2019 Year in Review

December 18th, 2019


2019 is coming to a close. Looking back, it’s been a year of growth for us! In one year, we’ve rebranded from The Shamayim V’Aretz Institute to SHAMAYIM: Jewish Animal Advocacy, expanded our staff, launched new programs and partnerships, began producing more Jewish & vegan-inspired content, continued our ongoing programs & have recently launched a brand new website that you’re reading this on right now! Keep reading to learn more about our exciting year of growth.


We are so excited to have grown to a staff of three!

Lisa Apfelberg started in June 2019 as our Director of Programs. She leads and manages the Synagogue Vegan ChallengeCampus Fellowship and plans the annual Jewish Animal Advocacy Retreat in collaboration with the rest of the Shamayim team. She is leading the way in expanding our programs – launching the Egg-Free Challah Program and the Rabbi Reflection Circle in the last quarter of 2019. Stay tuned for our announcements of new programs starting as early as mid-January 2020!

Alex Weisz joined the team in August 2019 as our Content Manager. He produces Jewish-inspired & vegan-focused content, including weekly D’var Torahs and podcast episodes.

Erica Fuchs joined Shamayim in November of 2018 and now serves as the Manager of Digital Marketing. She creates content for Shamayim’s website and social media platforms, writes newsletters and press releases, and handles all other creative communications.

Read our leadership page here.


Our 6th annual retreat took place in March 2019 at the Pearlstone Center in Reisterstown, Maryland. It was our largest group yet!

2019 Schedule | 2019 Session Descriptions | 2019 Photos

Our next retreat is coming up from February 7 – 9, 2020. We invite you to join us for a Shabbat weekend filled with thought-provoking sessions about animals, veganism, and Judaism, along with kosher plant-based meals and great company in the foothills of Simi Valley, California at the Brandeis-Bardin Campus for our 7th annual retreat.


In July of this year, we held our first-ever Shabbat gathering at the Animal Rights National Conference in partnership with Jewish Veg. It was a beautiful way to connect as a community at the world’s largest and longest-running animal rights gathering. We’ll definitely be back for #AR2020!⁣⁣


Every year around Yom Kippur, certain Jewish communities participate in a ritual called kaporos, originating in the medieval times where on the day before Yom Kippur a live chicken is swung over a person’s head three times before the chicken is slaughtered.

As a Jewish organization, it’s so important that we help teach those in our community that there is a kind way to practice kaporos, by using coins instead of chickens.

Learn more about Kaporos here.

This past October, we were proud to endorse the NYC Kaporos Week of Action hosted by the Alliance to End Chickens as KaporosJewish Veg, and The Save Movement. We encouraged our NYC supporters to join the team of activists that provided water & food to the chickens before they were slaughtered for this ritual. Chickens that were deemed not kosher for the ritual (from being sick, or suffered from broken bones), were rescued (with permission).

See some of the chickens that were rescued here!

We also supported Faith Action for Animals in a “Coins not Hens” compassionate kaporos ceremony in Los Angeles.


Our first-ever class series on Ethical Eating in partnership with Ritualwell has come to a close after our last class on December 9th!

Thank you so much to Ritualwell, and our teachers, Rabbi Rick Brody, Dr. Adrienne Krone, and Rabbi Jonathan Klein, for helping us further educate the Jewish community about the power of our food choices. And to our participants, reaching as far as Germany, thank you for joining us on this learning journey.


Shamayim’s Plant-Based Torah series is our weekly D’var Torah, which has been ongoing since mid-August. This is to accomplish a few key goals: to emphasize the connection between Torah and animal welfare; to emphasize the compatibility of plant-based living with Judaism and its central religious text; and to unite our supporters of all Jewish backgrounds utilizing study of the weekly Torah portion through the lense our common value of tza’ar ba’alei chayim (not causing harm to animals). While the Divrei Torah are mostly written in-house, we occasionally have guest authors contribute. It is released in print on our website and in audio on our podcast.

Read vegan-inspired weekly D’var Torahs on our blog.


Shamayim’s podcast was launched in October of this year. In addition to producing audio recordings of Plant-Based Torah for the weekly portion, we also publish interviews with notable Jewish vegans, including activists, scholars, authors, and rabbis whose work align with Shamayim’s. Our guests have included Kenden Alfond, the author of the Jewish Food Hero Cookbook and Glenn Sacks & Liora Raphael, authors of the children’s book Happy Animals: Friends Not Food.

Follow along with weekly episodes on Apple Podcasts & Spotify.


We recently launched our newest program – the Rabbi Reflection Circle, a quarterly virtual meeting for vegetarian & vegan rabbis to connect, share ideas, and learn from other spiritual leaders who have engaged with their communities about caring for animals and the environment by choosing plant-based foods. Our goal is for the participating rabbis to collaborate on ideas to bring the Jewish values of Tza’ar Ba’alei Chayim, preventing cruelty to animals, and Bal tashchit, not wasting, back to their communities and to learn from each other.

With the current climate crisis hanging over us and animal agriculture being a major culprit, and the moral emergency that is normalized abuse on factory farms, where 99% of animal products come from, Shamayim is amplifying the message of compassion for animals and the environment by encouraging spiritual leaders to engage with their communities about the urgency of these issues.

The first Rabbi Reflection Circle took place on November 20th, 2019 and featured lessons from Rabbi Marc Soloway and Rabbi Rick Brody. Twenty rabbis from around North America participated in this first quarterly learning and networking call! The next quarterly Rabbi Reflection Circle call will take place in February 2020!

Please let a vegetarian or vegan rabbi know about these quarterly calls by sharing this signup page with them.


In September, we launched a new program that helps Jewish communities around the country become more eco-conscious and animal-friendly by instituting one simple change – making the switch to baking egg-free challah.

Sign your community up here!

Temple Beth Tikvah in Roswell, Georgia, is one participant in our Egg-Free Challah Program that has committed to baking vegan challah once a month. Look at those beautiful loaves!


Our eleven 2019 – 2020 campus fellows have been hosting vegan events on their respective campuses throughout the fall semester. By hosting food and discussion centered events, they’re truly putting Tikkun Olam into action in their communities. Currently, our students have reached close to 700 students with their message and we are only halfway through the school year!

Below are just a few examples of the awesome events they’ve held since the start of the school year:

Take a look at this fantastic plant-based spread!

Yoav at University of Michigan hosted a buffet-style vegan Shabbat dinner (which he spent the day preparing) for about 40 of his peers and colleagues.

The meal showcased lots of familiar foods (quiches, lasagna, bread, etc.) that people think “have to be” made with animal products. He shared some of his tips and tricks to vegan-izing certain foods (for challah, using coconut milk instead of water enhancing the fat content, compensating for the loss of egg yolk; JustEgg- a mung bean egg alternative is perfect to make quiches with; soaked cashews and the right mix of spices makes an excellent ricotta substitute). He made things that a lot of people didn’t realize would or could taste just as good (or even better in some people’s opinions!) than the non-vegan version.

Yoav is also sharing vegan recipes with his community, and is thinking about running a few “demos” for small groups who are interested in learning more about vegan cooking!

Talia at Johns Hopkins University, led a class for her peers on “the Jewish life of animals” with three main focus points: how we relate to animals as Jews, what we owe animals, and the Jewish laws on having animals as pets.

Starting this conversation with students who are not vegan or vegetarian, along with serving some delicious plant-based soup, helped open their minds and hearts to advocating for animals as a Jewish responsibility. Many mentioned how it’s clear that eating animals is not ideal or even necessary in Judaism.

Kara at George Washington University veganized her Hillel’s “Kaballah and Kreme” event, a weekly discussion between the rabbi or a resident facilitator about a topic through a Jewish lens, with a variety of delicious dairy-free ice creams. She helped lead a text study of two core Jewish sources that inspire vegan and environmental thinking, introducing the group to Jewish understandings of caring for the earth and animals, and to connect the values Shamayim represents.

Keep up with the work all of our campus fellows on doing on their campuses here.


Shamayim is currently in our third cohort of the Synagogue Vegan Challenge, a year-long program where we provide training, education, and support to five synagogues a year who do twelve months’ worth of vegan programming. This program is generously sponsored by our partners at VegFund.

Our current Synagogue participants are Sixth & I in Washington, DC, Congregation Bonai Shalom in Boulder, Colorado, Congregation Beth Sholom in Providence, RI, Chabad of Potomac and B’nai Jeshurun in NYC. These Jewish congregations, from all denominations and backgrounds, have been incorporating plant-based food and education into their programming since September, introducing hundreds of people in the nationwide Jewish community to a lifestyle that is better for us, our planet, and of course, the animals.

Here are a few events highlights from the third cohort of the Synagogue Vegan Challenge so far:

Congregation Bonai Shalom in Boulder, CO had a “Back to Shul” event to kick off their participation in the Synagogue Vegan Challenge. For this first event, people especially loved the vegan desserts served! This synagogue is excited to be partnering with a famous local vegan chef and with their local JCC (who has an organic garden) during the year for many of their programs.

B’nai Jeshurun NYC held a Havdalah for their 20s/30s community to celebrate Sukkot and learn more about plant-based food, environmental issues, and their connections to Judaism. One of B’nai Jeshurun’s Rabbinic interns led a program connecting different passages from the Torah to farming, sustainability, and ethical treatment of animals. She also shared her own personal story about becoming a vegetarian at the age of 8 once she learned about how animals who became meat for consumption were treated. Delicious pumpkin sliders with vegan toppings, maple-flavored caramel corn, vegan banana bread, roasted vegetable medley, dried fruits and nuts, and vegan s’mores were served.

Congregation Beth Sholom hosted a great Synagogue Vegan Challenge kick-off event at Wildflour Vegan Bakery & Juice Bar! They celebrated receiving the vegan food grant and discussed programming related to food consciousness for the year ahead.

Keep up with all of our Synagogue Vegan Challenge Participants here.

Overall, it’s been a tremendous year of growth for SHAMAYIM: Jewish Animal Advocacy. Thank you for being a part of our community. We hope to work together with you in 2020 to continue spreading the message of compassion towards animals in your communities! Happy Hanukkah and Happy New Year!

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