An Introduction to Kibbutz Life
One of the first jobs I was assigned as a volunteer at Kibbutz Ein Hashofet was lishloach. I knew it would somehow involve the chickens, but only later did I learn of the English translation of the word, “sending out”. After my experience in the huge chicken coop that very early morning, lishloach could mean only one thing forever in my mind: “sending out” (for slaughter)
The task that morning so long ago in 1978 before dawn was something I could never imagine, being the city boy I am from LA. Few Jewish boys, at least American Jewish boys, true to their upbringing of skillful mind and clumsy hand, would be up for what we were about to be asked to do.
That’s probably why the well-honed plan by the kibbutzniks for lishloach included recruiting only the freshest male volunteers without any idea what they were in for at the earliest and darkest part of the morning. The plan also seemed to call for having the nicest kibbutz member, a peer to the young volunteers, serve in the role of work assignment manager. No one, I thought, as nice as Avigdor would ever assign us to a job so awful you would remember it for the rest of your life.
As I recall, the three or four of us volunteers Avigdor assigned to lishloach the evening before stumbled into the heder ochel (dining room) at about 4 a.m. After finishing a cup of coffee and sweet rolls, we followed several young male kibbutzniks outside where we climbed into a wagon hitched to a tractor and were driven a short distance to the lulleem, the chicken coops. There illuminated from lights within was one of several extraordinary long chicken warehouses one could ever imagine. As we stood just at the foot of this one story warehouse with a corrugated metal roof and lots of open vents, we dutifully listened to instructions from the young kibbutz boys in perfect English spoken with polite Israeli accents on how to catch and cage the hundreds if not thousands of chickens inside.
The chickens had been murmuring inside, and it wasn’t until we stepped inside did the cries of a few ignite a wave that spontaneously moved through their masses. The sound of a thousand chickens squawking did not end with the last one removed.
“You must chase and catch one chicken at a time,” the young kibbutznik said as he launched himself toward his prey, swiftly and without hesitation catching his target and grabbing both its feet in seemingly one seamless stroke. He held his violently struggling victim upside down, then went after another, and then another, until he held two chickens in each hand.
This was incredibly surreal. I had never been near, let alone touched a chicken in my life. And here I was being asked not only to catch one, but four at a time. And what were we to do with them? I do not remember thinking much at all, let alone protest that this was a deal breaker for me. It wasn’t so much pride in performing this manly act. Thinking about it now, it was about integrity. If I eat chicken, and I did like chicken, and if I was going to continue to eat chicken, then I must be able to show my willingness to at least participate in their slaughter. Okay, maybe it was a more than a little about not being seen as weak.
It took awhile, but I soon found myself energetically following our kibbutznik’s lead. With an ocean of chickens running helter skelter away in a wave of moving chickens, I was a bit amazed at my skill to outrun and catch one. At least once I felt a leg bone break in my firm hand, which had to remain firm unless the chicken writhed free. While I found it possible to chase, grab and hold each chicken, I did not even attempt to catch any more than two.
Once holding our prizes in each hand inside the lul, we exited and walked up to the flatbed truck parked by the door, where another young kibbutz member skillfully sorted and stacked plastic chicken cages atop. As soon as he saw one of us approach, he leaned down and reached out as we raised our arms high so he could grab our chickens. I remember turning my head sideways during each clean transfer. I remained a moment afterwards to watch as he stuffed one chicken after another into an empty cage, and slamming the lid shut. I supposed he stuffed two chickens at a time when he received them.
With us volunteers and the kibbutzniks we were able to clear out the chickens from the lul in what felt like only an hour or so. I don’t recall even the sun rising in the time it took. As soon as we were done, leaving an empty lul, the truck moved off toward the main highway. It was the first and only time I was called upon for lishloach. Perhaps the kibbutz learned that it would be pushing it to call upon non-Israeli Jewish boys for any more. And it would be awhile until it took a new batch of chicks to mature and fatten into meat ripe for slaughter. One great advantage to the job was that we had plenty of free time afterwards.
I was not a vegetarian before this experience, but later I did give up red meat, and much later in my life, drastically reduce my chicken intake. There may have been a pause for awhile, but I have never, completely given up eating chicken. Perhaps, in recalling this unpleasant experience, I will finally give up poultry for good. That would mean substituting the chicken in chicken kung pao for tofu, certainly a great sacrifice.