Natalie Portman, who was nominated for an Oscar for her insightful portrayal of Jackie Kennedy, stars in a new PETA video spotlighting the legacy of maverick animal advocate Isaac Bashevis Singer (1902–1991), who won the Nobel Prize in Literature 40 years ago this autumn.
“Isaac Singer grew up in the same part of Poland as my family,” says Portman in the video. “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.” The heroes in his bestsellers championed women’s issues and gay rights (for example, in “Yentl, the Yeshiva Boy”) and especially animal rights. “I did not become a vegetarian for my health,” Singer once declared flatly. “I did it for the health of the chickens.”
In his autobiographical novel Shosha, the Jewish icon famously wrote, “We do to God’s creatures what the Nazis did to us.” In The Slaughterer, which he wrote for The New Yorker, he tells the story of a young man who loves animals but is appointed his town’s ritual slaughterer. Tormented by the cruelty of his actions, the slaughterer ponders the roots of violence. Singer wrote, “As long as people will shed the blood of innocent creatures there can be no peace, no liberty, no harmony. Slaughter and justice cannot dwell together.”
“Nowadays, many of us speak up for animals, but it wasn’t always like this,” says Portman, whose PETA video aims to make a new generation aware of Singer’s legacy. “Decades ago, one man articulated the plight of animals so boldly that the modern world couldn’t ignore him.”
Moby provided music for the video, which was directed by filmmaker Jesse Dylan, whose father, Bob Dylan, was inspired by Singer in the 1960s.