By Miryam Elisheva Segal
Before you go to Kapores tonight…
The first time I did Kapores, I awoke in the middle of the night, my Shluchim picked me up in their 15 passenger van with all their little kids, and we drove over a hour to a farm in the next state. The car was silent with sleeping children, my Shluchim, and myself, the lone college student who wanted to do Kapores “the real way.” My Shlucha went over the meaning of Kapores, what intentions one should have, and answered my few questions. I did not really know what to expect but I definitely felt awe at what was about to take place. As I read the English translation in my Tehillat Hashem Siddur, I thought I understood what was about to take place.
There at the farm there were a group of chickens set aside. All the “local” Shluchim in the area (within an hour’s drive or so) came to this farm to shlug Kapores.
As the sun rose over the sky line, I huddled together in a bunch with my Shlucha and her daughters, and as our Shliach swung one chicken over our gathered heads, my Shlucha recited Kapores word for word with her daughters and I repeating after her. The little ones screamed at the bird swinging over their heads. I was newly frum, trying to digest all that was coming at me – the screaming children, the squawking hen, the loshon of Kapores, the worry that I wouldn’t mess it up. I knew in that moment what it truly meant that that chicken was my exchange, my substitute, my expiation.
The Shliach then went on to do Kapores for himself and his boys huddled together in one group.
Then we quietly got back into the car. The Shliach explained that later in the day a shochet on his way to the other end of the state would pass through and shecht all the chickens that had been used for Kapores by my Shluchim and the others. We would not get the mitzvah of covering the blood.
* * * * *
We rode the rest of the way in pretty much silence, the sun rising as we drove. I thought back to my grandparents a”h who surely performed Kapores in der alter heim.
My grandmother, one of 13 children and my grandfather, one of 17 children, were both the children of poor Jewish farmers. When the family used even just one hen and one rooster for Kapores it must have been a HUGE stress on their finances. The chicken that provided eggs for the family to eat or sell, the rooster that helped make more chickens, to use them for Kapores was something they truly felt in their wallet.
These were no city Yidden, these were country Yidden who knew about their animals, were not afraid of them, and to a certain extent had a relationship with them. These were not some nameless animals taken out of a cage – they were animals they had reared for many months or years. They knew the halachas of caring for their animals, they were taught the halachas of tzaar baalei chaim.
With disease, Cossacks, war, and poverty hanging over them, they must have davened to truly live another year. Surely they felt awe, surely they knew it was their expiation. I davened that I had the same kind of kavonos my grandparents a”h had when they did their Kapores.
* * * * *
It’s 16 years later. I’ve performed Kapores in Crown Heights for the last 15 of them. I’ve done them as a single woman, as a married woman, as the mother holding a 6 week old baby, as the woman covertly having a box with 3 chickens swung over her head, and so on. Every year I take the chicken into my hands and I recite Kapores and daven that Hashem will allow me to live another year.
Each year I have watched the Kapores go down and down. Frankly, it is often a carnival-like atmosphere. Competing Ice Cream trucks at Kapores? Vendors hawking goods on Kingston, President, and Eastern Parkway? Diapers put on chickens? Trash left all over the streets? Groups of screaming teenagers? I see children and adults who have little or no exposure to live animals who have no idea how to behave with them.
This is nothing to speak of how the chickens are generally treated. Left to stand in crates for several days, with little to no food or water, and then taken out and treated in a manner that borders on tzaar baalei chaim.
I am the last person left in my family who does Kapores with a chicken. I take my chicken, I recite Kapores with as much as kavanna I can muster in the atmosphere around me on the street, and bring it to the shochet. I cover the blood, recite the bracha, tip the shochet and come home saddened by what I see around me.
Where has the awe gone? Ask yourself before you go to Kapores tonight – when you leave Kapores how do you want to feel? If our bubbies and zeydies or alter-bubbies or alter-zeydies saw us now, how would they react?