Daily Log of Activities to End Chicken Kaporos in Brooklyn, New York, October 3‑7, 2019
By Rina Deych, Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos
(Williamsburg, Boro Park, Flatbush, and Crown Heights are neighborhoods in Brooklyn.)
Wednesday, Oct. 2nd
The first day was in Williamsburg. Dozens of activists came out in 90-degree stifling heat to provide strips of watermelon to the chickens who were crowded and suffering in the sweltering heat in their crates. This day was strictly a day of chicken care.
Thursday, Oct. 3rd
The second day of action was in Boro Park. We went to three locations. The first was 53rd Street between 13th and 14th Avenues. When we first walked in, people asked us to leave but we ignored them. We fed the chickens strips of watermelon.
When the people working there saw that we were just feeding the birds, they left us alone. Jewish Veg got into some great discussions with members of the community. When we felt we had pretty much covered all of the crates, we walked to the next site at 49th Street and 14th Avenue. We all walked in together and nobody stopped us. They asked us to leave, but when they saw we were just feeding the chickens, they pretty much left us alone. In fact, they told us that they had been feeding them and giving them water.
Our third and final stop was 53rd Street and 18th Avenue where we started to feed the birds. Immediately, the people running the event became aggressive, asking us to leave and attempting to close their gates. One of our women said she was shoved by one of the men, which is uncharacteristic of Orthodox men. They normally don't touch a woman who isn't their wife. But these people were extremely agitated and almost knocked a couple of us down while trying to close their gate.
Friday, Oct. 4th
Our third day was the highlight of the week. We entered the only known operational Kaporos site in Flatbush from both sides into a large shed where there were multiple crates. We could see that there were plates of cut watermelon around the enclosure. There was also a bag of chicken feed and it was clear that the chickens had been fed because there was food around the ground. When we started to feed them, nobody stopped us. The place seemed to be run by two young men in their late twenties or early thirties. One of them in particular was very compassionate. He referred to us as angels and thanked us for what we were doing. He assured us that they had given the birds watermelon and chicken feed. We knew that he was telling the truth because unlike chickens in other areas, these chickens recognized the watermelon immediately and went for it! I explained to him that this ritual didn’t need to be done with chickens. He indicated that he was just working there and whispered to me “it’s all about money.” He also said that if he didn’t work there, the chickens would not be cared for properly.
When the activists ran out of watermelon, the guy working there gave us more. It was surreal, it was so amazing. The one guy who was so compassionate was even showing practitioners how to properly hold the chickens. Activists from Jewish Veg were doing outreach outside the enclosure and having meaningful conversations with people in the community, most of whom were very receptive.
I glanced down at the chickens who had already been used in the ritual. At this particular location there was no slaughter going on. We were told that the chickens were going to be picked up and brought to a slaughter plant later that day. I asked the guy in charge if he would consider giving us a chicken so we could bring him to a sanctuary where he would go on to a long happy life. He asked how many I wanted. I said, “Well, as many as you can give us would be greatly appreciated.” He let us take all of the chickens who had already been waved (used in the ritual) from the transport crate. He even gave us plastic cartons so we could transport them. We were able to openly rescue 26 chickens from that location.
Unfortunately, one of the activists found out that he later got in trouble for giving us the chickens. I felt terrible and really hoped that he wouldn't get fired since he was the only one who was really compassionate towards the chickens.
Saturday, October 5th
From Friday night to Saturday night Kaporos stopped for the Sabbath. I drove around Boro Park to see if there were any chickens left overnight without food, water and shelter. The only ones I found where at 53rd Street and 18th Avenue. This place is notoriously for leaving them over the Sabbath without food and water or protection from the heat or cold. It was very chilly that night and my heart went out to the chickens.
Sunday, October 6th
We started out at one location in Williamsburg. Shortly after we started giving the chickens watermelon, NYPD officers showed up. Initially, they were very hostile and insisted that we get away from the crates of chickens. Jill Carnegie and I spoke with them and explain that we were there only to give care to the birds. We showed them a copy of the law that permits us to feed animals who have not been fed for a period of time. It even permits people to trespass if necessary to access the animals. Thereafter, the police allowed us to care for the chickens. One officer was really enjoying petting a chicken. He told us that he was vegetarian and working on becoming vegan!
At that location, we negotiated the release of a bird with a broken wing. It took three of us to finally convince the owner to release the bird, who was already treif (un-kosher) due to his injury.
I told the owner that my grandfather was one of the first kosher butchers in Boro Park in the 1920s and his father was a shochet (ritual slaughterer). I explained how both men were opposed to the use of chickens in the ritual. I pleaded with him to release the bird to us, who we already named Chaya. He finally said, "Okay, you want the bird? Take the bird."
The next location was outside a butcher shop. By then, we had established a very good working relationship with NYPD officers.
Members of the community were watching. Members of Jewish Veg, all of them Jewish and well-versed in the subject, were on hand to engage with members of the community and answer any questions they might have had. It was at this location that NYPD officers helped us get some of the crates that were in deepening puddles of water moved to higher ground. It was also at this place where we found several dead birds in with live ones. Some of the chickens were pecking the dead ones because they were starving. It was absolutely heart-wrenching.
Our actions were completely peaceful, with no one but Jewish Veg interacting with the public, as instructed and monitored by our own marshals. Our last location of the day was a bit more trying. One of the activists grabbed and held on to a chicken with a broken wing. She was crying and did not want to release the bird. The chicken had already been swung by one of the practitioners. He demanded that the activist return the chicken to him because she was his "property."
At first, the police backed him up and said that if he paid for the chicken, she belonged to him. I took issue with that and said that he does not own the bird. People are not buying birds. They are paying to take part in the ritual, which he had already done. The Community Affairs officer said that they would negotiate with the person running the ritual in hopes of convincing him to release the bird to us. The officer leaned down and whispered, "Don’t worry, you're getting that bird." Sure enough, a few minutes later, the officer said that we were free to take the bird. NYPD had successfully negotiated for the release of the bird.
Monday, Oct. 7th
Monday night was the big event in Crown Heights. Police estimated that there were 200 to 260 activists. Jill and I had spoken with Community Affairs prior to the event to brief them about our plans. Jill went into detail with the Community Affairs officer, outlining our precise plan of action.
We started out on President Street and Kingston, where the killing goes on throughout the entire night. Most of the activists feeding the chickens were wearing coveralls and gloves, as well as face masks for protection from pathogens that were all around us. The stench was awful. As bad as it was for us, I can only imagine how horrific it was for the poor chickens, crammed into transport crates that were stacked up to 12 high, some birds with their talons stuck between the crates and breaking off.
There was quite a bit of media including New York Daily News, the Gothamist, NYC radio, WPIX-TV, ABC, and I-24 TV. Jewish Veg, again, was amazing in interacting with members of the community and politely and patiently explaining our position. They were all very patient and respectful. Several of them even spoke Hebrew which was a huge help, because many of the rabbinical students present for the ritual did not speak English.
We then made our way to Eastern Parkway and Kingston, where we met with some loud opposition. While a French journalist from I24 was attempting to interview Donny Moss, one of the members of the community was shouting, singing, and dancing, to try to obstruct the interview. He called us self-hating Jews and tried to sidetrack the issue by calling us abortion supporters and communists. One member from his own community asked him to please stop and he was ultimately escorted away.
In Crown Heights, the killing goes on this final day throughout the entire night. We made the rounds in the various areas on Tuesday morning into afternoon to check for any survivors left behind. Nora Marino and I came upon 16 loose chickens walking around on the isle of the service road on Eastern Parkway. There was an open crate on the ground and these chickens, who were “left over” from the ritual, were just let loose. We posted on Facebook that we needed help to corral and rescue them.
Within five minutes three members of our group came to do just that. Two Orthodox men helped us as well, as did one child who was about seven or eight years old. He crawled under a car to get one of the chickens. It was harrowing until we were able to contain all of the chickens, some in the crate and others in a cardboard box. One of the chickens, named Little Bean by Nora, had an externally rotated leg that looked like a displaced fracture. We rushed him to the vet in Great Neck. It turns out he has a congenital deformity and the vet is attempting to help him. He is not doing so well. The other 15 are doing quite well and are being cared for in one of the safe houses.
All in all, it was very productive effort. It was empowering to be among so many compassionate activists. Each year, more and more members of the Orthodox community in Brooklyn tell us they are no longer using chickens. We realize this is not going to go away overnight. However, with more and more Orthodox rabbis speaking out against the use of chickens in the ritual, there may be a light at the end of the tunnel.
– Rina Deych, Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos, October 13, 2019