Public health and animal welfare advocates staged a protest in the lobby of the New York City Department of Health, pleading with City health officials to shut down Kaporos, an illegal mass animal sacrifice that takes place in the same Hasidic Jewish neighborhoods stricken by the measles outbreak.
During Kaporos, an annual atonement ritual, practitioners kill an estimated 60,000 chickens in open-air slaughterhouses erected without permits and contaminate the streets of Williamsburg and other Hasidic Jewish neighborhoods with blood, feces and body parts. Seven health codes are violated during the ritual.
According to a toxicologist who studied fecal and blood samples taken during Kaporos, the ritual “constitutes a dangerous condition” and “poses a significant public health hazard.” In recent years, several New Yorkers who did not partake in the ritual contracted E. coli and campylobacter after coming into contact with these contaminants. Advocates believe that many Kaporos practitioners have also gotten sick but that the insular Hasidic communities would not report the illnesses to the Department of Health.
During the protest, which took place on May 23rd, advocates distributed hundreds of handouts to DOH employees, drawing their attention to the measles outbreak and asking them to enforce the laws violated during Kaporos in order to prevent the outbreak of other infectious diseases, such as avian flu. While many DOH employees were dismissive of the advocates, dozens expressed their support with a discreet thumbs up or a brief remark in passing. Several employees said that they could not express their support of the advocates’ concerns with their supervisors for fear of retribution.
On April 9th, Dr. Oxiris Barbot, the Health Commissioner, held a press conference to announce a public health emergency due to the measles outbreak. Many advocates campaigning against the mass animal sacrifice believed that the measles emergency would serve as a “wake up call,” compelling her to take measures to prevent the potential outbreak of other diseases in the same Hasidic Jewish communities affected by measles. However, during a public health forum held at the City University of New York on April 1st, 2019, Dr. Barbot stated that she would continue to allow the sacrifice to take place. “In our work addressing public health issues in a number of different communities, we take an approach that matches the intervention to the degree that people are getting sick,” said Dr. Barbot. “I don’t see us making any change in our current practice in that area.”
An attorney advising the advocates believes that Dr. Barbot’s decision to ignore the health code violations exposes the city to liability. “Apart from the extraordinary risk at which the Mayor and Health Commissioner are placing New York’s residents, the City faces enormous liability should someone become sick or even die as a result of Kaporos,” said Bonnie Klapper, a former federal prosecutor. “The financial cost, which would be borne by all New Yorkers in the event of a money judgement, should certainly compel the City to enforce its own health laws.”
Advocates say that the Health Commissioner turns a blind eye to the health code violations because the Hasidic Jewish practitioners of Kaporos comprise a powerful voting bloc for her boss, Mayor Bill de Blasio, who is running for president.