20 October 2019

Post-Kapparot 2019 Wrap-up

Dear True Friends of Animals,

I write "True Friends" because beyond wanting to cuddle with cute feline and canine friends, you have thrown your lot in with those who grapple with the daily atrocities that we as human beings commit toward other species, both animal and plant. You are partners in protecting the planet from the worst instincts of our fellow humans...and yet as we do everything we can to save the innocent animals who are subjugated by others, we also struggle with friends, family members, neighbors...all those around us who in many instances are simply acting as we were raised to act. How do we both advocate for animals and simultaneously love our fellow humans? This is not an easy question, and I apologize for an overly long preamble to this email, but as I think more and more about our shared work to create heaven on earth for all earth-bound creatures, I obsess over the question of our own humanity in the struggle. We cannot simply write off those closest to us if we imagine a world of peace for all life. In our love for non-human animals, we must also love our planet's human co-inhabitants as well, organizing and mobilizing and advocating out of love, not hate. In the Hebrew bible, there is the notion that one day, a utopian future (messianic era) the lamb will lie down with the lion...I read that to mean that some day, compassion and love will reign supreme. It's up to us to get us there, and there is no way to do that through hatred.

Moreover, that is NOT pacifism. If a wrongdoer torments an animal, or worse yet, there is large-scale cruelty embedded within Jewish, Christian, Muslim, or any religion, we have every duty to proclaim such traditions dangerous and make efforts to prevent them, for the voiceless life forces who depend on our voices to survive. It is in that spirit that Faith Action for Animals, Progress for Science, Jewish Veg, and Shamayim, among others, joined together to demand an end to Cruelty-based Kapparot (grateful to Jewish Veg, Last Chance for Animals and PETA as well for sharing our actions with their email lists; thank you!). We will continue this struggle until the cruel, marginal, and illegal (in California) tradition of Kapparot is finally eliminated, through legal means, legislative responses, cultural shift, market pressures (i.e. making it too expensive), or any other non-violent means necessary. As my teacher and colleague Rev. James Lawson points out on a regular basis, nonviolence does not mean pacifism; it's the only strategy that makes our commitment to animal liberation just.

This year was monumental for a number of reasons:

  • The visibility of the ritual was less in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood than in past years. It's true that perhaps it was better concealed and chickens were being slaughtered, anyway. During our Sunday protest, there were conflicting reports, and uncovering an advertisement in Farsi suggesting it was going to be a bloodbath, we had only two reports that suggest that it was happening at Ohel Moshe, no reports of it at the home of Hershel Cohen (who was for the past five years seemingly the alternative Ohel Moshe members would utilize). Mr. Cohen was likely doing mobile slaughter, and by no means would I say we had no Kapparot this year, but there is NO QUESTION that the perpetrators of this torturous cruelty felt like the tide has turned and they cannot do it as brazenly as in the past. This suggested movement culturally away from cruelty-centered Kapparot and toward "Compassionate Kapparot" or no Kapparot at all.
  • Unlike past years when we held a small substitute ritual as Faith Action for Animals alone, this year we had a much more visible alternative Compassionate Kapparot ritual than ever before! We were joined by Jewish Veg in person and Shamayim as well on the far more busy intersection of Pico and Robertson. We raised just shy of $150 to go to poor Angelenos through SOVA: A Jewish Food Pantry, truly living out the intention of the ritual, instead of throwing dead chickens in the trash. And as a fantastic opportunity for impact, The Jewish Journal published a picture on page 17 depicting our ritual; despite some challenging dynamics I have personally had with some of the leadership there, they even added their own title, "Showing a Little Compassion." What could be better messaging for the Jewish community?
  • At Hebrew Discovery Center, our greatest nemesis for the past few years, there were two nights of ritual and two nights of protest. For the first night, we held our ground and, thanks to Bryan Pease and his efforts to ensure our First Amendment protections, unlike past years when LAPD seemed in the pocket of Rabbi Louie, our loud and proud animal advocates stood their ground. On the second night, with the addition of both counter-protesters and our Compassionate Kapparot banner, the mood notably shifted, we felt as if there were breakthroughs, and we know that at least one chicken was saved because of an activist who loudly proclaimed, with a neon sign, "love!". In fact, two chickens were then rescued, for the first time that I can remember at HDC. I also talked one woman out of the ritual, and I saw her drive away, committed to do Kapparot with money and to give it to a homeless person later...Even more substantially, we had good conversations as well (at least some of us did; there were others who were having direct verbal clashes with the counter-protesters as well...while not my way to be, I am grateful for anyone who defends animals).
  • Personally, I became more familiar with why some Jewish groups do it and others don't. For instance, most Moroccan and Iraqi Jews do NOT do Kapparot with chickens; most Persian Jews did in Iran (but not in Los Angeles because the Iranian Rabbinical Association asked people to use money instead). I now understand that it has to do with Jewish legal authority; Persian Jews often align with the Ben Ish Chai, but Iraqi Jews, for instance, don't, preferring a more lenient position in many instances and following the writings of the late Ovadia Yosef instead.

There were lots of wonderful components this year, and I want to give a special shout-out to all those who lent a hand in the organizing of this year's protests/rituals (with apologies to anyone i inadvertently leave out; first names only):

  • AJ
  • Alicia
  • Ann
  • Brett
  • Brittany
  • Brittany
  • Bryan
  • Chris
  • Cory
  • David
  • Eva
  • Fabienne
  • Gina
  • Hope
  • Lindsey
  • Lisa
  • Lola
  • Lynn
  • Marlaina
  • Matt
  • Miriam
  • Niloo
  • Paige
  • Robyn
  • Shantal
  • Shmuly
  • Simone
  • Tera
  • Tish
  • Vitaly

We have begun to think about next year. One cultural shift that I think might help is to make this truly problematic in the Jewish world; with this in mind, instead of juxtaposing:

Cruel Kapparot vs. Compassionate Kapparot

we might opt for

Cruel, Unkosher Kapparot vs. Compassionate Kosher Kapparot

or just

Unkosher vs. Kosher Kapparot.

We know that it is NOT kosher to kill these birds and toss them in the trash...time to push harder!

And of course, please, if you are willing and able to contribute to this effort, please send a tax-deductible contribution, made payable to "Faith Action for Animals," to:

Rabbi Jonathan Klein, c/o BCC
6090 W Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90035

Thank you for your partnership as we protect animals from all forms of suffering and needless violence. Special thanks to Paige and Jane Unchained and other press sources for doing this work with us!


Rabbi Jonathan Klein
Director, Faith Action For Animals

Faith Action for Animals is a coalition of faith leaders and activists who advocate and take action on behalf of animals who are exploited, abused, tortured and slaughtered for food, research, fashion and entertainment, utilizing religious language for animal and vegan advocacy.