On Jan. 26, in the bitter cold and blowing snow, my seven-year-old son Noah and I spend two hours outside a marine aquarium in Toronto.
It is freezing out, almost -30C. After the first hour my extra socks, scarf, double sweaters and knitted leg warmers stop working. I am ready to leave but Noah refuses. He’s the boss (sometimes) so I listen. He proudly holds a sign that reads “Free The Fishies!”and stands in front, with 40 other protesters behind him.
My sign reads, “Sea Life Belongs in the Sea Not Tanks” while other signs declare “Welcome to the Aqua Prison!” and “Wild Animals Belong in the Wild!”
With our teeth chattering, we energetically chant: “Shut It Down”! Onlookers and guests of the aquarium stare at us and shake their heads. One mother yells angrily, in front of her two young children, that we are wasting our time. She doesn’t like being challenged on another point of view while waiting in line for a ticket – a ticket that is contributing to the destruction of our precious ecosystem.
This protest occurs as Japan’s fishermen are brutally rounding up dolphins in Taiji to be slaughtered or held captive. Approximately 20,000 dolphins of all species are caught yearly in Japan. The dedicated Sea Sheppard Conservation Society Cove Guardians record this massacre for the world to witness.
Media around the world are finally starting to document the horrors of this yearly dolphin slaughter, and, because of films like The Cove (2009) and Blackfish (2013), social media has been ablaze with photographs and testimonials.
I am curious if rabbis and observant Jews believe the dolphin massacre to be an act of cruelty. Jewish law prohibits causing unnecessary suffering to animals. Tza’ar ba’alei chayim (kindness to animals) is the prohibition against causing pain to any living animal. I saw brutal recordings of the dolphins being captured and killed in Taiji where the blue water turns bright red and they are tortured for days until their vicious death. The dolphins are not being use for what Torah considers “legitimate needs, so I would hope families following Jewish law will not buy tickets to aquariums.
Additionally, there is nothing educational to be learned from an animal in captivity. You are not seeing the creature in its natural environment. Animals behind bars and in tanks do not behave in the same way they do when free – for zoo and aquarium owners it’s all about making money. Noah has never visited animals in captivity, yet he will happily tell you about his favourite wild mammal thanks to books and films.
I am proud of my boy. Noah has the option of going to a movie on this freezing winter day but insists we attend the protest. This isn’t his first protest and I am quite certain won’t be his last. We recently attended a demonstration on Queen Street outside a popular clothing store selling Canada Goose jackets. The fur trim on the hoods of these jackets is the stolen life of a coyote.
My little guy, the powerhouse, as other protesters call him, gives out over 300 leaflets about the horrors of the fur industry. Noah knows he’s making a difference because he witnesses potential customers deciding not to go inside the store – and even others march back in to return their furry jacket once they learn the truth. That day we join other activists, including children, to speak out for the voiceless coyotes.
It has been wrongly suggested that I “convince” Noah to attend protests or rallies. Not only is this not true but it sadly undermines Noah’s true passion for the causes he believes in. Noah was born with an empathetic desire to help others. At an early age he rescued ladybugs from park slides, worms from the rain soaked sidewalk and made the decision at age five to become vegan. “I don’t want to eat my friends,” he told me.
Of course it helps to lead by example. I have always taught Noah the importance of standing up for his rights and the rights of others. I have been an activist since I was 12 when I demanded my junior high school stop dissecting frogs in science class. Noah has seen my passion but his desire for change and equality run deep.
But how do you raise an activist? This was never my intention, but looking back there are perhaps several things that contributed to Noah’s activism. Hanging on his bedroom wall are the articles of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child – all 54 of them. I tell Noah the truth, at age appropriate levels, about industries that exploit others and that it doesn’t have to be this way. We discuss animal and child welfare organizations that can help.
Noah’s first peaceful protest was at age four. We gathered with like-minded individuals to raise awareness about Tilikum – the 12,000-pound killer whale living in a bathtub at SeaWorld. Tilikum is the main character in the documentary Blackfish and has been in captivity for over 30 years despite killing several people, including his trainer.
We stood proud and held our signs high at Dundas Square in Toronto. Suddenly Noah asked me, “Does Tilikum know we care about him and that we are trying to set him free? Do you think he can hear us all the way at SeaWorld in Florida?”
I tell Noah he has the ability to make his voice heard all over the world if he wants to – he just needs to speak loud enough.
“We see you. We care. We’re sorry. We’re trying.”
Dolphins in Taiji, http://www.seashepherd.org
Tilikum – http://blackfishmovie.com
Coyotes – http://furbearerdefenders.com