Clockwise from top left: One Little Chicken, A Hen for Izzy Pipik, The Little Red Hen and the Passover Matzah, When the Chickens Went on Strike, The Rooster Prince of Breslov, and Beautiful Yetta, the Yiddish Chicken. (Photoillustration Tablet Magazine; original photo Shutterstock)
We Jews have a special bond with chicken. It is hard to describe and even harder to analyze. As Debra Messingput it on Will and Grace, “I don’t know what to tell you, man. Jews and chicken. It’s real and it’s deep.”
Why are we so passionate about poultry? I believe our people’s chicken love is tripartite: It is culinary, historical, and literary.
Asked about chicken’s appeal, Joan Nathan, the doyenne of Jewish cooking, told me: “Chicken reminds us of home and well-being. I didn’t grow up in a religious family, but we always had roast chicken every Friday night. It was a ritual. And there’s a reason for all those jokes about Jewish mothers and their chicken soup—chicken soup is so soothing.” Leah Koenig, author of The Hadassah Everyday Cookbook and the forthcomingModern Jewish Cooking added, “The basis of Eastern European Jewish cuisine—the food we revere as central to who we are as a people—is literally swimming in schmaltz (rendered chicken fat). Schmaltz, of course, comes from chickens. So, chickens equal home, comfort, nourishment, mama, family meals, coziness, tradition, and all other good things.”
Indeed, our people’s history is trussed up—like the pale, plucked legs of an uncooked fowl—with chicken. Back in the 12th century, philosopher-physician Maimonides was a big fan. In his book On the Cause of Symptoms, he prescribed chicken soup to cure asthma and leprosy and to “neutralize body constitution.” Chickens weren’t just a curative foodstuff, though; they were part of our people’s daily lives. If you couldn’t afford or have space for a herd of cows, you could still raise chickens. Proximity to chickens inspires affection—and this has been true long before the backyard chicken owners of Park Slope and Marin County began singing the praises of the artisanal coop. As Koenig put it, “In the shtetl, egg-laying chickens were essentially useful pets. Chickens have lots of personality, so if a family kept chickens for laying, and went out to feed them and collect eggs every day, it makes sense that they’d grow attached. Chickens were part of the Eastern European Jewish family, in a way … until it came time to eat them, of course.”
Chickens are vulnerable, physically awkward, and funny. Much like Jews. I think that’s part of why chickens play an outsized role in Jewish children’s picture books. But I think there’s something more at play: They’re also an easy shorthand link to a Jewish “feeling” or emotional state that evokes Jewishness without having to deal explicitly with religion or ritual. I’ve been known to complain about the portrayals of bubbes in Jewish picture books—so many Old-World-y, soup-making, white-haired, bun-sporting, glasses-wearing, chubby old women and so few bubbes who look like the actual bubbes of Jewish toddlers today: dark-haired or chicly streaked blonde, young-looking, gym-going, gainfully employed women! Like these one-dimensional elderly bubbes, picture-book chickens can serve as an instant callback to a pastel-washed, Chagall-esque world, a time when life was harder but Jewishness was less complicated. Chickens are easy; modern Jewish childhood identity, in all its complexity and nebulousness, is hard.
I’m not saying that all Old-World-invoking Jewish children’s chicken books are bad or simplistic. Some are fabulous. The Rooster Prince of Breslov, by Ann Stampler, illustrated by Eugene Yelchin, retells an old folktale attributed to Rabbi Nachman of Breslov; it’s weird and funny, with quirky, spiky art. Can Hens Give Milk?, by Joan Betty Stuchner, illustrated by Joe Weissmann, (newly out in paperback this year) is a new Chelm story about a man called Shlomo who schemes about how to get milk and butter without owning a cow. This addition to the canon has all the delicious deadpan of the old tales, as well as their familiar population of hilarious idiots. Literary idiots make powerless little readers feel powerful, and smart.
There are chicken-lit influences even older than Chelm, like One Little Chicken, by Elka Weber, illustrated by Elisa Kleven. It’s a retelling of a Talmud story about the 1st-century rabbi Chanina ben Dosa, who walked the walk dictated by Deuteronomy 22: 2-3; he found a lost chicken and grew it into an entire flock, and when the original chicken’s owner returned, gave him all the chickens instead of just the one. In this version, a little girl named Leora finds a chicken, which her family eventually turns into a whole menagerie, and everybody’s super-menschy and ethical but also arch and kvetchy (Leora’s mom) and/or sighingly resigned (Leora’s dad). Very Jewish. A Hen for Izzy Pippik, by Aubrey Davis, illustrated by Marie Lafrance, tells the same story (Davis says there’s an Islamic version, too); in Davis’version, a little girl named Shaina insists that Izzy Pippik, the lost chicken’s owner, will eventually come back and defends the chicken and its lively offspring from her annoyed co-villagers. The Pippik chickens are particularly well-drawn. My librarian friend Paula Willeygave a thumbs-up to the bootstrapping element to the story: “The town is impoverished, and the hens, with their natural fecundity, bring prosperity. I’d say chickens are symbolic, but in fact they are quite literal. Tons of microloans start with a dozen chicks.” (Which reminds me of One Hen, the best children’s picture book ever about microloans. Not really aboutchickens, though. And not Jewish: Ghanaian. Still, menschy.)
And let’s not forget When the Chickens Went on Strike, by Erica Silverman, illustrated by Matthew Trueman, a funny and nuanced story about chickens objecting to the Yom Kippur tradition of kapparot. Understandably, the chickens in this tale do not wish to be avian scapegoats. The book cleverly invokes Jewish labor history, brings up serious ethical questions, and acknowledges that traditions can change over time. (Too bad it has that aforementioned gentle, stately, painterly look I find unengaging.)
These books all evoke a Russian-Jewish shtetl world, but there are also modern-day Jewish chicken books. Beautiful Yetta, the Yiddish Chicken, by Daniel Pinkwater, illustrated by Jill Pinkwater, is a contemporary Brooklyn love story about diverse communities. Pinkwater apparently has something of a chicken obsession, having also written a bunch of middle-grade novels, starting with The Hoboken Chicken Emergency about Henrietta, a 266-pound chicken. The Henrietta books have Jewish comedic rhythms but are not explicitly Jewish. Yetta, on the other hand, speaks Yiddish: The book renders her lines in both Hebrew lettering and transliteration. When her crate falls off Mr. Flegleman’s organic chicken ranch truck, she winds up befriending Eduardo, a Spanish-speaking parrot from another part of Brooklyn. Your kids might also enjoy The Little Red Hen and the Passover Matzah, a Jewish version of the classic (non-Jewish) European tale about lazy jerk farm animals who want a free ride. It could be set anywhere—the Jewishness, along with a bissel Yiddish, is superimposed over the traditional tale. (At least in this version the Little Red Hen gets to put her feet up after all her hard work while the other animals wash the Passover dishes. Apologizing for being lazy is fine, but doing post-Seder cleanup is better.)
I’m not arguing that Jewish children have a monopoly on chicken books. Louise, the Adventures of a Chicken, by Kate DiCamillo and Chickens to the Rescue, by John Himmelman, are two hilarious not-Jewish picture books about noble poultry. (Interesting, though, both feature heroic fowl rather than nebbish-y fowl.) But I think chickens have a proportionally outsize presence in Jewish picture books, and that’s because they’re specific stand-in for all kinds of positive feelings about being Jewish. We’re winsome in spite of (because of?) our collective vulnerability and dorkiness. We’re funny in a good way. We’re nurturers. And like Yetta, we are survivors: We will not be soup.
An antisemitic flyer found on the University of Houston campus on Tuesday. Photo: Michael Leone / Facebook
Dozens of flyers and stickers promoting neo-Nazi propaganda were found at the University of Houston (UH) this week, the latest incident associated with an increase in white supremacist activity on campuses nationwide.
The flyers, found on bulletin boards, walls, trash bins, and lamp posts at the university’s main campus on Tuesday, included phrases such as, “Beware the International Jew” and “Imagine a Muslim-Free America,” according to a statement shared online by UH’s chapter of the Young Communist League (YCL).
IDF soldiers make a blessing on the traditional Jewish custom of apple and honey to welcome Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. (ChameleonsEye / Shutterstock.com)
The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (The Fellowship) and Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) said they will provide $1.5 million in annual Rosh Hashanah “Fellowship Gift Cards” to 12,000 IDF soldiers marking the upcoming Jewish New Year.
The initiative, coordinated in collaboration with the Association for the Wellbeing of Israel’s Soldiers and the LIBI Fund, will provide more than 10,000 lone soldiers and soldiers $140 gift cards. Another 2,200 soldiers will receive gift cards worth $100.
The cards “will allow the soldiers to celebrate the New Year without the burden of financial stress,” the organizations said in a statement Wednesday.
Gaza-based terror group says it will agree to Palestinian Authority conditions on forming joint government and holding elections
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, center, and spokesman Fawzi Barhoum attend a protest in Gaza City on July 22, 2017, against new Israeli security measures implemented at the holy site, which include metal detectors and cameras, following an attack that killed two Israeli policemen the previous week. (AFP/Mohammed Abed)
For the past week or so, Iranian official media and social networks have been abuzz with anecdotes woven around a football match in Tehran between Iran and Syria and the light it might shed on a complicated relationship.
According to most accounts, a group of Syrians flown in by special charter to cheer their national squad in its bid for a place in the World Cup in Moscow staged an anti-Iran demonstration in the stadium. The Syrian contingent included young ladies who refused to wear the Iranian-style hijab.
Their presence in the stadium highlighted the fact that no Iranian woman is allowed to attend a football match after a fatwa by the “Supreme Guide” that women watching young men running around with bare legs might cause “undue excitement”
An Orthodox man passes a British guard in London, UK. (drserg / Shutterstock.com)
A new in-depth survey conducted by the U.K.-based Institute for Jewish Policy Research (JPR) found that around 30 percent of the British public hold at least one anti-Semitic viewpoint.
The report noted, however, that most of the 30 percent polled also held some positive views about Jews.
Further, around 15 percent of the British public indicated they agreed with two or more anti-Semitic views presented to them, while two percent of British adults polled were found to be “hard-core” anti-Semites.
The survey was conducted by JPR senior research fellow Dr. Daniel Staetsky using face-to-face interviews and online polls.
That’s followed by the sounds of the terrorists assaulting a passenger.
“Please don’t hurt me,” he pleads. “Oh God.”
As the passengers rush the cabin, a Muslim terrorist proclaims, “In the name of Allah.”
As New York firefighters struggle up the South Tower with 100 pounds of equipment on their backs trying to save lives until the very last moment, the Flight 93 passengers push toward the cockpit. The Islamic hijackers call out, “Allahu Akbar.”.
The autumn of 2015 was unusual in almost every way on the north Aegean Greek island of Lesbos from which I am writing. There were tens of thousands of illegal migrants on the island, the native population of which was scarcely 100,000. New refugees arrived every day by the thousands.
One evening, the blue-gray sky grumbled shortly after sunset. The thick clouds blackened and rain poured down over the city with a roar. As I ran across the slippery pavement into a friend’s bar, I heard a group of five poor souls speaking Persian with a Turkic accent and running amok, seeking shelter under the eaves of a building.
Back in May, a New Orleans statue of Joan of Arc was tagged with “Tear it Down” graffiti.
Why Joan of Arc? Any famous historical figure is by definition controversial. Joan is a French national
symbol, but Shakespeare depicted her as a malicious witch. The French Quarter where the statue stands is a mostly white neighborhood. France was dealing with a controversial election.
This is what happens when you open a can of historical, religious and nationalistic worms.
Regarding the question that forms the title of this article, I truly believe that the answer is “yes.” It is my belief that Christian Zionism is as obvious a sign of the beginning of the redemption of Israel as are the ingathering of millions of Jews to the land of Israel and the existence of the State of Israel itself. But there are many people who don’t share this perspective.
In the Jewish community, there are still many who are wary of Christian friendship and support. Many Jews are suspicious of an ulterior motive to convert Jews to Christianity that they fear underlies this political partnership.
Last weekend, the world experienced a petrifying “wake up call” when Pyongyang test launched a hydrogen bomb. According to Yukiya Amano, director of the International Atomic Energy Authority (IAEA), Sunday’s test represents “a new dimension to the threat.” Added Amano, “I think the North Korean threat is a global one now.
In the past, people thought it was a regional one, but that is no longer the case.”
Since 1994, when North Korea decided to pull out of the Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), there has been a huge history of attempts to chain the North Korean nuclear beast, including efforts for military cooperation, sanctions and, of course, negotiations.