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.
The US Treasury added three top Hezbollah figures to its list of sanctioned individuals on Tuesday, including two members of the Lebanese Parliament and a security official responsible for coordinating between Hezbollah and Lebanon’s security agencies.
It was the first time the US Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control had designated a member of Lebanon’s Parliament under a sanctions list that targets those accused by Washington of providing support to terrorist organizations. Washington has designated Hezbollah as a terrorist group.
South African fans in Cairo celebrating their team’s win over Egypt at the African Cup of Nations. Photo: Reuters / Sumaya Hisham.
Three days after South Africa stunned the world of international soccer by knocking hosts Egypt out of the 2019 African Cup of Nations, the sound of elation remains clearly detectable in the voice of the team’s Jewish midfielder, Dean Furman.
“It was a fantastic victory, just fantastic,” Furman told The Algemeiner during a break in training on Tuesday, as South Africa prepared for its crucial quarterfinal game against Nigeria, another of the continent’s toughest sides, tomorrow.
Pieter van Oordt, left, with his brother, Roger, at the Israel
For the second time in recent history, a Dutch Christian organization dedicated to supporting Israel has gone head-to-head with the government. With their family tradition of belief in Israel that preceded the state of Israel by almost one hundred years, it seems unlikely that the van Oordts are about to back down, no matter what the odds.
Last month, the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy made a request from the management of the Israel Products Center (IPC) to ensure they were in compliance with regulations adopted in 2015 by the European Commission requiring products made by Jewish owned companies in Judea, Samaria, the Golan Heights, and sections of Jerusalem to be labeled in a manner indicating their origins.
Studies have shown that dairy cows contribute large amounts of greenhouse gas emissions, caused by the organisms living in their microbiomes.
Genetically modifying cows may help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and feed world populations, a new study led by Prof. Itzhak Mizrahi of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev suggests.
“Our findings are both a major breakthrough for basic science and will have a positive impact on two major challenges facing the international community for the foreseeable future: climate change and food security,” Mizrahi said.
The decision by IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi to promote Brig. Gen. Ofer Winter reflects his future political aspirations.
Incoming Israeli Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi walks out at the end of a handover ceremony where he replaces Lt. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot, at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv, Israel, Jan. 15, 2019.
Israel has its own version of Napoleon’s famous saying, “Every soldier carries a marshal’s baton in his pack.” In these parts, every general carries a prime minister’s baton — or at least that of a defense minister — in his pack
As Islamist Watch has pointed out many times before, Islam is enormously diverse – containing many competing schools of theology, schools of jurisprudence, sects, ethnicities, cultures and mysticisms. Islamism is also not a single force; it comprises dozens of (both) competing and collaborating radical ideologies.
One of the most intriguing divisions, then, within both American Islam and Islamism of late has been growing dissent over the question of liberalism.
Right after Trump’s inauguration, I ran an article about how incredibly fake the news coverage was about his inauguration. (Those reading my site know I’m not a big Trump fan, but credit where credit is due and calling fake where calling fake is due.) The media was nothing short of spectacularly fake in the news it contrived that week on CNN, the New York Times and the other major fake media, and they mostly got away with it.
It wasn’t condescension or contempt. Recent remarks by former Mossad head Shabtai Shavit reek of racism. That is the proper way to frame them, calling them anything else is letting him off easy. In its classic, formal sense, racism is when a certain social sector perceives itself as superior because of clear racial criteria. Shavit represents an updated version of racism that doesn’t require ethnicity or religion as proof of a defect – you can call it “essential racism.”
Little Napoleon Barak is going to save Israeli Democracy? What a bunch of claptrap Orwellian doublespeak.
Well let’s check out history. How well did the original Napoleon save France’s democratic revolution against the monarchy?
Hmm, if I recall he crowned himself emperor!
For years, the pundits have been telling us that Israeli democracy is in danger because of the Arab birthrate, or because of the Jewish nation-state law, or because of the debates over the powers of Israel’s High Court.
I wonder if they will recognize the danger posed by the 10 left-wing American Jewish organizations that have formed a new umbrella organization, the essential purpose of which is to undermine Israeli democracy.