In a parking lot behind a Pico Boulevard building, inside a makeshift tent made of metal poles and tarps, a man in a white coat and black skullcap grabs a white-feathered hen under the wings and performs an ancient ritual.
He circles the chicken in the air several times and recites a prayer for a woman standing nearby whose aim is to symbolically transfer her sins to the bird. The young man then uses a sharp blade to cut the hen’s throat.
In the days before Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, this ritual will be repeated untold times in hastily built plywood rooms and other structures in traditional Orthodox Jewish communities from Pico-Robertson to Brooklyn. Promotional fliers on lampposts in this neighborhood advertise the kaparot service at $18 per chicken or $13 apiece for five or more.
But the practice is increasingly drawing the ire of animal rights activists, and some liberal Jews, who say the custom is inhumane, paganistic and out of step with modern times.
“An animal sacrifice in this day and age?” said Wendie Dox, a Reform Jew and animal rights activist who lives nearby. “That is not OK with me.”
This year, activists have launched one of the largest, most organized efforts ever in the Southland to protest the practice, known variously as kaparot, kapparot or kaparos.
Over the weekend, a coalition of faith leaders and animal rights proponents held a “compassionate kaparot ceremony” during which rabbis used money rather than chickens for the ritual, an accepted alternative. Organizers say that more than 100 people attended and that some stayed to demonstrate late into the night.
Since the ceremony, activists including several staunch vegans and alarmed residents have taken to Pico Boulevard each evening, handing out fliers, setting up candlelight vigils and even bargaining with one kaparot manager to rescue chickens on the chopping block in exchange for protesting more peacefully.
The demonstrations have sometimes gotten testy. Protesters and kaparot managers alike contend they’ve been peppered with anti-Semitic slurs.
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