Urban Adamah explains decision to slaughter hens

Now that Urban Adamah’s 15 hens have been slaughtered under kosher guidelines and turned into chicken soup, animal rights activists and leaders of the Jewish farm and education center in Berkeley are contemplating their next moves.

Chickens at Urban Adamah’s Berkeley farm photo/cathleen maclearie

For animal rights activists, who tried to persuade Urban Adamah to spare the birds, the deaths came as a bitter shock, and they vowed to continue their outcry. A candlelight vigil was held May 27 in front of Urban Adamah’s site in West Berkeley.

For Adam Berman, the founder and executive director of Urban Adamah, the kosher slaughter was a fitting resolution in alignment with the values and goals of his organization.

“We had fairly intensive conversations among staff and our board,” Berman told J., “and at some point we came to the decision that we were going to do a non-public [kosher slaughter] workshop with [Urban Adamah] fellows and alumni.”

Hope Bocanec, a Sonoma-based project manager for the animal rights group United Poultry Concerns, contacted Berman after learning about the public slaughter workshop originally scheduled for May 4. Fifteen Urban Adamah chickens, no longer laying eggs, were scheduled to be killed by a shochet (kosher slaughterer) in an education session to be attended by a maximum of 30 people.

After animal rights activists threatened a protest and the event was called off, Urban Adamah remained quiet about the hens’ future until May 21, when Berman revealed in an email to J. that two slaughter sessions had taken place, on May 14 and May 20. The meat was used in chicken soup that was handed out at Urban Adamah’s free weekly farm stand on May 21.

Hope Bocanec

Bocanec was irate. In a press release, she claimed she had “an extensive conversation” with Berman about having the hens transfered to a nearby sanctuary, with Berman “knowing full well at that time they were dead.”

Berman countered, telling J., “I was very careful in what I shared. We had chickens still alive when I spoke [with Bocanec]. We didn’t feel we were under any obligation to share when or where [the kosher slaughter] was happening. I wasn’t interested in sharing with protestors when that was to be, so when they asked, my answer was vague.”

Berman told J. via email that in the weeks since the controversy started, he has heard from more than 1,000 people opposed to Urban Adamah’s slaughtering the chickens.

“Literally, only one of them, as far as we can tell, has actually participated in any of our programs on the farm,” Berman added. “Except for this individual, all the protesters are people outside of the community of folks who call Urban Adamah home.”

He also noted that he had received hundreds of emails and phone calls from former Urban Adamah fellows, parents of campers, participants in the organization’s holiday celebration and leaders from Jewish and social justice organizations in the community who “have voiced support for our policy.”

Members of Jewish Vegetarians of North America have spoken out against the slaughter from the beginning. Though the organization’s core mission is to encourage Jews and others to adopt plant-based diets, Jeffery Cohan, JVNA’s Pennsylvania-based executive director, said his members couldn’t ignore the Urban Adamah workshop.

Adam Berman

However, Cohan did castigate his fellow activists for overheated rhetoric in condemning Berman and Urban Adamah. Some online commenters compared the slaughter to the Holocaust.

“JVNA explicitly does not invoke analogies to the Holocaust because it tends to distract people from the issue at hand,” Cohan said. “In my interactions with [Berman], I cannot accuse him of being disingenuous. There are definitely several points of common ground between us. We’re 90 percent [together] on the issues, but what happened to these hens reveals one point of sharp divide.”

Many activists objected to Urban Adamah’s use of terms such as “compassionate” and “reverence” in describing the kosher workshop.

Berman felt the use of such language made sense, given his organization’s perspective on food and Jewish values.

“If you don’t believe it is ethical for human beings to kill animals for food, I completely understand why they would think what we did was not compassionate or ethical,” he said. “But once you get to a point where it is possible for human beings to ethically consume meat, then I feel it was as humane and ethical a process as could be undertaken. I respect the opinion that simply taking the life of another being is not compassionate. But as an organization, we believe it is possible to eat meat in ways that are in alignment with compassion and kindness.”

Berman said he will acquire a new flock of chicks after he and his staff complete what he calls “a massive clean-up of the coop.”

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.