As of midweek, the 15 hens at Urban Adamah were alive and clucking. Officials at the urban farm and education center in Berkeley decided last week to cancel an on-site kosher slaughter demonstration following pressure from animal rights activists.
So what happens to the birds now?
“We don’t know,” Urban Adamah founder and executive director Adam Berman said on May 6. “And we don’t know when we will make a decision. Right now, the chickens are happy.”
The events of last week took a sharp turn only hours after J. went to press on April 30 with the headline: “Urban Adamah won’t chicken out; kosher slaughter workshop to go on.”
Officials had initially stood firm that their long-planned, three-hour event — at which a trained shochet (kosher slaughterer) was to kill the birds and educate the 30 adult attendees about kosher slaughter — would go on as scheduled Sunday, May 4, even in the face of protesters who had threatened to picket outside the event.
But on May 1, Berman sent out an email explaining the cancellation.
“We regret to inform you that we are canceling our shechita (ritual slaughter) workshop planned for this Sunday,” the email began. “Our landlord has asked us to cancel the event. We do not have explicit permission in our lease for this activity.
“It has also become clear that there is a significant protest being organized outside the farm during the workshop. The noise and disruption expected from the protesters would very likely have caused undue stress to the chickens and the program participants, and prevent us from holding a safe, educational and compassionate workshop.”
Though the protest was called off, activists said they will not let up the pressure until Urban Adamah declares that the birds will not be killed.
“A number of sanctuaries and homes have offered to take them,” said Fairfax resident Patti Breitman, a member of Jewish Vegetarians of North America. “We encourage everyone to stay in touch to see what’s going to happen with the birds. We are ready to protest the day we find out the killing will take place.”
Added Hope Bocanec of United Poultry Concerns: “We’re thrilled that the chickens are still alive and safe for now. But unfortunately they’re still in danger daily [at Urban Adamah] because at any time they could change their minds and, under the radar, decide to hold the class or go ahead and slaughter them.”
Berman told J. it was “very unfortunate” that the event was canceled because it would have been a good learning experience for Jewish community members interested in the processes of kosher slaughter.
“The landlord asked us to cancel it because it wasn’t in our lease, and we have a good relationship with them, so it wasn’t a battle we felt like having,” Berman said.
Kosher slaughter demonstrations have taken place at Urban Adamah in the past, and Berman would not confirm that his landlord has forbidden any such events in the future.
Berman said the Urban Adamah staff had wanted to go ahead with the event, even after opposition began mounting last week in the form of phone calls and emails to Urban Adamah, email blasts from animal-rights activists around the country and several groups calling for protests.
On the other hand, Berman also heard from dozens of Urban Adamah alumni and former program participants, virtually all of them supportive of the organization’s decision to hold the workshop.
“When it became something of an issue, the [Urban Adamah] board was informed, and they were completely supportive” of going forward with the event, Berman said.
The story of the planned workshop and the fate of the hens went viral, eliciting hundreds of comments on various animal rights Facebook pages, and dozens more on sites such as the Forward blog “The Jew and the Carrot” (which ran J.’s updated online version of the story) and the online news source Berkeleyside (which ran its own story). Jewish Vegetarians of North America posted an image with the word “Victory!” on its Facebook page, adding in accompanying text that the victory was only temporary if the birds are not allowed to live.
Some online comments compared the killing of the birds to the Holocaust, a level of rhetoric that Bocanec decried.
“There are extreme voices on all sides,” she said. “Sometimes those people come out of the woodwork, and I apologize to Urban Adamah for that. We don’t need that disrespectful language, but what’s really disrespectful is killing the hens.”
Though Berman would not say what would happen to the hens — he did say that, as of May 7, they were “thriving” — he does expect further protests should the birds be slaughtered. He acknowledged the activists’ right to protest, but questioned their priorities.
“It seems strange to me,” he said, “given the level of and type of suffering caused to animals in a more widespread way in other places in the world, that [protesters] would choose to picket a sustainable farm.”