When Kira Horowitz became a bat mitzva at East Brunswick Jewish Center, she also made a life-changing decision reflecting both Jewish tradition and her compassion for animals.
As her social action project, Kira decided to become vegan. She does not eat meat, fish, or any animal products, including dairy and eggs. She also embarked on a “cruelty free” and environmentally conscious lifestyle by not wearing fur or leather and not using cosmetics, toiletries, or cleaning products tested on animals.
“Four years before my bat mitzva I became a vegetarian, and I did all the research about how they treat animals,” said Kira. “Then I found out about the connection to Judaism, which requires treating animals well, and thought how amazing it would be to do this.”
The transition has been relatively easy for the seventh grader at Hammarskjold Middle School in East Brunswick. Instead of cow’s milk, she uses almond, soy, oat, or hazelnut milk with her cereal. She has also discovered meatless “chicken” patties, tofu, beans, and vegan macaroni and cheese.
“I’m always encouraging others to give up meat,” said Kira. “Even if they don’t believe me, I always keep pushing because there is always a chance I will change their minds. I always tell my friends how good the food is and let them try it. I always tell them about the environmental impact.”
Coincidentally, Kira’s Torah portion for her bat mitzva on Nov. 18 was Chayei Sarah, which includes a story of compassion toward animals.
Tired and thirsty, Abraham’s servant Eliezer encounters Rebecca, who brings water for him and his camels. Because of her kindness to him and his animals, he decides she is the perfect wife for Abraham’s son Isaac.
Calling Rebecca “the perfect role model for all people today,” Kira said many of the practices of the dairy and meat industries, including kosher products, seem to run counter to Jewish law and tradition.
“First, conditions are terrible for these animals, many of whom are kept in cages and never get to go outside in their lives,” said Kira, who will turn 13 on Feb. 18. “When they milk cows they use a metal machine that hurts them. They are often also fed hormones and antibiotics that get into the milk. This really makes you think about where your food comes from.”
Kira said plant-based products, because they are low in cholesterol and high in fiber, are healthier.
She cited the laws that prohibit tza’ar ba’alei chaim — causing cruelty to animals — which require that field animals be rested on Shabbat and not be overworked and give all animals certain “rights” to proper food and care.
“One of the concepts of tikun olam [repairing the world] and tzedaka is about showing justice for all of God’s creatures,” she said. “I realized most of the heroes in the Bible, like Moses or King David, were shepherds who cared for animals while the two hunters, Esau and Nimrod, are depicted as villains.”
Kira’s mother, Amy Horowitz, said she herself became vegetarian four or five years ago, followed by her older daughter, Dana, who is also a vegan. To get other family members on board, she began preparing some vegan meals. Kira had been the lone holdout.
“I am very proud of her,” said Amy. “Kira took this very seriously, so seriously that there is no doubt in my mind this is what she will be for the rest of her life.”
During her bat mitzva speech, Kira asked those attending to give up meat at least one day a week and stressed her support of animal rights organizations.
“Being vegan truly makes me feel that I am following every Jewish law there is preventing animal cruelty,” said Kira. “I feel great to this day. I feel healthier, happier, and content with myself.”