Their Turn - The Social Justice Movement of Our Time Their Turn - The Social Justice Movement of Our Time

Archives

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 TheirTurn.net, 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.


Filed under: Food
Tagged with: ,

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


Filed under: Food
Tagged with: ,

Animal Rights Activists Rescue Over 200 Animals from Slaughter

January 17, 2020 by Leave a Comment


The News

During the 2019 Kaporos, an annual ritual slaughter that takes place in the days leading up to Yom Kippur, several teams of animal rights activists in New York City rescued 211 chickens who were hours away from being killed in makeshift slaughterhouses erected in Hasidic Jewish neighborhoods in Brooklyn.  The rescues were organized by the Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos and Long Island Orchestrating for Nature (LION).

The activists brought the chickens to a triage center where they provided them with food, water and, in some cases, acute medical care, before transporting them to farm animal sanctuaries around the country. Eight chickens were taken to veterinarians for emergency surgery due to broken wings and other life-threatening injuries.

Jill Carnegie with the Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos transports a rescue to the triage site.

Jill Carnegie, the Campaign Strategist for the Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos and an organizer of the rescues, said that the number of chickens who activists rescued was determined by the space available in farm animal sanctuaries: “We spent several months securing quality homes for the chickens. Since Cornish Cross birds are some of the most genetically-altered animals, they require specialized care. Each year, we can only rescue the number of chickens we can confirm homes for to avoid a potentially catastrophic scenario; we put in many hours of placement work so that we can save as many lives as possible. We wish we could have saved more.”

Activists estimate that over 100,000 chickens are trucked into the city and stored in crates on the street for up to several days with no food or water

With an estimated 300,000 Hasidic Jews in New York City, activists believe that well over 100,000 chickens are used and killed each year. During Kaporos in 2019, thousands of chickens died of hunger, thirst, sickness and heat exhaustion in the crates where they were being stored before the ritual even began.

During Kaporos, hundreds of activists provide watermelon and water to thousands of chickens stacked in crates on the streets of Crown Heights, Williamsburg and Borough Park in Brooklyn, New York

During Kaporos, practitioners swing six-week old chickens around their heads while reciting a prayer to symbolically transfer their sins to the animal.  The vast majority of the chickens are then killed in open-air slaughterhouses, leaving the streets contaminated with their blood, body parts, feces and feathers.  In 2015, an attorney suing the City on behalf of area residents hired a toxicologist to test the contaminants. In his report, Dr. Michael McCabe concluded that Kaporos “constitutes a dangerous condition and poses a significant public health hazard.”

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.

Advocates have, on multiple occasions, sent the toxicology report to Dr. Demetre Daskalakis, the head of Infectious Disease Control at the NYC Department of Health, and to Drs. Oxiris Barbot and Mary Bassett, the City’s current and former health commissioners.  Activists speculate that they have refused to acknowledge the correspondence because they could be liable if and when a disease outbreak does occur. Nora Constance Marino Esq., the attorney, argued the case to the State’s highest court — Court of Appeals. In their ruling in 2018, the six judges wrote that city agencies have discretion with respect to the laws they choose to enforce.

During Kaporos, over 100,000 chickens are slaughtered on public streets in residential neighborhoods in Brooklyn, exposing area residents to E. coli, campylobacter and many other pathogens and toxins

In recent years, resistance to the use of live chickens has been building in the Hasidic Jewish communities. In discussions with animal protection advocates, many Kaporos practitioners have acknowledged that the mass commercialization of the ritual has led to systemic abuses that violate “Tza’ar ba’alei chayim,” a Jewish commandment that bans causing animals unnecessary suffering.

“As long as this cruel ritual slaughter takes place, we will continue rescuing as many of the victims as we can before they are slaughtered,” said Jill Carnegie. “One day, the use of live animals for the ritual will come to an end, either because the Department of Health decides to enforce its own laws in order to prevent the spread of an infectious disease or, more likely, because a disease outbreak occurs.”


Filed under: Food
Tagged with: , ,

Hasidic Jews Speak Out Against Mass Animal Sacrifice, Kaporos

September 18, 2019 by Leave a Comment


The News

Before Yom Kippur in 2018, an Orthodox Jewish man in Brooklyn recorded himself criticizing a ritual animal sacrifice called Kaporos while standing in front of hundreds of chickens who had been abandoned for the night with no food or water. While many Orthodox Jews are willing to speak off the record about their growing discomfort with Kaporos, few speak out publicly out of fear of retribution.

During Kaporos, practitioners swing six-week old chickens around their heads while reciting a prayer to symbolically transfer their sins to the animal before the Jewish Day of Atonement.  They then bring the chickens to ritual slaughterers who slice their throats in makeshift slaughterhouses erected for the holiday.

While reciting a prayer, a Kaporos practitioner swings a chicken around his son’s head in a symbolic transfer of his son’s sins to the chicken. The chicken is then killed in a makeshift slaughterhouse erected before Yom Kippur. (photos: Unparalleled Suffering Photography)

During a previous Kaporos, an Orthodox man in Brooklyn told TheirTurn that he felt that the ritual could not be conducted humanely on a mass scale in urban areas.  “It used to be, once upon a time, you lived in a little shtetl [small Jewish village in Eastern Europe]. You used to go before Yom Kippur. You used to take your chicken out of your backyard. You used to take it and do it, but not to bring as a mass slaughtering on the streets. And that’s why I think it’s not right.”

 

In recent years,  resistance to the use of live chickens has been building in Orthodox communities. In discussions with animal protection advocates, many Kaporos practitioners have acknowledged that the animals are mistreated in the days leading up to the ritual due to their intensive confinement in crates. While some say that the problems can be fixed, others in the community argue that the industrialization of the ritual has led to systemic abuses that violate “Tza’ar ba’alei chayim,” a Jewish commandment that bans causing animals unnecessary suffering. In 2017 and 2018, thousands of crated chickens died of hunger, thirst, sickness and heat exhaustion before the ritual even began.

Before Yom Kippur, tens of thousands of chickens are trucked into Brooklyn, and the chickens are held in crates for up to several days with no food, water or protection from weather extremes.

A least a dozen Orthodox Jews have told TheirTurn that online videos about the cruelty have compelled them and/or family members to stop using chickens. Others say that, because the ritual takes place just once a year, they begrudgingly continue to use chickens in order to avoid family or community strife.

Advocates say that holding chickens by their wings instead of their bodies causes them more pain as they’re pulled from the crates, transferred to the Kaporos practitioner and swung in the air.

In New York City, animal rights activists have been protesting the ritual for decades, but they have seen few tangible results. “In candid discussions with Orthodox Jews, we have learned that the community doubles down on something when outsiders ask them to stop,” said Jessica Hollander, an activist who has been protesting the ritual since 2014. “We were trying to help the chickens, but, in the end, we were doing more harm than good.”  In 2018, the activist community stopped protesting and instead focused on providing food and water to the beleaguered chickens.

Advocates provide water to chickens in crates who are intensively confined for up to several days with no food, water or protection from the extreme heat.

To the surprise of animal rights activists in the United States, Israel’s Ministry of Agriculture released an animated public service announcement encouraging Kaporos practitioners to use coins instead of live animals. In New York City, the government not only refuses to speak out against the use of chickens, but also provides City resources for ritual, in spite of the 15 city and state public health and animal cruelty laws that are violated.


Filed under: Food
Tagged with: , ,

Measles Outbreak Triggers Kaporos Protest at NYC Dept. of Health

May 30, 2019 by Leave a Comment


The News

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.” 

Tens of thousands of chickens used in the ritual sacrifice Kaporos are bled out into traffic cones after their throats are sliced in open air slaughterhouses erected without permits on public streets. (photo: Unparalleled Suffering Photography)

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.”

Public health and animal welfare advocates protest NYC Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot over her refusal to enforce the 7 health codes violated during the mass ritual animal sacrifice Kaporos

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. 


Filed under: Food
Tagged with: , ,