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In Memory of Animal Rights Activist Shimon Shuchat

August 4, 2020 by Leave a Comment

The News

Shimon Shuchat, a 22-year-old animal rights activist from Brooklyn, died on Tuesday, July 28th. In spite of being so young, Shimon was one of the most wise, humble, ethical, empathetic and hard-working activists in New York City. He was also extraordinarily smart. No tribute, including this one, could do justice to Shimon.

Animal rights activist Shimon Shuchat

Shimon’s story is different than most. He was raised in an ultra-Orthodox Jewish home in Brooklyn. According to his Uncle Golan, he learned how to read when he was two years old, and he showed unusual signs of empathy when he was a little boy. For instance, he somehow figured out that a leather jacket was made from a cow, and he asked his parents why people would wear that. When he was a teenager, he came across animal cruelty videos that shook him to the core. He became an atheist, and he made the decision to chart his own course in life.

Leaving the insular ultra-Orthodox Jewish community is not easy for anyone, especially a teenager, but Shimon found the courage to transfer from his yeshiva, which was familiar, to secular high school, where he didn’t know anyone. He also immersed himself in the NYC animal rights community, participating in multiple events every week. Ironically, among the first acts of cruelty that he protested was Kaporos, a ritual animal sacrifice performed by the very community in which he was raised.

Shimon Shuchat bears witness to chickens languishing in transport crates

Throughout his childhood, Shimon had a close relationship with his father, Velvel. According to Shimon’s relatives, “Velvel validated and loved Shimon, and always supported him. He would frequently take him on trips, despite tight finances, often using Greyhound buses to bring him to different states to visit animals. Velvel advocated for Shimon when his yeshiva was unprepared to answer Shimon’s difficult questions. His father always lovingly took the time to listen and support Shimon in any way he could.” His extended family said that Shimon “is a shining light and a blessing to this world, and may his memory also be for a blessing.”

In 2015, Shimon was accepted to Cornell, and he brought NYC-style activism to a reserved animal rights club on campus. After college, he returned to NYC and worked in the animal rights movement until he passed away. He talked about going to law school one day.

Animal rights activists Shimon Shuchat and Rina Deych

Shimon was a quiet, shy, and anxious person, but, according to his fellow activists, he stepped far outside of his comfort zone in order to advocate for the animals. Rina Deych, an activist in NYC who mentored Shimon when he joined the movement, fondly recalls a Kaporos protest during which she offered Shimon a bullhorn to lead the chants. “He shyly refused,” Rina said, “But when he didn’t like the accent I used to pronounce a Hebrew phrase, he grabbed the megaphone from me and led the chants for the duration of the protest. His willingness to prioritize the animals over his anxiety demonstrated just how committed and compassionate he was.”

Shimon Shuchat advocating for captive animals and showing his support for LGBTQ equality

His colleague Nadia Schilling, who also served as a mentor to Shimon, said, “Shimon’s work for animals was unmatched by any person I’ve ever worked within the animal rights movement. It’s easy to lose hope and feel defeated in this line of work, but I honestly believed that, with Shimon by my side, we could make this world a better place.”

Shimon Shuchat participates in an Direct Action Everywhere disruption at Whole Foods, protesting the Company’s “humane meat” advertising.

Unaware of Shimon’s anxiety, Nadia asked him to testify in front of the NYC Council in support of legislation to ban the sale of ban foie gras. “He intentionally waited until after he delivered his remarks to confess that public speaking exasperated his anxiety. He knew I wouldn’t have asked if I had been aware of his fear, and he didn’t want to let down me or the animals. That’s how selfless he was.”

Shimon set the bar high for his activist colleagues with his impeccable work ethic and selflessness. He was singularly focused on reducing animal suffering, and he had no interest in the material world or even the basic comforts that most of us take for granted. One summer during college, Shimon asked if he could do an internship with TheirTurn. “I was reluctant because he was so serious and had such high standards, but I wanted to support him,” said Donny Moss. “He worked so efficiently that he completed his assignments more quickly than I could create them. If I didn’t force him to take a break for lunch by putting the food on top of his keyboard, then he would not have eaten.”

Shimon Shuchat phone banking for Voters for Animal Rights (VFAR) in support of the NYC bill to ban the use of wild animals in circuses

Shimon’s asceticism was stunning at times. “One day, while running an errand, Shimon and I walked into Insomnia Cookie, which had just added a vegan cookie to its menu. When I offered to buy him one, Shimon asked me to donate the amount of money I would have spent on the cookie to PETA. Even after explaining that I could buy him a cookie AND make a contribution to PETA, I practically had to use force to get him to eat the cookie, which I knew that he secretly wanted.”

Shimon Shuchat advocating for the use of coins instead of live chickens during a religious ritual called Kaporos

Shimon was painfully humble for someone who contributed so much. “People like Shimon, who work so hard behind the scenes with no public recognition, are the pillars of our movement,” said Nadia.

Perhaps more than anything, Shimon was empathetic. His uncle Golan said that he “felt things extraordinarily deeply” from a young age. One year during a Kaporos protest, Donny witnessed this firsthand when he found Shimon off to the side weeping. “In the face of so much cruelty and suffering, Shimon practically collapsed from a broken heart.”

While delivering his testimony at the foie gras hearing at City Hall, Shimon made a plea that should, perhaps, be his parting message to those he left behind. “Regardless of our ethnicity, race, religion, or political affiliation, we should be unanimous in opposing and condemning cruelty directed at animals, who are among our society’s most vulnerable members.”

Shimon Shuchat participates in an animal rights protest in NYC

Shimon’s father Velvel, Uncle Golan, Aunt Leah, Cousin Debbie, Rina, Nadia, Donny and others who cared about Shimon hope that Shimon, who made a lifetime of contributions in his short, 22 years, is resting in peace in a kinder place.  “Shimon was a shining light and blessing to this world,” according to his family, “May his memory also be for a blessing.”

Shimon Shuchat (bottom right) volunteers at Safe Haven, a sanctuary for rescued farm animals

In August, several animal rights organizations, including PETA, organized and participated in tributes to Shimon. On August 30th, Brooklyn-Queens Animal Save staged a vigil in his memory at a slaughterhouse in Astoria, Queens.

Brooklyn-Queens Animal Save vigil in memory of animal rights activist Shimon Shuchat

Comments via Facebook Comments

  1. Sidney Kafker says:

    I often wonder why it is that some of us feel so deeply about the plight of animals, and others brush it off (or lack the ability) to confront their emotional connection. It’s as though societal acceptance is valid justification for earthly compliance. Much like Shimon, I felt a strong association with animals at a very young age. I can’t walk through the meat dept. of a grocery store, or see video of animals held captive in cages/pens, suffering from day 1 of their lives, having their babies stolen at birth, then slaughtered because humans like the way they taste. Not only do I cry often,but also feel isolated from (non-vegan) humankind…including those I love dearly. Those of us who share these sentiments know what a lonely existence we “empaths” face. Perhaps Shimon, who I wish I’d had the pleasure of meeting, just couldn’t live with this feeling of deep sorrow any longer?

  2. Dina Zel says:

    What a beautiful, brilliant soul. My prayers go out to everyone who were so fortunate to have been part of this young man’s life.

    There is a special place in heaven for those who watch over vulnerable animals (two and four legged).

  3. Daniela Nyvltova’s reply says it exactly ALL for me. Her sentiments are mine! I am totally devastated by the loss of his life. I only wish I could have known him and tried to comfort him and keep him safe. We must all honor him by fighting for his and our causes until our last breath. My sadness is prompting me to explore “what more can I do?”. I will hold this young man in my heart forever.

  4. Daniela Nyvltova says:

    I have not met Shimon personally. I only read about his life when I learnt about his death. I am completely devastated — I know how he suffered all his years on this planet because anyone with this deep level of consciousness and heightened sensitivity is tormented. We live in hell, humans created living hell on this planet and the few of us trying… we are not able to fix it. The level of torture, never-ceasing torment of non-humans along with the apathy from our fellow humans is excruciating. The desire to end it all is too powerful because the pain of knowing is too unbearable. My only wish is that I knew him. Words are not sufficient to convey the pain and the absurdity of this huge loss. RIP Shimon.

  5. Carol Marcus says:

    I am completely shocked and truly saddened to learn of Shimon’s very untimely death. I hadn’t seen him since he left for college and lost touch on FB because of his busy study schedule. Our community lost a true warrior and hero. This is so hard to process that words are not sufficient to give tribute and praise to this very special young person. My deepest condolences to his family. Rest in peace, dear Shimon.

  6. Pat Harmon says:

    I never had the privilege of meeting Shimon. I wish I had. What a gentle, compassionate and dedicated, kind soul. This is a huge loss to the ARA community. Rest in peace.

  7. Samantha Smith says:

    Rest In Peace Shimon. Your passing is a loss for us all.

  8. Keith Sanders says:

    I knew Shimon, and wish I knew of this news a couple of days ago, when Shiva was still going on (seven days after the burial, which is usually one day after death), so that I could visit his family in their time of mourning. I know where they live, as Shimon and I used to put up flyers on lampposts in Brooklyn, years ago, prior to Kapparot taking place on Yom Kippur. What a great guy.

  9. Joyce Friedman says:

    Shimon was an amazing human who dedicated every waking hour he had to advocating for animals. He was brilliant, compassionate, and so willing to do anything for so many groups and campaigns to try to stop animals’ suffering. I had the pleasure of working with him on the NYC circus ban bill for which he did loads of phone banking and other lobbying work. He was seen at every event and seemed to intern at every organization. I hope he knew how he was loved and admired. A special soul. Shimon- you were loved . Rest In Peace . We miss you already .

  10. Lynn Manheim says:

    I knew Shimon and so I screamed when I learned of his death a few minutes ago. A few years ago he dropped out of sight on Facebook and I was very worried about his state of mind. At the time I called (or maybe messaged) Rina Deych, who was able eventually to learn he was okay.

    Shimon insisted on watching the most depressing videos of animal suffering. He said they kept him motivated.

    I urged him to take care of himself and try to find some joy in life…not to dwell always in the darkness that those of us who advocate for animals have all known, and all too well. There was no danger of his not being motivated; animal rights was his whole life.

    The cause of death isn’t mentioned, but I strongly suspect suicide.

  11. Deborah Broome says:

    May his memory be a blessing; Shimon’s life, a shining inspiration of Tikkun Olam. He has set a wonderful example for us to help the most helpless & innocent among us. What good does it ever do, to sacrifice the innocent?

  12. Holly Johansson says:

    May his kind and beautiful soul be at peace.

  13. J. Coccoli says:

    A wonderful Human being. He will be missed. R.I.P.

  14. Activist says:

    What is the cause of death? :[

  15. Terry Russo says:

    Such a sad end to a beautiful life. May his dream come true that the humane treatment of animals will become part of our culture, that people will care about animals as much as he did. May he rest in peace.

  16. Joel Stein says:

    My sincere condolences to this kind and compassionate human being. Hopefully, Shimon’s memory will live on through people like him who work to end Kaporos and other acts of animal cruelty.

  17. Larry Trepel says:

    I hadn’t seen Shimon since he went to college, but back in 2015 he organized the Animal Holocaust Memorial where we marched to Times Square and held a vigil. It was a moving event for all, and I always feel that link. He spoke for it that day. It is so sad that he is no longer with us.

  18. Anna says:

    It is sad he left the World; and I can understand his pain that he could no longer deal with everyday. But had he stayed, he could have done more good for the animals. Years ago I read of a young teenager in India who hung herself on a tree because she could not deal with all the animal cruelty in our world. I wish he would have talked about his feelings with Donny or others, so that perhaps his mind would have been changed. It is the animals’ loss. A heartbreaking story that brings tears to your eyes. I hope his death is not in vain though; and that someone or many others realize the extreme animal cruelty that exists here and in turn also does something about it. At the root of animal cruelty is capitalism….and perhaps we need to change that way of life.

  19. Bonnie says:

    Blessed are the merciful.

  20. Linda Ann Reynolds, Ed.S. says:

    My Mother taught me that anyone, or the Sinless Creations who have a truly pure heart do not belong in this beautiful world full of evil people. Shimon, You are One. Tremendous loss for All!

  21. Such a terrible loss to the animals of this world. He did so much for them in his very short life. He had so much time left to do so much more unfortunately at his very young age he was heartbroken and found it so very difficult to deal with this part of our society that is so, so cruel to the animal kingdom. May God keep you in his graces and may others that knew and loved you carry on your wonderful work. R.I.P sweet prince.

  22. Anne Davis says:

    Devastating loss!!

  23. Shelley Berman says:

    I did not know him, but he seemed like an amazing person. He was my kindred spirit. I hope he is at peace and his work will continue.

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