the goat reaches his head out toward davis, who holds a piece of kale between her teeth
Op-ed author Naomi Davis and Shlomo the goat share a piece of kale at Urban Adamah. (Courtesy/Naomi Davis)

Why I will keep protesting for animal rights at Urban Adamah

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Jews who care about building a better world should stand in support of the animal rights activists who protested at Urban Adamah’s Purim celebration on March 11. Not only were the demonstrators ethically correct, because the exploitation and slaughter of animals is wrong, but Berkeley’s Jewish urban farm was an entirely appropriate venue.

I recently moved to the Bay Area to apprentice at Urban Adamah. I connect to my Judaism through music and movement, through activism and agriculture, but I never felt as connected to my Jewishness as I did working at Urban Adamah, seeding tomatoes while singing songs about justice.

Last weekend, however, I helped organize a protest there. I did so because Urban Adamah promotes violence against animals in my Jewish community.

As an animal advocate, I have demonstrated at food festivals, restaurants and grocery stores. I have participated in investigations into animal factories just up the road in Petaluma, an action that last week’s J. editorial suggested would be “better” than protesting at Urban Adamah.

As a model of advocacy for progressive, sustainability focused Judaism, Urban Adamah and its practices affect humans and animals far beyond its plot of land. For many East Bay Jews, Urban Adamah is our community center. It is a place where young, progressive Jews, myself included, cultivate their Jewish identities, where children begin to learn about tzedakah and tikkun olam. There are Friday night services and holiday events; it is much more than a farm to us.

Because Urban Adamah plays such a formative role for so many, its killing of animals for food sends a clear message that this is the right thing to do. We all condemn factory farming, but industrial animal agriculture is a natural consequence of the view that animals exist for our purposes.

Urban Adamah teaches that view in the community — that animals are commodities for production. Factory farms merely stand out because they “guarantee maximal production,” as Rabbi David Rosen, former chief rabbi of Ireland, wrote in a March 16 op-ed in the British Jewish News, “Is any meat kosher today?

Viewing animals as mere food machines numbs our compassion.

If you look closely at Urban Adamah, you can see how viewing animals as mere food machines numbs our compassion. The supposedly idyllic shechita (kosher slaughter) at Urban Adamah meant a random collection of staff members freely butchering chickens under the instructions of a single novice.

Backyard hens, like the ones kept at Urban Adamah, come from hatcheries where the males are ground up alive while the females never feel their mother’s warmth. Urban Adamah’s goats are forced into demeaning and restrictive milking bras inside cramped pens where babies are deprived of their mothers’ nurturing.

The image of Urban Adamah as a haven for animals is far from reality.

Even if Urban Adamah did provide its nonhuman residents a life of pure bliss, would that make it OK to slit their throats? No. At the most basic level, hurting and killing animals is wrong because, unlike plants and other elements of the natural world, they have feelings. We all agree that respect for animals — tza’ar ba’alei chayim — is a Jewish mandate.

Urban Adamah agrees that we should be kind and compassionate to animals. Is it kind and compassionate to kill them?

It deeply saddens me to have to speak out against Urban Adamah, which has been my Jewish community in Berkeley — a place of friendship, song and spirituality. Before last week’s protest, I had repeatedly reached out to my friends at the farm to express my concerns regarding their use of animals. I was met with silence or false assurances that the animals were safe.

As a community member who deeply loves such a sacred space, I thought dialogue would be the ideal route. However, when Urban Adamah went ahead with the deaths of animals I cared about, we were left with no choice but to escalate.

The most telling thing about the response to our protest is that neither Urban Adamah nor anyone else has made an attempt to defend killing animals. Instead, all they have said is that other farms are crueler, less “humane.”

This is always a weak argument, but it’s even weaker when it comes from Urban Adamah, which is a social justice organization. Its aim is tikkun olam, to repair the world, to challenge the status quo. Urban Adamah should not be asking what everyone else is doing. It should be asking what the right thing to do is. Killing is not the right thing to do.

When it stops exploiting animals for food, Urban Adamah will be a truly peaceful place, an Eden. Until then, I will protest out of love.

Naomi Davis
Naomi Davis

Naomi Davis is a social justice activist in Berkeley. She works for Jewish Veg and is an organizer for Direct Action Everywhere.