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Trip to see Orthodox Jews in Pre-Passover duck-feeding frenzy a big disappointment

Woman tries to pet the aggressive swans at Prospect Park Lake. Excellent idea.

Non-denominational waterfowl feeding.

I went out last week hoping to see the Orthodox Jews throwing their leavened bread at the Prospect Park geese before Passover. The Prospect Park Alliance publicly notified them not to try to foist off their chametz on the waterfowl feeding. That ticked off the community, who denied any such plans., to the New York Times and the Brooklyn Paper.

So I headed over to the prime duck-feeding spot on the lake in Prospect Park on both the eve and morning of Passover. Let’s be honest, I was hoping for a spectacle: maybe 10 guys in 5 kinds of fur hats, surrounded by their collective 87 children and 10 wives in perfect wigs, all hurling bags of bread at grateful Canada geese. The aggressive swan family that lives there might charge them. A Park Slope mom might passive-aggressively read the sign about not feeding the waterfowl outloud to her kids. The pushy Peking ducks that follow bird feeders away from the lake might try to follow these generous Jews all the way home to Borough Park.

Instead I got absolutely no visible Hasidim at the spot where people and ducks have come to agree is the best spot for feeding, the southwest corner of the lake. (I also looked around the shore and by the boathouse.)

That’s not to say I didn’t see plenty of visibly Orthodox Jews feeding ducks earlier this spring. Sometimes there were even two men in formal garb. But mostly, just families like the rest of us. I’ve talked to people who say they have seen what sure looked like organized duck feeding. Years ago I wrote about a similar phenomena at the Central Park Zoo for New York Magazine. That would’ve been a bigger deal since the animals have a much more specialized diets.

Here, if a bunch of people want to feed ducks once a year as part of a religious tradition, just let them. Feeding ducks is part of a long American tradition, too. Who didn’t grow up feeding ducks with their parents?

The disadvantages the sign spells out to feeding the ducks–messed up migration, diet, behavior–may all be true. (Although the real reason for the policy is all about goose poop, but that’s another story.) But let’s compare the impact of a few people throwing food in a Brooklyn lake with the mere creation of Brooklyn, let alone the greater New  York City area. The Prospect Park lake is man-made and in the middle of the country’s biggest city that has chewed up wildlife and wetlands for centuries. But now, some families want to throw bread at ducks once a year and suddenly we’re upsetting the balance of nature?

If you’re a parent in Brooklyn, you know that you can’t go to any kind of outdoor, cultural, educational or kids event without running into Hassidic families. They seemingly are on a very active schedule of field trips. So it’s no surprise that they’d take part in the very American tradition of feeding ducks, too.

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