As part of a growing campaign to compel NYC’s Health Commissioner Mary Bassett to ban a religious animal sacrifice that violates seven public health codes, over twenty activists staged a 45-minute disruption in the lobby of the Department of Health’s (DOH) headquarters as several thousand city employees entered the building during the morning rush.
During a similar disruption that took place two weeks earlier, DOH employees informed the activists that the protest could be heard throughout the building and was the subject of conversation among city employees. This feedback, coupled with a desire to ensure that all DOH employees are informed of their employer’s negligence, triggered activists to return for the second disruption.
Photo: Unparalleled Suffering Photography
“The system is broken,” said Jessica Hollander, an activist who participated in the protest. “What does it is say about our city government when New Yorkers are left with no choice but to stage a ‘die-in’ on the floor of the Department of Health to compel the agency to enforce its own regulations?”
A reporter and photographer from the NY Daily News attended and reported on the protest in an article entitled, “Protesters Slam Health Department, Implore City to Ban Jewish Chicken Slaughter Ritual.”
Protest coverage in the NY Daily News
In a statement provided to the Daily News for the article, the DOH dug in its heels, stating, “We have not found Kaporos to be a significant public health threat — our surveillance has shown no increase in illness — and this ritual is an important practice for some Orthodox Jews.” The DOH did not address the health code violations or the toxicology report which explicitly warns the city of the risks that Kaporos poses to the public.
Following is an excerpt from a 25 page affidavit submitted by Dr. Michael McCabe to the court in connection with an ongoing lawsuit about Kaporos: “The high levels of total coliform bacteria and E. coli present confirm that the Kaporos activities produce unsanitary conditions in . . . public spaces . . .. It is my opinion with a reasonable degree of toxicology, immunology and environmental health sciences certainty, that based on the evidence set forth . . . that the Kaporos activities taking place in the subject locations as described constitute a dangerous condition and thereby pose a significant public health hazard and could be catastrophic.”
“During the week when the animals are killed, the streets in my neighborhood become a giant petri dish of pathogens and toxins that expose not only the practitioners to disease but also members of the general public,” said Rina Deych, a 62 year old nurse who lives in Brooklyn. “I can’t walk my grandson around my own neighborhood because there’s a makeshift slaughterhouse on every other block and chicken body parts in the streets.”
During Kaporos, ultra-Orthodox Jews swing live chickens around their heads in a symbolic transfer of their sins to the animals prior to the Jewish day of atonement, Yom Kippur. After the ritual, the chickens are killed in pop-up slaughterhouses. While most of the dead and dying chickens are stuffed into garbage bags and hauled away by the NYC Dept. of Sanitation, many end up in the streets and sidewalks, which contaminates public spaces with blood, body parts and feces.
“We are not asking Commissioner Bassett to ban Kaporos,” said Nathan Semmel, an attorney who participated in the protest. “We are merely asking her to prohibit the use of live animals. Thousands of Jews around the world perform Kaporos by swinging coins around their heads and then donating the money to charity. There’s nothing in religious scripture that mentions, much less mandates, the use of live chickens.”
The 45-minute disruption at the Department of Health, which was staged during the morning rush hour, was the fifth action taken by activists to compel the city agency to enforce its own regulations.
Activists protest in the lobby of the NYC Department of Health during the morning rush to pressure the Commissioner to ban the use of live chickens during a religious ritual called Kaporos (photo: NY Daily News)
In 2015, The Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos and 19 NYC residents sued the NYC Department of Health and the NYPD for failing to enforce the 15 public health, sanitation and anti-cruelty laws and regulations that are violated during Kaporos. The case centers on whether or not courts can mandate that the police enforce the laws that are violated during Kaporos. According to the plaintiffs’ complaint, the police are not only ignoring the violations, but they are also “aiding and abetting” in the crimes by providing the ritual practitioners with flood lights, barricades, security and the orange cones in which the chickens are bled out.