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Prepent Day 36: An Alternative to More Dead Chickens

Sunday 10/09/16

Tishrei 7 5777

Dear Responsibility,

In Borough Park today cages of chickens start lining up the streets as the atonement rituals commence in full force. Kapprot, or the Chicken-Waving Ceremony to Absolve Sins, is still happening in many Ultra Orthodox communities worldwide, desptie growing protests. I grew up watching it but my father, like many, already preferred to wave a check book over heads on the eve of Yom Kippur instead. It was weird.

A friend sent me a link to this fascinating story about a bird release ritual in Senegal. Tradition holds that you can get rid of sins and anxieties by buying a little bird, whisper your prayers to it, and setting it free, taking your problems away.

I respect the primal urge to have control over a live creature and project our own fears of what we can’t control upon it, whether it is then released or killed. We humans cultivated so many antique and ornate tools to ritualized our noble attempt to take responsibility for our lives, and for those of others. Part of the ritual is to donate the dead chicken, or its worth in cash or check, to the needy.

With due respect to those who still deal with the birds, I choose to find new tools to take on regret and respond to the question of remorse with creative ways of my own. Take responsibility for my life – not by taking that of other. That age old urge now custom has to stop.

Go volunteer for a day or an hour, or go running instead, or dancing, push limits, sweat out the past and take on the responsibility to be more present, more attuned and kind this year.

No dead chickens. But I’m curious to explore adaptations of this ceremony for out times – a responsibility ritual to cleanse and look death/life in the eye. Ideas welcome.

On day 36 of this journey, I invite more responsibility for my own actions in the coming year. And I ask for more responsibility from other grown ups in the room, and in the news and in the newsrooms. So many frictions can be avoided and conflicts addressed when we choose to not be chickens – each take on more responsibility for our part in problem solving and solutions.

Hillary Clinton said, in quieter days: “Dignity does not come from avenging insults, especially from violence that can never be justified. It comes from taking responsibility and advancing our common humanity.”

responsibility, take it easy – but bring it on. Sorry chickens.



PREPENT: Rabbi Amichai Lau-Lavie’s annual journey to the new year, with 40 ways in 40 days to reflect, refocus, recharge and restart life. This year features daily love letters inspired by Lab/Shul’s theme for the High Holy Days, “וְאָהַבְתָּ re:love.”

Subscribe to Lab/Shul’s mailing list to receive this free daily blog in your inbox by checking “Prepent” as a special interest, share them on Facebook or Twitter, or read it online at the Forward.

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