On Monday night more than a thousand people gathered on President Street at Kingston Avenue in Crown Heights for kapparot, a ritual Hasidic Jewish chicken slaughter ahead of Yom Kippur. Early the following morning, a neighborhood resident and animal rights activist walked around to survey the aftermath.
The grisly sight that greeted our tipster, who asked to remain anonymous, was piles of garbage bags, many full of dead chickens, trash cans with chicken carcasses coming out the top, and blood and dung caking the street. It is nauseating and wildly unsanitary, to be sure. But it also betrays a disingenuousness on the part of the slaughter's organizers.
"The practitioners claim that they donate chickens to the poor," the tipster wrote. "The video I shot proves that claim is not true."
During the ritual, participants pay money to acquire a chicken from the host group, pray and wave it over their heads, and pass it back to butchers on hand for the slaughter. The money is supposed to go to charity, as are the chickens—to feed the poor. In addition to the setup at the Crown Heights slaughter failing to meet the basic requirements for operation of a slaughterhouse, no refrigeration equipment was visible on the block where it was being performed, and video of the event shot by another activist that night shows butchers using traffic cones for killing cones (the things chickens are placed in to bleed out once having their throats cut) and throwing the birds, some still alive, into garbage bags, where they apparently sat until the following morning.
Here is the morning after, with police and sanitation workers standing back as cleanup workers throw trash bags and individual chicken carcasses into the garbage truck.
This video shows two butchers casually slitting the throats of remaining chickens and throwing them on the trash pile. In another video we viewed, the guy in green got it into the trashcan. In this one, he misses.
In one clip, a sanitation worker tells the helpers to stand back as the truck's compactor clamps down on the trash bags. In this one, neither garbageman does, and we find out why standing back is a good idea (around the 1:40 mark).
Seriously, watch out for that dead chicken sluice juice:
In the middle of this video, a surviving young chicken surveys the carnage:
From the tipster:
The smell of chicken feces was so overwhelming that I imagined I was continuing to smell it until late last night. It's so pungent because it coats the feathers of the chickens—they are stacked in crates on top of each other, and consequently, they are soaked in their own waste.
The sound of chickens peeping also haunted me until late last night. In the morning, after the makeshift slaughterhouse is torn down, they just cut the throats of the chicken on the sidewalk and sometimes throw them onto the ground to thrash and bleed to death. It's unbelievable how close pedestrians come to this slaughter. They pass within 15 or so feet of the dumpster on President Street. A school bus drove by the dumpster, along with numerous passenger cars and an MTA bus. This is all on public property and it's not hidden, unlike some of the other sites.
In the other location on Eastern Parkway, two African-American passersby on the Eastern Parkway pedestrian mall commented on the mess and asked how it could be legal.
I was surprised by the DSNY garbage truck. The arrival and loading of the truck appeared to be carefully planned because I don't recall the Hasidic men talking to the sanitation workers. Everyone seemed to know what to do. The sanitation workers helped load the truck a little bit and they operated the crushing mechanism in the truck, but mostly the young Hasidic men on the video loaded the truck while DSNY supervised. One of the sanitation workers told me it would be ok if I got in close to film.
Later, a DSNY street cleaner showed up and started to clean President Street as I was leaving. There was feces all over the street.
The tipster also described being grabbed and pushed by a Hasidic man on Eastern Parkway, who demanded that she leave the area. On Monday night, a few dozen attendees at the President Street ritual made sport of trying to block cameras and intimidate activists and reporters. The same camera-blocking strategy went to absurd lengths that night in South Williamsburg.
We called the organizing group Eshel Hachnosas Orchim, which provides housing for visiting Hasidic Jews, for comment, but no one answered (it is Yom Kippur) and the mailbox there was full. We also texted the organizer of a Borough Park event where activist David Karopkin says a thousand chickens sat in crates in a vacant lot without food and water for more than 15 hours.
Activist Dawn Ladd said that Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos activists saw hundreds if not thousands of chickens die in crates ahead of the slaughter, because of the mid-upper-80s temperatures, and because they were left unattended on Friday, the Jewish Sabbath. Karopkin said that some sites in Williamsburg were outside of livestock markets and some chickens do make it to food-processing locations, but that from his experience, a majority of those slaughtered are thrown away.
Alliance attorney Nora Marino made the point that if chicken carcasses are being donated for human consumption, many more federal, state, and local food-handling laws come into play, including the Federal Meat Inspection Act.
"Even if they are telling the truth that they feed the poor, which I don't believe personally, you still can't do it, legally, the way they're doing it," she said.
She condemned the city Health Department for failing to enforce health laws at the slaughter.
"Where are they?" she said. "Why are they in restaurants harassing a restaurateur for having a mouse in the kitchen, which is nearly unavoidable, but they're completely ignoring this?"
A lawsuit against the city and kapparot organizers claiming sanitation, licensing, and animal cruelty violations is ongoing. The NYPD and Health Department did not respond to previous requests for comment. We are trying them again, along with the Sanitation Department and the Attorney General's Office this morning.