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- Jose Lucio, self-published author of Heave Ho!


When the Chickens Went on Strike: A Rosh Hashanah Tale (2003)

Retold by Erica Silverman

Adapted from a story by Sholom Aleichem

Illustrated by Matthew Trueman

"...composed of many layers, starting with ink and pencil, then colored pencil and gouache, followed by acrylic paints, and finally glazed in oil."

Dutton Children's Books

This is a ridiculous story.

And I can easily see why Silverman thought it would make a great children's book. For myself, I can't help but read into it an indictment not just of Kapores, but of irrational religious traditions the world over.

The author of the original story was Sholom Aleichman, which was the pen name of Sholem Rabinowitz (1859-1916), who is best known for writing the stories upon which Fiddler on the Roof is based. In Yiddish, "Shalom Aleichman" means "Peace Be With You."

So, Kapores. For the goyim in our midst, this is the act of grabbing a live, clucking chicken above one's head, waving it around by its feet, saying a prayer to God and then, viola! One's bad deeds are then removed from the eyes of God.

The main character and narrator of the book is a young boy who is in desperate need of having some bad deeds removed. First we see him misbehaving in synagogue during Rosh Hashanah service, then sent outside by his Papa. There, hiding in the fields, he spies a scene out of Animal Farm.

"Fellow foul! You know why we are here!"
"Freedom for fowl!"
"Rights for roosters!"
"Strike! Strike!"

It is a group of very perturbed chickens.

"Every year at this time, the villagers use us for a strange custom," the leader asserts. "They grab us and twirl us over their heads. They mumble strange words. They think this will take away bad deeds!"

"An end to Kapores!" they all shriek.

I would think, then, being a young, clever child, he would instantly realize the rightness of the chicken's position and side with them. Unfortunately, he is so far gone in his own cultural identity that all he can think about is: "No more Kapores? How else would I get rid of my bad deeds?"

A true quandary. When the news spreads, the town goes into a near panic, coming out en masse to get the chickens to return. They try force, but are attacked and pecked - men and women alike.

Finally, the village elders attempt to reason with the children.

"We need you for Kapores."

"Where is it written?" asks a hen.

"What does it matter to you? It is a custom of ours from years and years ago."

"An end to your customs!"

And so they run off, even as the wailing, bemoaning townsfolk mournfully speak of certain plagues and impending doom.

But our young, puckish narrator is not so troubled. With one final exchange, he tells the hen, "Without Kapores, I will never be able to make my papa proud."

"Boychick, for this, do you really need a chicken?"

I plan on using this line the next time I am invited to partake in some religious ceremony.
Traditions come and traditions go. I learned this from the chickens.
Click here to read my conversation with Erica Silverman!
Click here for more Jewish folktales!

1 comment:

  1. Good morning and thank you so much for reviewing When the Chickens Went on Strike and for your Interview with Erica Silverman. Thank you also for mentioning The Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos, a group of people urging observers of this ritual who swing chickens to swing (give) money instead of chickens, who suffer so terribly in the ritual. We love Erica's book - both the text and the artwork. We need to get When the Chickens Went on Strike up on the Internet. Erica was very kind in providing copies of her charming and instructive storybook to United Poultry Concerns and we are proud and honored to carry it.

    Karen Davis, PhD, President
    United Poultry Concerns
    PO Box 150
    Machipongo, VA 23405

    United Poultry Concerns is a nonprofit organization that promotes the compassionate and respectful treatment of domestic fowl.


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