Teshuva, Tefila, Tzedaka – A Lover’s Guide From Rosh HaShana to Yom Kippur (Part 3 of 3)

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A192 RoshHashanah III

DAY 8 — Kaparot

“Really? Another synagogue?”

“It’s the only place I could find, I’m sorry. Would you stop complaining already? We’ve been having a good time so far; it wouldn’t hurt to admit it.”

“I didn’t have a good time fasting for some king or something.”

“Always complaining… come on, they are waiting for us.”


She followed Hannah inside the large house through a corridor that went to the back of the place all through the kitchen. Once they crossed it, Hannah guided her through a backyard where two bearded men with white aprons covering their clothes—rabbis, Malka assumed—were hovering around a small pen filled with chickens.

Hannah greeted them and exchanged a few words with them, presumably telling them who she was right before signalling Malka to go meet her.

Before she could even begin to react or ask what was going on, one of the men took a chicken and swung it over her head several times while reciting some kind of prayer. He then took a knife out of his belt and sacrificed the chicken while reciting some more prayers, throwing a handful of dirt where a little blood had splattered.

“What will you do with it?” the man said after handing the dead chicken to the other man, who took it away.

“What?” Malka asked, her brain not functioning properly yet.

“Donate it, please. Thank you,” Hannah said, taking a few bills out of her bag and handing them to the man.

When Malka didn’t move, Hannah took her hand and pulled her out of the backyard and out of the house. Once outside, she stood there, her eyebrows reaching maximum level in her forehead and stared at Hannah for the longest time.

“What?” Hannah asked innocently.

When Malka’s eyebrows rose even more, Hannah continued talking.

“Okay, so you’ve never done kaparot before.”

“If by kaparot you mean having a live chicken swung at me several times and then watch it being sacrificed before my eyes, then no, I’ve never done kaparot before!” She said. Her voice was low and grave, a tone normally reserved for special occasions.

“Why are you angry?”

“I— I’m not angry, Hannah. What did just happen?” She said, softening her voice.

“It’s an old custom,” Hannah explained. “The chicken absorb your sins and then you can eat it or donate it. And since I’m willing to bet my head that you are not going to eat your kaparot chicken, you just donated it to a family in need.”

“Just how many sins do you think I have committed that I need to atone for?”

“It’s not about that, Malka.”

“Really?” She said, her low voice back again. “Because so far I’ve atoned for my sins throwing them to the pond in the form of crumbs, not eating for a whole day, giving a job to a completely unknown woman and now I had a chicken die on behalf of my wrongdoings. So tell me exactly what I’m repenting for because I really don’t understand what you’re trying to say to me.”

Hannah started walking slowly and Malka had no choice but follow her.

“When my great-grandparents came from Jerusalem with five other families, there weren’t big Jewish communities here and they had to improvise their Judaism. They even sacrificed their animals so they could keep kosher. Every major holiday, the families would gather in my great-grandfather’s house; he was for all purposes intended the rabbi of their small community and every Rosh Hashanah he would gather the chickens himself and perform the rituals on each one of them.”

Hannah took Malka’s hand into hers, her thumb making circles on her wrist. Malka forgot what she was upset about, finding the caress extremely distracting.

“It was a great honour; one that wasn’t transmitted to my grandmother or to my mother, and obviously, not to me. But I grew up with the stories of a struggling group trying to start a new life that would be better for their family without abandoning their traditions.

“It is important to me and I wanted to share it with you. And I get it, you don’t like it. But don’t worry, we only have one day before Yom Kippur and I’m not going to force any more absurd rituals on you. So let’s go do something you like.”

“I do have an urge to go to Wicked…”

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