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.
A common but mistaken reading of the current strategic situation in the Middle East presents the region as approaching the end of a period of instability. The “return of the Arab state” is one of the more arresting refrains that this perspective has produced.
According to this view, the wars in Syria and in Iraq are drawing to a close. The defeat of the Islamic State in these countries represents the eclipse of the political ambitions of Salafi jihadi Islamism for the foreseeable future. Assad is set to restore his repressive but stable rule in Syria. In Iraq, the firm reaction by the government of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to the Kurdish bid for independence has ended prospects of the imminent fragmentation of the country. In Lebanon, attempts by Sunni jihadis to export the Syrian war have failed, and all is quiet.
In July 2016, Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria (pictured in front at center)—the leader of Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Church—hosts Ignatius Aphrem II (left), patriarch of Antioch and All East of the Syriac Orthodox Church, and Aram I, head of Lebanon’s Catholicosate of the Great House of Cilicia of the Armenian Apostolic Church. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
While Christianity traces its birthplace to the Middle East, that region has been arguably the most hostile area for the religion in recent years. A new report by the Christian charity group Open Doors has found that most of Israel’s neighbors, including Egypt, Jordan, Syria and the Palestinian territories, are among the world’s most dangerous places for Christians.
Kingdom says Jerusalem agreed to pay compensation over deaths of three people, in order to end diplomatic standoff
Jordanian protesters wave national flags and chant slogans during a demonstration near the Israeli embassy in the capital Amman on July 28, 2017, calling for the shutting down the of the embassy, expelling the ambassador, and canceling the 1994 peace treaty with Israel. (AFP PHOTO / KHALIL MAZRAAWI)
Israel is paying $5 million in compensation to the families of two people shot dead by an Israeli embassy guard last year, as well as a Jordanian judge killed in a 2014 incident, diplomats in Jordan told the al-Rai newspaper Saturday.
Ultra-Orthodox women and children attend a ceremony to welcome new Torah scrolls in a neighborhood of Jerusalem, Oct. 1 2014.
Reuven K., who is about 30 years old, is an ultra-Orthodox Hasidic man who lives in Betar Illit, one of Israel’s most prominent ultra-Orthodox localities. Reuven studies in a yeshiva, a Jewish school for Talmudic learning, but works half of each day as a wholesale merchant selling religious ritual supplies. His wife, Bracha, works as a bookkeeper in a governmental institution.
Palestinian boss Mahmoud Abbas recently declared that Israel is “a colonial enterprise that has nothing to do with Jewishness.” Moses, King David and thousands of years of Jewish history would disagree. Israel and the Jews are part of the story of human civilization. Over 50% of the human race has a holy book that tells of the Jewish journey to Israel. That includes Mohammed’s own copy of the Koran.
Israel isn’t a “colonial enterprise.” Palestine is.
Anyone who wants to find out where the name Israel comes from can open the Book of Genesis 32:29. The story even appears in Islamic hadiths. But where does “Palestine” really come from?
It may not be a shooting war. For the most part. (Though don’t tell that to some Republicans at a charity game practice who were targeted by a Bernie Sanders supporter.) But it’s a war all the same.
The war is still being fought with paper and protests. But it’s based on irreconcilable differences between parts of the country. Much like the ones that brought on the war between brothers.
This is a topic that I’ve written about quite often over this past year. Rush Limbaugh saw fit to read and promote some of those pieces. And now I’ll be giving a talk on the subject at the South Carolina Tea Party Coalition Conference in Myrtle Beach, SC. It’ll take place from Jan 20-22. I’m scheduled to speak on the 21st, but there are plenty of other great speakers there.
The speech was loud and clear. It wasn’t just the “may your house be demolished” curse that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas fired at the leader of the strongest world power. It was the utterly delusional ideology, with false claims that only make the Palestinians sink deeper into a path of delusions and collapse.
The reactions were predictable: We have to understand him. He’s under a lot of pressure. He has no political horizon. The Palestinians are desperate. He didn’t really mean it.
A document drafted by members of the global Christian community convening at the 3rd International Christian Forum held in Moscow, detailed how over the past 10 years the Middle East’s Christian population has shrunk by 80 percent and warned that unless current trends are reversed Christianity “will vanish” from its ancient homelands in a few years’ time. Around the year 2000, there were 1.5 million Christians in Iraq, whereas today there are only 100,000, roughly a 93 percent drop, the document notes. In Syria, the largest cities “have lost almost all of their Christian population.”
Mahmoud Abbas, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, has delivered a speech triggered by his rage at the President of the United States Donald Trump, going so far as to hurl the most bitter curse in the Arabic language at the POTUS: “May your house be destroyed.”
This imprecation does not merely relate to someone’s present home, but to all the members of his family being thrown into the street to lead lives of destitution, humiliation, and shame. Only someone familiar with Middle Eastern culture understands the real significance of this curse.
The 1964 presidential election was the second in which I voted. Lyndon Johnson who had succeeded John Kennedy was running against Barry Goldwater. I didn’t like either candidate: Johnson’s personal characteristics were obnoxious, though he had achieved much, especially in the area of civil rights; Goldwater’s personal characterizes seemed fine, but I disapproved of his conservative political views.
I was shocked to read an article in Fact magazine, based on interviews with more than 1,000 psychiatrists, which concluded that Goldwater was mentally unstable and psychologically unfit to be president. It was Lyndon Johnson whose personal fitness to hold the highest office I questioned. Barry Goldwater seemed emotionally stable with excellent personal characteristics, but highly questionable politics. The article was utterly unpersuasive, and in the end, I reluctantly voted for Lyndon Johnson. Barry Goldwater went back to the Senate, where he served with great distinction and high personal morality. Lyndon Johnson got us deeply into an unwinnable war that hurt our nation. The more than 1,000 psychiatrists, it turned out, were dead wrong in their diagnosis and predictions.