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Farm animal advocate, inspired by life in Warsaw Ghetto, urges vegan lifestyle

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By Bill Zlatos Sunday, Aug. 24, 2014, 9:30 p.m.

Alex Hershaft, founder of the Farm Animal Rights Movement.

As a boy, Alex Hershaft hid in and outside the Warsaw Ghetto to avoid the Germans' slaughter of Jews during World War II. Now, he is urging people to refrain from consuming meat or dairy products to reduce the butchering of animals.

"The people who oppressed us in Poland were from all walks of life. They were united by this ideology that Jews were not human," said Hershaft, 80, of Bethesda, Md. "The same thing happens to the farmer. Many farmers are fond of their animals, but they feel they should suppress their feeling for the animal because they believe these animals should be slaughtered for food."

Hershaft, founder of the Farm Animal Rights Movement, will describe how his experience in the Warsaw Ghetto inspired him to champion animal rights during a lecture on Monday night at Rodef Shalom Congregation in Shadyside.

Rodef Shalom and the Holocaust Center of Greater Pittsburgh are sponsoring the event.

Jeffrey Cohan, executive director of Jewish Vegetarians of North America, said Hershaft's speech is significant because it could be the first time an accredited Holocaust-education organization has sponsored such a speaker.

Cohan admits that the analogy between the Holocaust and farms is imperfect.
"Farmers are not trying to wipe out chickens, cows and turkeys. They're perpetuating them," he said. "Germans hated the Jews. Agribusiness does not hate the animals. They might treat the animals with total disregard, but they don't hate them."

Chris Herr, executive vice president of PennAg Industries Association in Harrisburg, said animals "deserve to be treated with respect and integrity throughout their lives and the process that takes their lives."

His trade group represents 600 agribusinesses in Pennsylvania, where 530,000 dairy cows, about 1.6 million cattle and calves, nearly 1.2 million hogs, 23.6 million egg-laying hens and 125 million broiler chickens are raised.

Hershaft said his father presumably died during the war. Hershaft and his mother moved to Italy. When he was 16, he immigrated to America, and she went to Israel. He received a bachelor's degree in chemistry from the University of Connecticut and a doctorate in chemistry from Iowa State University, beginning a career working for aerospace companies and consulting firms.

He became a vegetarian in 1961, and 20 years later, a vegan - someone who not only avoids meat, but also eggs and dairy products.

Bill Zlatos is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7828 or

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