Lifting the veil with a chicken shechita
This morning was a first for Ramah Outdoor Adventure, and perhaps a first for the greater Ramah Movement. In our effort to “lift the veil” on the food we produce at camp, we decided that this summer we would conduct a chicken Shechita (ritual slaughter) for any of the older chalutzim (campers/pioneers) and tzevet who were interested in seeing such a thing prior to our chicken Bar-B-Que. When I arranged for the Shochet to come to camp, I thought that perhaps there would be 4 or 5 chalutzim who might want to see the process. I assumed that most of our chalutzim would rather not have a complete understanding of the meat that they eat.
I could not have been more mistaken! Despite repeated emphasis to the voluntary nature of watching the Shechita, about 65 of the 80 eligible Sollelim and Bogrim Chalutzim and an additional 15 tzevet members came to the back yard of our homestead house (a house dating to the 1880s) to learn about Kosher slaughter. It was a truly moving and memorable experience for everyone involved. Tonight, when we ate our chickens (along with the standard frozen Kosher organic chickens) there was a palpable sense of appreciation; so many people in the Ohel Ochel (dining tent) had witnessed firsthand that a living animal gave its life so that we could enjoy our camp wide Bar-B-Que.
Below is an email I received from Cantor Marcia Tilchin, our Rosh Teffilah for second session. In addition to being a Cantor, Marcia is the mother of three chalutzim, one of whom was present with her this morning to witness the shechita.
I want to thank you for inviting Yadidya Greenberg to camp. With all the conversation and debate in recent years around the suspicious ethics of kosher slaughter in some of America’s most prominent meat factories, this is a topic that has been on my mind with little resolve. In the last several years my family has reduced our meat intake and I have become much more selective about brands of kosher meat I deem acceptable for purchase.
It was surprisingly meaningful to see the complete shechting process and learn from Yadidya about what he finds so sacred in his work. It was humbling to witness the actual slaughter in the company of some of our teens who chose to learn about this ritual act first hand. I really wish I had been given an opportunity like this earlier in my life. It would have made me more cognizant about about the foods that I ate unconsciously during my formative years, the challenges faced by the food industry in general, and the importance of taking no gift from God for granted. I appreciated the tangential information that was shared with and by the kids (some of them are so sharp!) about ethical kashrut. Moving through this experience with my son was incredibly special and I know it will foster new and important conversations in our home. Thank you for opening up his world. I have studied the laws of kashrut for many years and take my personal commitment to abiding by our dietary laws very seriously. But what I learned today cannot be taught from a book – it must be experienced.
I remember as a young girl hearing stories about how my beloved grandmother (z”l), born in the Ukraine, was already caring for the chickens at the young age of 4 or 5. I imagine that sh’hitah was a part of her daily life from an early age. As I was plucking feathers this morning, she came to mind and I felt a beautiful connection that was new and very emotional. Even more amazing to me – in the wake of our Tisha b’Av observance – was the realization that proper kosher slaughter is one of our few remaining links to Temple practice and worship. I doubt the teens made these kinds of historical connections, but I can assure you that, as they mature into thoughtful Jewish adults, this unique opportunity to observe Yadidya this morning will continue to inform their values and choices.
I love this camp because it is completely forward-thinking, challenging campers and staff not only physically, but intellectually and emotionally as well. Thanks again!