1st, I celebrate my vegan ‘birthday’ by cooking a meal for my friends and asking them each to bring one dish (for which I supply recipes and lots of hand-holding as needed). Today is my 4th anniversary of becoming vegan. Friends are arriving soon for supper but before the festivities begin, I want to take a moment to thank you. I can’t begin to tell you how much I benefit from your work – and your passionate, articulate style. You help me stay informed, open my ears to things I hadn’t previously considered, and, by example, provide me with ways of sharing the message of compassion in a thoughtful, effective way.
~Itai in Tel Aviv