Four chickens have been rescued from a New York live animal market to honor the life’s work of a young Brooklyn animal-lover who died last month.
Midwood local Shimon Shuchat, 22, took his own life on July 28, just days before he was set to launch one of the most ambitious projects of his life–a new national day to bring awareness to the suffering of fish.
Friend John Di Leonardo, a senior manager at animal rights group PETA, said Shuchat dreamed of convincing people to care for creatures that “most people don’t even think twice about.”
He was a passionate campaigner against live animal markets in New York, and particularly against the maltreatment of chickens. “He wanted to fight for those most in need,” Di Leonardo said.
Shuchat died just four days before the launch of the inaugural national Respect for Fish Day he had planned for August 1 of this year. But the day still went ahead successfully thanks to his hard work, with more than 250 organizations backing it nationally and protests held around the country. “Even after he passed, that work is reverberating for animals around the nation,” Di Leonardo said.
To honor Shuchat, Di Leonardo and PETA have rescued four chickens from a New York live-animal market and adopted them out to a loving home on a several-acre property in Cold Spring Harbor, Long Island.
The impact of his loss was felt globally in the animal rights community, with PETA’s British cofounder Ingrid Newkirk putting out a video in his memory, calling for us to look after each other.
“It takes a sensitive person and a good person to want to help those with no power, and given the population of the earth, that number is very small,” she said. “So each person who does is precious. Shimon was precious.”
His religion was kindness
By the time he was 16, Shimon Shuchat had already become a fixture in the New York City animal rights scene.
His death had shaken the community and pushed many to want to be better, friend and former boss at animal rights group TheirTurn Donny Moss said.
He said as humans, we had to acknowledge that we bring flaws to any kind of activism we do, whether it be ego, agendas or the seeking of recognition. But Shuchat’s activism wasn’t corrupted by any of this, Moss said. “He was as innocent and as pure as the animals he helped. How does someone so innocent and pure operate in a world that is so corrupt?”
While Shuchat didn’t talk about his personal life much, it was understood that he’d grown up ultra-Orthodox, but decided to become an atheist at a young age.
“Shimon’s religion was kindness, and he felt that was enough,” Di Leonardo said. “Who knows when we pass what’s going to happen, but he was less worried about that and more worried about what he could do to make this world a better place.”
Shuchat transitioned from his Yeshiva to a secular high school and then went on to study biology and society at Cornell. Moss said Shuchat’s relatives told him he always had a great affinity for animals. His activism was spurred by a video he saw on animal cruelty as a young person.
Despite leaving religion, Shuchat was beloved by his family. His father was known to be incredibly proud of him, often dropping him off at animal rights protests. Family members told Moss the pair would take trips on Greyhound buses when Shuchat was a child, visiting animals in different states.
A shy but selfless advocate
Moss first met Shuchat at a protest against the religious ritual Kaporos, where chickens are stacked in crates on the street and later sacrificed. The ritual is performed by some in the Jewish community before Yom Kippur, to atone for sins. “It was animal cruelty in his own backyard,” Moss said.
He remembers seeing Shuchat’s empathy for animals laid bare when he broke down in tears at one of the protests. “I remember seeing so vividly Shimon off in a corner weeping, he couldn’t cope with the suffering he was seeing, he was just beside himself.”
From then on, he was known among the animal rights groups for being at every protest. Sometimes he would even protest alone, something that friends said must have been difficult for the shy young man. “He struggled socially, and for him to step out of his comfort zone to stand on the street by himself–he was so selfless,” Moss said.
With Kaporos coming up again in September, Moss said the animal activism community was going to be honoring Shuchat in whatever they do this year.
On Saturday, animal-lovers will be gathering in Queens in memorial of Shuchat, and to seek community buy-in on a bill that would shut down live animal markets in New York. “I know posters have been made with his picture, it’s going to be a big tribute to Shimon,” Moss said.
Moss said he and others in the animal rights community wouldn’t forget the example Shuchat set.
“He thought of himself as so unimportant when he was so important,” he said. “None of us can be as good as Shimon, but at least we can aspire to be the person he was.”
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