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COVID Cases Surge in Brooklyn’s Hasidic Hot Spots After Large, Mask-free Kaporos Events; Mayor and DOH Ignored Warnings

October 10, 2020 by Leave a Comment

The News

Weeks before the City shut down Brooklyn’s Hasidic neighborhoods due to a surge in COVID cases, animal rights and public health advocates flooded city officials and journalists with letters warning them of the spike if Mayor and Dept. of Health allowed large, crowded, semi-enclosed, mask-free Kaporos slaughter events to take place. They ignored the warnings, and the number of COVID cases jumped dramatically in these neighborhoods in the weeks that followed. In the extensive media coverage about the surge, neither elected officials nor journalists are addressing the fact that it was caused, at least in part, by the Kaporos wet markets.

Advocates warned the governor, mayor, city health officials and media that Kaporos events in COVID hot spots would lead to a surge in cases

The surge of COVID cases left New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, staunch allies of the Hasidic community, with no choice but to designate some of their neighborhoods as “red zones” and publicly state they were instituting partial shut downs. In spite of the fact that COVID safety guidelines had not been enforced in their communities before, they took to the streets of Borough Park, Brooklyn, to protest. Many of the protesters burned their masks in a show of defiance.

“The Hasidim will not change their behavior due to the pandemic unless they want to because, in New York, their actions don’t have consequences,” said Donny Moss of, an animal rights news magazine that documents Kaporos events each year. “Because of their voting power, elected officials move mountains to curry favor with them, even if that means helping them break the law and jeopardize the public health.”

Kaporos, a ritual animal sacrifice that takes place in the week leading up to Yom Kippur, is a perfect example. Each year before Yom Kippur, the Hasidim in Brooklyn erect approximately 30 makeshift slaughterhouses without permits on public streets and kill over 100,000 chickens (a conservative estimate) in violation of 15 city and state health and cruelty laws. Invariably, Kaporos practitioners and advocates who rescue chickens contract e. Coli and campylobacter. Nevertheless, the city provides the Hasidic community with police officers, floodlights, barricades and traffic cones which are used to bleed the animals out onto the streets.

In 2020, the animal rights community thought that Kaporos would be canceled for two reasons. First, elected officials and health authorities knew in advance that social distancing and mask wearing guidelines would not be practiced during Kaporos events, which, incidentally, would be taking place in areas already designated as Kaporos hot spots. Second, the Kaporos sites are wet markets where tens of thousands of customers physically handle the live animals before they are slaughtered. In light of the fact that COVID19 is a zoonotic disease that is widely believed to have jumped from animal to human in a wet market, the advocacy community thought that the City would cancel Kaporos to prevent the potential outbreak of another zoonotic disease.

In the weeks leading up to Yom Kippur, the Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos plastered hundreds of posters throughout NYC sounding the alarm about the health risks posed by Kaporos.

To the dismay of the advocates, the COVID pandemic, the risk of another zoonotic disease outbreak, and the health and cruelty violations didn’t compel the City to stop Kaporos from happening.

“One day, however, the victims of Kaporos will fight back in the only way they can – by unleashing a zoonotic disease on us that will rapidly spread through the Hasidic communities and lead to another global pandemic,” said Moss.

Before Yom Kippur, hundreds of thousands of Hasidim in the NYC tri-state area practice Kaporos, a ritual animal sacrifice (photo: Unparalleled Suffering Photography)

Animal rights and public health advocates have pledged to continue to educate the public about the health and cruelty violations and to hold past and present NYC health officials like Drs. Mary Bassett, Demetre Daskalakis, Oxiris Barbot and Dave Chokshi accountable for their decision to prioritize politics ahead of public health.

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Kaporos, Largest Live Animal Wet Market in the United States, Opens Ahead of Yom Kippur

September 19, 2020 by Leave a Comment

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In the days leading up to Yom Kippur, tens of thousands of Hasidim in Brooklyn will purchase and physically handle live chickens in a wet market setting. Wearing little to no PPE, they will swing the chickens around their heads as part of an annual atonement ritual called Kaporos. The chickens will be killed in approximately 30 makeshift slaughterhouses erected without permits on public streets in residential neighborhoods in violation of eight New York City health codes. The body parts, blood and feces of thousands of animals will contaminate the streets of South Williamsburg, Crown Heights and Borough Park for several days.

Kaporos is, in effect, the largest live animal wet market in the country and the only one in which the customers handle the animals before the animals are killed. Many of the animals have compromised immune systems and show signs of respiratory disease. The chickens make each other sick, and they also infect some of the people who handle them with e. Coli and campylobacter. If the viruses that these animals carry commingle and mutate into a more dangerous strain that could be spread among humans, then these Kaporos wet markets could be the source of the another zoonotic disease outbreak. 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.”

During Kaporos, tens of thousands of Hasidic Jews purchase and physically handle live animals, without PPE, putting themselves and the public at risk of zoonotic disease

In addition to putting all of us at risk of another zoonotic disease pandemic, Kaporos, which attracts hordes of people in small areas, could be a COVID “super spreader” event because Hasidic communities have been observed not wearing masks or engaging in social distancing.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio; his Health Commissioner, Dr. Dave Chokshi; and his Deputy Commissioner of Disease Control, Dr. Demetre Daskalakis, allow this mass ritual slaughter to take place, in spite of the health code violations and risks to public health, because NYC’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities represent a powerful voting bloc that can make or break elections in NYC and NY State. In fact, taxpayers help to underwrite the cost because the NYPD provides barricades, floodlights and a large police presence at many of the Kaporos sites. Given the risks and the disruption and death we have already endured already with pandemic, how can the Mayor and his health deputies allow Kaporos to take place?

The Kaporos wet market contaminates the public streets and sidewalks of several NYC neighborhoods with the blood, feces and body parts of thousands of animals killed in pop up slaughterhouses erected without permits in violation of 8 NYC health laws

During Kaporos, some of the live and dead chickens are discarded onto the streets. Rescuers bring the survivors who they find to veterinarians and sanctuaries to live out their lives in peace

For the past several years, animal rights and public health advocates have pled with Mayor de Blasio and his revolving door of health commissioners (Dr. Mary Bassett, Dr. Oxiris Barbot and now Dr. Dave Chokshi) to shut down Kaporos, given the health code violations and the risks to the public health. Both in court and in the media, city attorneys and spokespeople for the NYC Department of Health have defended Kaporos and argued that the City has discretion over which laws to enforce. Throughout the month of September, the Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos plastered 300 posters around New York City to sound the alarm about Kaporos.

The Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos, a project of United Poultry Concerns, plastered billboards around NYC to educate the public about the risk to public health created by Kaporos

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Animal Rights Group Plasters Anti-Kaporos Posters Throughout NYC

September 15, 2020 by Leave a Comment

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The Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos has plastered 300 large posters throughout New York City in an effort to call attention to the risk of zoonotic disease transmission during Kaporos, an animal slaughter ritual that takes place each year in the week leading up to Yom Kippur. During Kaporos, practitioners swing live chickens around their heads without PPE and kill them in makeshift slaughterhouses erected without permits on public streets in violation of eight NYC health codes.

Each year, factory farms in New Jersey and Pennsylvania deliver over 100,000 live chickens to Kaporos vendors in Williamsburg, Borough Park and Crown Heights and several other neighborhoods in New York City. The chickens are typically held in crates on public streets for up to several days with no food, water or protection from weather extremes, conditions that weaken the animals’ immune systems and make them vulnerable to disease.

Over 100,000 chickens are intensively confined in crates for up to several days leading up to the Kaporos ritual. Chickens who died from hunger, thirst, exposure or illness are often found in crates with the live chickens (photo: Unparalleled Suffering Photography)

During Kaporos, public streets and sidewalks are contaminated with the body parts and blood of thousands of chickens who are killed in makeshift slaughterhouses erected without permits in violation of eight NYC health codes. (photo: Suzanne Stein Photography)

Thousands of chickens die in their crates each year from hunger, thirst, exposure and disease before they are used in the ritual, and many of the chickens who practitioners physically handle during the ritual show signs of respiratory disease. Of the tens of thousands of people who partake in the ritual, only a small fraction wear protective gear, such as gloves. It’s this kind of interaction between humans and sick animals that triggered the COVID-19 pandemic.

In addition to putting the public at risk of another zoonotic disease outbreak, the large Kaporos gatherings throughout Brooklyn could be “super-spreader” events for COVID-19 because the Hasidic Jewish communities do not practice social distancing or wear masks.

During Kaporos, over 100,000 chickens are slaughtered and bled out onto public streets in violation of 8 city health codes

The Kaporos poster campaign targets NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio because he has ignored the pleas of animal rights and public health advocates to stop Kaporos from taking place due to the fact that it violates city and state health and cruelty laws and jeopardizes the public health.

Mayor de Blasio’s Health Commissioners have refused to address a toxicology report that outlines the risk posed by the mass slaughter of over 100,000 animals on public streets during Kaporos.

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.

The Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos plastered 300 posters around NYC to draw attention to the risk of zoonotic disease transmission that could lead to another pandemic

“The Police and Health Commissioners are political appointees, and their boss, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, has clearly instructed them to assist in Kaporos because the practitioners represent a powerful voting bloc,” said Donny Moss, an organizer in the effort to compel the city to enforce the laws. “Not only does the City provides police barricades, floodlights and an army of police officers and sanitation workers, but it also provides the traffic cones where tens of thousands of chickens are bled out onto public streets.”

City health codes that are violated during Kaporos

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A Stand-Up Comedian’s Chilling Diagnosis Leads to a Dramatic Transformation

August 28, 2020 by Leave a Comment

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Frank Liotti, a stand-up comedian from New York City, thought he had food poisoning one night when he got off the stage at a club in Ohio. When his symptoms didn’t improve after a week in bed, he went to the emergency room where he received chilling diagnosis. During an interview with TheirTurn, Liotti describes a dramatic life-saving change and explains the surprising reason he has been able to maintain it.

Stand-up comedian Frank Liotti makes the switch to a plant-based diet after being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.

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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

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