I did set out to create a Jewish Cinderella. Actually, my editor at the time started it - she sent me a news clip about a storyteller who included a Jewish Cinderella in her repertoire. I'd see it in a couple of Jewish folklore collections and a variation of it had already been published as a picture book, The Way Meat Loves Salt, by Nina Jaffe and Louise August. While I think it's a lovely book, it seemed to lean more heavily on the Cinderella tradition. I was intrigued and challenged by the idea of writing a Jewish Cinderella that might reflect Jewish culture and values more specifically.
I love riddle tales and knew early on I wanted to blend a riddle motif into my Cinderella. To my delight, my reading on Jewish life in Eastern Europe turned up a lovely tidbit - that it was customary to tell riddles at Purim feasts. How perfect! Setting it at Purim allowed me to send Raisel to a Purim ball in a costume, so that she wouldn't be recognized. Slowly, things fell into place.
There is something inherently Cinderella-ish about the story of Esther to begin with. Her Jewish identity seems allegorical with Cinderella's own humble origins, being in constant fear that people will know what she really is.
I found it to be a completely ridiculous story, kind of an absurd Animal Farm with a religious foundation instead of a political one. But also extremely funny. Taking place on Rosh Hashanah, it centers specifically on the practice of kaporos. This is when a Jewish person, in order that they may best absolve themselves of any wrongdoing before the eyes of almighty God, proceed to take a live chicken and wave it about above their heads, all the meanwhile reciting prayers.
I found that Erica's book is featured prominently on a website called Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos. To my shock, I found that this practice of kaporos still happens to this day! I had no idea. I asked Erica if she was familiar with the alliance.
Part of the Conversations with Stoerytellers series.