Yesterday, one activist was arrested for rescuing chickens who otherwise would have died of exposure in a crate on a street corner in Brooklyn. Another activist documented the deaths of hundreds of chickens, presumably from dehydration due to sitting in crates in the sun without access to water.
Yes, it’s that time of the year again, when a small subset of Hasidim (practitioners of one or another fundamentalist variants of Orthodox Judaism, most of which trace back to particular places in Eastern Europe and/or the teachings of particular rabbis) will try to purify themselves by foisting their sins onto innocent chickens.
In this folk ritual, which is not mandated by the Torah and is indeed condemned by many other Jews (including rabbis), a person grabs a chicken by the wings and repeatedly swings the bird overhead, with the idea that the sins of the person fly into the chicken, who is subsequently slaughtered.
There are only a few places in the world where followers of the varieties of Hasidic Judaism that began in the places where this local ritual was practiced are concentrated in sufficient numbers to mount large-scale annual festivals of avian torture. One of them is Crown Heights, Brooklyn.
Our first encounter with Kaporos was in 2005, when humane authorities in NYC seized hundreds of chickens who had been left in crates on a Brooklyn street corner in the pouring rain, and sanctuaries scrambled to make room for them. We welcomed 50 young birds that year, many of whom perished ever sooner than do most birds bred to be meat, but some of whom went on to enjoy long lives at our sanctuary’s original site in rural Maryland.
Since then, we have welcomed survivors of Kaporos almost every year. In recent years, Miriam (who is of Lebanese and Polish descent and was raised Orthodox) has represented VINE by both helping to organize and participating in protests.
In 2012, I managed to get Miriam on camera as she returned from the experience of witnessing the ritual. You can watch that video here and read her subsequent reflections here. Her reflections on last year’s protests are here.
This year, Danielle (who recently joined the VINE staff as a full-time animal caregiver focusing on bird care) is joining Miriam at the protests. They drove down yesterday and won’t be back until Friday. I’m so proud of and grateful to both of them for putting their own well-being on the line to represent VINE in this way.
Right now, today, there are birds in Brooklyn, awaiting torture in rituals that begin tonight and continue through the week. Some are crushed in crates on street corners. Others are stacked by the thousands in a tractor-trailer.
Every night, starting tonight, some activists will protest the ritual and do whatever they can, within the law, to stop it. If nothing else, they will bear witness and refuse to allow participants or passersby to ignore the cries of the birds.
If you are or can be in New York Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday night of this week, please come out to the protests. If you are a NYC resident, you might also urge authorities to enforce, rather than ignore, animal welfare regulations that enable the seizure of animals abandoned without water for more than 24 hours.
If you can chip in to help support any survivors we are able to welcome to the sanctuary this year, or simply want to express your appreciation to Miriam and Danielle for risking their own well-being to speak out for birds, please do.