The lectures are based on a detailed programme by Ariel Tsovel. At the heart of the programme is a distinction between "private abuse" randomly perpetrated by sadists, and "organised abuse" done methodically on a large scale, not malicious in nature but mainly intended for financial gain. The lectures list various types of organised abuse, with the harsh facts presented in a softer format suitable for young people, emphasizing how each one of us can fight this abuse. The programme was endorsed by the Tel Aviv and Petah Tikva municipalities' Education Departments, with tens of thousands attending; in 2007 a record number of 21,000 people attended these lectures. The education programme is run by Rotem Eyal, who's also responsible for recruiting new lecturers and training them. We try to recruit new volunteers with teaching experience, and start to use them once they've become familiar with the programme. The lecturer team is 15 person strong; here, six of them tell their stories:
- Rotem Eyal, 30, has a first degree in Education and is experienced in teaching at schools. She's one of Anonymous' longest serving activists and sits on its board.
- Guy Shahar, 35, is a programmer. He did some training at work and at other occasions. Guy's been with Anonymous for two years now, and lecturing is what he mostly does.
- Omer Ginzburg, 26, is a student of Literature. He's experienced in teaching in schools and at youth movements. He's been with Anonymous for seven years, lecturing for the last three.
- Gaya Goldberg, 48, has much experience in developing training courses, and as a travel guide, diver and IT trainer. She's been lecturing for the past 3 years. Gaya had also served as Anonymous spokeswoman.
- Dror Bach, 38, has a first degree in Economics and Business Studies. He’s in business and marketing, and has experience as an area training manager. He has been active in Anonymous as a lecturer for the past year and a half.
- Guy Tetroashuili, 30, Bezeq employee, with very little experience in teaching. Guy requested to be tested to become a lecturer, as an exception, since the admission requirements include extensive teaching experience. Immediately, however, his natural gift for public speaking was discovered, and in early 2008, after some training, he began to deliver lectures.
Left to right: Rotem Eyal, Guy Shahar, Omer Ginzburg, Gaya Goldberg, Dror Bach & Guy Tetroashuili
How do you initially connect with the institute in which you lecture?
Rotem: Anonymous produces its lectures from within the office by a separate team, so the contact between the lecturers and the staff of the inviting institutes (usually schools, but occasionally also youth groups, army units, etc) mostly takes place on the day of the lecture. Though it does happen sometimes that we are invited to a special day being held at a school, and we are asked in advance to match the lecture to the theme of the day. Guy S.: For example, in a school in the Sharon region I was invited to a “tolerance day”, and I lectured alongside activities by human rights groups. Upon their request, I put a special emphasis on tolerance towards animals. Rotem: In the more problematic schools, we are sometimes invited in response to outbursts of sadism towards animals. Gaya: Also, once every three-four lectures, the teacher in charge asks me “not to be too extreme”…
The main theme of the lecture is institutionalized animal cruelty, as opposed to the more familiar and condemned topic of sadistic behavior. How does the audience usually react to this idea?
Rotem: More often than not, they understand fully. They often make the distinction between private sadism and institutionalized cruelty for economic purposes on their own, even before I explain it. It usually starts with someone saying “but hurting animals for food is all right!” there are also those who refer to animal cruelty in scientific testing and circuses before I even begin to give them examples of these issues. Guy S.: Already when I discuss the most general types of institutionalized animal abuse, they ask me if I’m vegetarian. Questions such as “why is it allowed to force feed a goose, but not to abuse a cat?” are thrown at me, which are useful to me later on in the lecture. Dror: We assume that most people at least understand that abusing a cat is wrong. But who knows: maybe some of the children in the class throw rocks at cats? Obviously, it’s going to be difficult for those children to start criticizing institutionalized animal abuse. Guy T.: We usually pose a rhetorical question in which we ask “who in the room supports animal abuse?” There are the class clowns who answer “me!” but from my experience, those are the ones who hurry to sign up for more activities at the end of the lecture!
To what extent do the audiences recognize and understand the examples of institutionalized animal abuse?
Guy T.: The first example we give in the lectures is circuses. They don’t go to circuses; to them, it’s a nice myth, and the facts catch them off guard. It’s hard to comprehend the violence and suffering masked by such a charming concept. Omer: On the other hand, when we lecture in one of the cities where circuses with animals are prohibited, this can serve as a motivation to get active. Guy S.: I actually have encountered teens that know about the violent training methods used on circus animals. But when we start discussing zoos, there are always those who keep insisting that the conditions there are good. Furthermore, when we move on to the issue of animal testing for cosmetics, many are familiar with the rabbit symbol, “not tested on animals” – but they don’t all know what it means. They think that “animal testing” means washing rabbit fur with shampoo, or that the animals experience a similar sensation to getting soap in their eyes in the shower. Rotem: And this is where they ask: how do we know which products to choose? How do you know they’re not lying to you? What do we do about products that have no substitutes? Guy S.: They are usually also aware and opposed to the production of Foie Gras, but not many know that it’s actually illegal, or what it entails exactly. Some think it’s just a natural weight gaining process. Rotem: quite a lot of teachers and students know about free range eggs, or organic eggs, and all of them tend to complain that they’re more expensive. But few are aware of the issue of battery cages. Guy S.: And often someone will jump up and say “ what are you talking about, in my father’s second cousin’s farm all of the chickens run around free!” when of course, that’s actually not an egg farm.
Do examples from the food industry provoke any significant interest?
Gaya: In general, when there is opposition, it begins during the summary of Foie Gras production: “so what do you expect – that we won’t eat meat at all!?” “But eating meat is natural!” Guy T.: When I brought up the ban on force feeding , I was once asked “So one day I’ll get arrested for eating chicken liver?” Rotem: It’s a difficult issue, but Anonymous has a strict policy when it comes to lectures aimed at teens: we only discuss vegetarianism if we were specifically asked to do so.
There must be some examples that are completely new to the audience.
Guy T.: Many were shocked when I informed them that we are the only animal that drinks the milk of other species. One of the teachers approached me once and said, “I never thought of that!” Dror: I tend to get caught up on the issue of genetic distortion of the chickens in the meat industry. They usually aren’t aware of it, but the comparison to pure bred dogs with ears that are too long usually clarifies why these chickens are usually born handicapped. I remember a religious teacher that insisted that she doesn’t eat these chickens due to the Kashrut laws, since eating a defective animal, so to speak, is not allowed! But usually this is a point where everyone is silent, and listens to the bare facts.
How does the staff usually react during the lecture?
Guy T.: Actually, sometimes the staff gets even more worked up than the students... Dror: Maybe they’re just more defensive. For example, when I talked about the handicapped legs of the chickens, the teacher, shocked, said: “are you trying to say that the quality Tene Of slaughterhouse is selling us crippled chickens?!” Omer: From my experience, the staff usually integrates into the audience during the lecture. There are only some staff reactions actually worth mentioning, for example when I gave a lecture at a religious school, the teacher actually joined in the lecture and read out sources about Jewish animal protection laws.
So most of the staff reactions come after the lecture?
Rotem: Yes. Usually they react with enthusiasm and appreciation for the fact that I came there. Guy S.: “You’re doing sacred work!” Omer: “I wish there were more people like you!” Rotem: I was approached several times by enthusiastic teachers who asked me to lecture at other schools where they or friends of theirs teach. There are teachers who want to be more active, and ask us to send them our materials, for the library or for posters in the corridor. Guy S.: In one case, during a 6th grade lecture, the teacher requested that we also lecture a 4th grade class, but we declined – the class was too young – so the teacher asked for materials so she could conduct the lecture herself. Dror: Once a teacher approached me with a request that Anonymous begin a teacher’s training program. Rotem: Of course, more often than not teachers just want to share personal stories about, for example, an abandoned dog that they found, or lost kittens... Gaya: Or to clarify that they don’t eat Foie Gras or veal. Guy S.: One teacher asked me after a lecture why I have a leather wallet. I explained to her that it was leftover from a prehistoric era of my life... Rotem: To avoid these types of situations, our lecturers are required not to arrive wearing leather shoes.
Do you ever get negative responses from the staff?
Dror: After one lecture, the coordinator told me: “you may speak, but not about things concerning food, otherwise you will not lecture here” – but that’s very rare, because the lecture doesn’t actually involve food. The opposition from the staff only gets particularly strong in certain situations, for example in a religious school in Ariel, they complained that my lecture contradicted the values the children had from home. Omer: I actually recall a religious school where a teacher spoke to me during the break with enormous interest in the matter, and told me that he wants to only buy “free range” products.
How does the audience usually react after the lecture?
Rotem: Enthusiastically grabbing the stickers and information booklets we hand out! Gaya: There is always a group that gathers around me and shows a lot of interest in what they can actually do for this cause in school. Students are often proud to tell me that they’re vegetarians, or to tell me about their dogs. Guy S.: Sometimes no one comes to me, sometimes ten, mostly girls. It’s hard to predict. Guy T.: Yes, it’s really difficult to know. In a lecture I gave at a religious school, it was actually the girls who were disruptive during the lecture, and completely indifferent to anything that doesn’t walk on two legs, and the second I finished the lecture they got up and left. Later, in the boys’ class – complete silence from beginning to end. One young man from a discipline class came in and said that his relative owned four chicken coops. At the end though, he was the first to come up to me, sign the petitions and take as much available information as he could! Guy S.: There are incidents that really get etched in your memory. After one lecture, at an agricultural school, the principle approached me, shook my hand warmly and informed me that he has been a vegetarian for 32 years, thanked me and asked how the lecture went. I had lunch with the staff.
How have these lectures affected you, personally?
Guy S.: Just the volunteering itself affects you. It’s a good feeling: satisfaction, altruism. Sometimes I get frustrated when a teacher vanishes at the end of a lecture and doesn’t bother to say thank you, or even to complain. But lots of them give straightforward, positive feedback. Guy T.: I was dying to do something. And now – here I am doing something, fighting the evil, reaching out to a lot of people. The frustration retreats a bit. I also learned to deal more easily with discussions about animal rights with family and friends. And I learned what a big mistake it is to presume things about people. It’s worth trying to reach out to everyone. Omer: During lectures I receive immediate feedback, and I learn what people think and what creates changes of thought – it’s like a live survey. Although I do have a lot of experience from street stalls, it can take two-three hours just to get into a significant discussion with four-five people, in comparison to an hour and a half lecture in front of an entire crowd. When I finish a lecture I think to myself, “wow, I just spurred some serious awareness that didn’t exist before!” and as someone who pretty much lives for promoting animal rights, it’s very comfortable for me to have this allotted time every week, where I can just come in and work. Dror: To me it’s very important to give people all the information, and make them want to start thinking on their own, to wake them up from the matrix. Sometimes it gets a bit discouraging, but I still know that I gave them some food for thought, the initial awareness that might cause them to get active in, say, five years. Although at first I was quite nervous to stand up and speak in front of an entire audience, I realized that I’m able to answer any question thrown at me. Gaya: To me the lectures are more of a mission. They’re not always easy; the students can sometimes be extremely annoying and also upsetting. Personally, it could have been much easier for me to speak with adults who asked to hear a lecture about vegetarianism, but I recognize the importance of the fact that these lectures are given to a wide audience. Rotem: Mainly it’s the satisfaction that I’m spreading the word and making a difference. But I’ve also received much experience, which is a great addition to my résumé as an educator. I didn’t have any lecturing experience before this, and I’ve now gained the self-confidence to stand up and speak in front of an audience. There’s also this feeling of seeing a whole world, different audiences, places that I would never have visited if not for this reason. Guy S.: I also would like to add that this experience improves one’s ability to communicate with teachers and children. It’s obvious that shouting doesn’t work in schools. I think quite a lot about the difficulties faced by teachers, and see myself failing in similar areas; I also think about my own children’s education. At my age, chances are I’ll be a father within the next couple of years, and I already see how the schools work, know the contents of the education system, and think about my child’s future. Photos from Guy Shahar’s lecture by Menny Berman; remaining photos by Ariel Tsovel.
Anonymous continues to take new lecturers on board. The work is voluntary, following a given structure, and aimed at those with extensive experience in teaching/instruction who are interested in giving several lectures a month. For more details contact Rotem: email@example.com or 03-6204874
Translated by Ayelet Abramson