Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Kapporos Protests: Reflections on a New Approach

Note from the Editor: As readers of this blog know, I was a founding member of the Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos in 2010, but broke with the organization in 2014 over what I saw as disrespect of Hasidism and Hasidic culture on the part of Karen Davis, who was their primary spokesperson at the time.  In the past year, however, some members of that organization have re-evaluated their aggressive approach (which, quite frankly, was not working) and decided to try using love and compassion instead.  In this guest column,  Rina Deych, also a founding member of the Alliance, describes what they did in the fall of 2018, and how it was received by the Orthodox and Hasidic Jewish communities in New York. (Rabbi Gershom)

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Kaporos Protests: Reflections on a New Approach

Guest Column by Rina Deych

Since 2010, the Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos has been protesting the use of chickens in the custom of Kaporos (background info here.)  Although at times we did get into some great discussions with practitioners, interactions were often angry and contentious.   Last year, for the first time, we partnered with The Save Movement and Jewish Veg, and our approach was very different.

Compassion instead of anger

Author Rina Deych (left)
and Anita Krajnc 
Anita Krajnc, co-founder of The Save Movement, met with a group of us to promote a love-based initiative inspired by the writings of Leo Tolstoy.  It was a truly eye-(and heart)-opening experience to hear her speak.  She encouraged us to have love and respect for practitioners and to approach them from a place of compassion.

It made me remember a conversation I’d had with a friend who insisted that if she were brought up in a community that used chickens in the ritual she would “know” they were suffering and she’d refuse to do it.  I told her at the time (and mentioned when I spoke at our meeting) that no one can say that for sure.  I explained (to her, at the time, and later to the group) that if one is indoctrinated from birth to believe (or ignore) certain things, it’s very hard to change – especially when one lives in a community that reinforces those things. Therefore, difficult as it is, we need to feel compassion for these people.

Teaching a how to properly
hold a chicken by supporting
her body
Last Kaporos, we visited groups in Boro Park, Williamsburg and Crown Heights, Brooklyn, where the ritual was being performed.  Activists opened crates and gave food and water to as many chickens as they could reach.  Sadly, that wasn’t many, because they are so tightly crammed into crates that are stacked several high and many across.

A more positive response

I noticed almost immediately that the practitioners’ reactions to us were completely different than in previous years.  Children gathered around, wide-eyed with curiosity and both kids and adults were asking us questions.

Chickens drinking water
offered by protesters
Sage Max of Jewish Veg gave out flyers with historic information supporting the use of money (instead of chickens) in the ritual. There were activists showing practitioners the correct way to hold a chicken (under and around his or her body, instead of by their fragile wings).  One butcher (some of the rituals occur outside of butcher shops) with a long white beard came over to me and showed me that he was giving the birds challah (bread) soaked in water.  I was touched by his compassion and thanked him.

There were some angry words from practitioners, but we tried our best to respond to them with kindness.  This is what I call putting water on the fire.  In previous years, some of us have thrown gasoline on it… not intentionally, but in response to seeing the chickens suffering.   That approach was counterproductive and did not help the chickens.

Continuing postive outreach

This year, we plan to continue our feeding, watering, and outreach efforts.  We planted many seeds of compassion and this Kaporos we plan to water them.  I thank Rabbi Gershom for his wonderful book Kapporos Then and Now, which I have given to rabbis and some key members of the community to inspire them to use money, instead of chickens.  It has been an invaluable tool in helping to spread compassion.

Rina Deych
Founding Member
Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos


"Hasidic Man Speaks Out Against Mass Animal Sacrifice Kaporos" -- a video of last year's actions, produced by Donny Moss of  Their Turn. Note especially the outspoken young Hasidic man at the beginning of the video, who is protesting the custom.  It is important to remember that not all Orthodox Jews do this ceremony.

Also check out this well-written article by Donny Moss, about how the footage of the Hasidic man in the video came about, behind the scenes discussions with Hasidim who disapprove of using chickens, etc.  Very well-balanced, informative, and accurate.

For practical suggestions on organizing effective protests and other actions you can take, see Rabbi Gershom's activist manual online here. 

For more on Rabbi Gershom's Book, Kapporos Then and Now: Toward a More Compassionate Tradition, click here, where you can read a synopsis by the author and order copies at a discount.


Yonassan Gershom said...

Mr. Cohen, whoever you are:

I deleted your comments because they are off topic and irrelevant to this article. Please do not spam my blog again.

Jerry C Stanaway said...

I was interested in your book on Jewish nonviolence till I found out you are pro-abortion. Abortion kills unborn babies. As a social justice advocate I would oppose abortion even if it was proved that there is no God.

Yonassan Gershom said...

Judaism permits abortion under certain circumstances. Since you brought this up under this article instead of the one on this blog where I went into detail about it (and where such discussion properly belongs), I will assume you haven't read my indepth analysis. Suggest you do before judging Jews as baby killers, an antisemitic trope from the Middle Ages. You will find the article under "abortion" in the index on the left column of the blog. Scroll down.

It is disappointing that you would write off everything I am based on this one issue. But sadly, such narrowness has become the norm lately. Peace.

Anonymous said...

Rabbi Yonassan, I was trying to find your email/contact information online to reach out to you. Then I found out you have this blog. I think you can help me if we can have a consultation. I read your two books “Beyond the Ashes” & “From Ashes to Healing”. I am not resonating with any of the dramatic yet convincing stories in your books, but I have different kind of experiences. Over the years I read many books & articles about World War II & Holocaust history & Nazi History and watched many documentaries. My overall obsession was great but no apparent reason. Somehow I want figure out what am I to do with all this (things happened over 75 years ago). I grew up in the communist China, a country has no anti-semetic history and apparently raised in a unreligious household. But baptized as a Christian in a German speaking lutheran church after I came to the US as an international student. So even as a Christian I somehow by chance visited synagogues (obviously reformed tradition) few times for Shabbat. The experience was joyful yet strange in a sense I felt the music & litergy “familiar” but I do not speak Hebrew. The strangest experience I have ever had was on my way back from Church service on Sunday afternoon, I unintendedly took a detour and by chance passed by a synagogue and magically attended the Yom Hashoah service and hearing the chazzan sing mourners Kaddish and people lighting memorial candles. During my church years pastor will talk to me about how Orthodox Jews observe Shabbat and preparing kosher meals. Essentially on a very frequent basis, I would be drawn to something/encounter something related to World War II history, Holocaust, Judaism. I might sound superstitious, but I am trying to connect the dots to figure out why I feel live under some kind of “shadow”, but do not know what exactly it is, it bothers me and never go away and I do not know what to do. So this created some kind of haunting experiences for me and I want be free from such stress. Maybe you can help to shed some light into my situation. I appreciate your time. Thank you. Rachel

Yonassan Gershom said...

Thank you for sharing your story, Rachel. I retired from reincarnation work 20 year ago and no longer do consultations. Which is why I do not have contact info here. The book helped many people but I burned out and have moved on to other things in my life. I wish you well on your journey. Peace.