Acadamy Award-winning actor and vegan activist Natalie Portman starred in a new video to honor the legacy of animal rights advocate Isaac Bashevis Singer, an acclaimed Polish-born Jewish writer who won the Nobel Prize for Literature 40 years ago this fall. The short was produced by PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals).
In the video, Portman highlights some of Singer’s most famous lines, including a line from the 1978 Yiddish-language autobiographical novel “Shosha,” in which the Nobel laureate famously wrote: “We do unto God’s creatures what the Nazis did to us.”
“Nowadays, many of us speak up for animals,” Portman began. “But it wasn’t always like this. Decades ago, one man articulated the plight of animals so boldly that the modern world couldn’t ignore him… Isaac Singer grew up in the same part of Poland as my family,” the vegan actor continued. “And like them, he fled the horrors of the Holocaust. But the cruelties he witnessed made Singer one of the most powerful writers of the 20th century.”
Portman explained that Singer became famous for his works about “individuals who dared to challenge cultural norms,” ranging from social justice issues that are still growing strong in contemporary times such as women’s rights, marriage equality, and animal rights. When he decided to stop eating animals, Singer boldly declared: “I did not become a vegetarian for my health. I did it for the health of the chickens.”
After adopting a vegetarian diet, much of Singer’s work was dedicated to highlighting the rampant animal abuse present in the meat industry. In the 1967 short story “The Slaughterer,” the Polish author wrote about a slaughterhouse worker as he suffered from internal conflict over killing and eating animals for food. In the story, the worker, who believes that eating meat is in direct opposition to ethics presented by all religions, says: “How can we speak of right and justice if we take an innocent creature and shed its blood?”
In the 1968 short story “The Letter Writer,” Singer wrote: “In relation to [animals], all people are Nazis,” a line that would spark discussions of comparing the mass slaughter of animals to The Holocaust. Further, Singer saw eating animals as such an injustice that in the preface for Steven Rosen’s 1986 book, “Food for Spirit: Vegetarianism and the World Religions,” he stated that even if God told him that he opposed vegetarianism, he would continue to advocate for animals.
A vegan of many years, Portman is an active supporter of animal rights. She has made several media appearances over the past few months to promote the new vegan documentary “Eating Animals,” based on the 2009 novel of the same name. She also served as the documentary’s narrator.
In recent years, more Jewish leaders and synagogues have supported showing compassion to all living creatures. Last October, 70 rabbis representing the Jewish Vegetarian Society wrote a declaration asking followers of the faith to adopt a vegan diet. Last month, five Jewish synagogues across the US announced the start of The Synagogue Vegan Challenge, a yearlong vegan food and education program sponsored by VegFund.
Image Credit: PETA