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 University of Cape Town campus. Photo: Adrian Frith via Wikimedia Commons.
The University of Cape Town, the top-ranking academic institution in Africa, is set to consider enforcing an academic boycott against Israel later this month.
The UCT Senate, a decision-making body comprised primarily of professors and administrators, endorsed a proposal on March 15 to bar the university from entering into any formal relationship with Israeli academic institutions that operate “in the occupied Palestinian territories,” or otherwise enable “gross human rights violations in the occupied Palestinian territories,” the university said in a statement.
The campus of Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.
JNS.org – Students at Brown University voted overwhelmingly in favor of a referendum held between Tuesday and Thursday, calling on the school to separate itself from companies that conduct business with the State of Israel.
The tally was 69 percent in favor and 31 percent against.
Members of the pro-Israel community nationally and locally condemned the outcome.
“For the sake of My servant Yaakov, Yisrael My chosen one, I call you by name, I hail you by title, though you have not known Me.” Isaiah 45:4 (The Israel Bible™)
Many have seen similarities between the Biblical King Cyrus and President Donald Trump. (Breaking Israel News)
After 52 years it is time for the United States to fully recognize Israel’s Sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which is of critical strategic and security importance to the State of Israel and Regional Stability!
Many are claiming this was a pre-election gift to Trump’s friend, Netanyahu, but it others see a much larger significance that transcends politics and enters into the realm of the Biblical. One such belief was expressed by Breaking Israel News publisher Rabbi Tuly Weisz, who noted that the announcement came on the Jewish holiday of Purim.
“The same days on which the Yehudim enjoyed relief from their foes and the same month which had been transformed for them from one of grief and mourning to one of festive joy. They were to observe them as days of feasting and merrymaking, and as an occasion for sending gifts to one another and presents to the poor.” Esther 9:22 (The Israel Bible™)
If there was ever a quintessentially Jewish holiday, it’s Purim, when the Jewish people were threatened by Haman, a descendant of Amalek, and saved by God’s hidden hand. Even so, we find examples of people from the Nations being inspired by the story of Purim and even gathering to mark the day alongside the Jewish people.
Protesters waving Turkish and Palestinian flags shout anti-Israel slogans during a demonstration in Amsterdam June 4, 2010. Israel’s raid of a Gaza-bound aid flotilla has set off a diplomatic furor, drawing criticism from friends and foes alike and straining ties with regional ally Turkey, which cal. (photo credit: REUTERS)
AMSTERDAM (JTA) — Demonstrators carrying Palestinian flags turned their backs on a Dutch chief rabbi during his eulogy at a vigil for Muslims killed in New Zealand.
The incident Sunday happened as Rabbi Binyomin Jacobs was discussing the meaning of a minute of silence at the gathering at the Dam Square World War II memorial monument. Thousands of people, many of them Muslims, gathered at the square to commemorate the 49 people slain Friday by a far-right killer at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.
Hamas is now accusing the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Fatah of exploiting the economic crisis in the Gaza Strip to call on Palestinians to overthrow the Hamas regime. Fatah, for its part, is accusing the “dark forces” of Hamas of acting on orders from outside parties to establish a separate Palestinian state in the Gaza Strip.
The US administration says it will publish its long-awaited plan for peace in the Middle East, known as the “Deal of the Century,” after the general elections in Israel on April 9
There is a difference between an “honest broker” and a “neutral arbiter.” In advance of the rollout of its Middle East peace plan, the Trump administration has taken a series of steps to ensure its role as the honest broker. The U.S. is not “neutral” between our ally, Israel, and the Palestinians who seek to replace it. But it won’t be easy to change presumptions that are deeply embedded in the
When the FBI informs us that parents are ready to spend up to $6.5 million in bribes to get their children into prestige colleges, it seemingly implies that all is very, very well in the American university. But Warren Treadgold tells us that’s an illusion.
He’s a distinguished professor of Byzantine history at St. Louis University who has also taught at Berkeley, FIU, Hillsdale, Stanford, and UCLA. Having entered college in 1967, he draws on long experience to both indict and offer a remedy of the most thoroughly left-wing major institution in America. His book, The University We Need (Encounter, 2018) presents its case with insight and a light touch.
The threat posed by Hezbollah and Ali Musa Daqduq, a senior operative in Hezbollah, was unmasked by Israel on Wednesday.
Daqduq was responsible for the “abduction and execution of five American servicemen in Iraq in 2007,” the IDF said. The role of Hezbollah members in neighboring states is an illustration of how groups allied with Iran are continuing to build a web linking Tehran to Beirut via a “road to the sea” that transits Iraq and Syria.
According to the IDF, the role of Daqduq includes establishing terror cells in Iraq to fight the US in 2006, stints training in Lebanon in 2013-2018 and now putting down roots in Syria.
Every few weeks, some political or national figure demands a national conversation about race. (Most recently, Senator Kamala Harris insisted, “We have not had these honest discussions about race.”)
What does a conversation about race mean? Invariably, an indictment of the fundamental unfairness of our country, the historical roots of racism in white supremacy, and the national guilt of white people.
Or, to put it more simply, why Senator Kamala Harris deserves to be in the White House.
We don’t have national conversations about anti-Semitism because the problem can’t be narrowed down to an easily blamed demographic. The Democrats invariably try to blame anti-Semitism on the usual suspects, white male Republicans living more than two hundred miles from a Starbucks, but the largest toll of violent anti-Semitic attacks tend to fall on New York City’s black neighborhoods.