How to serve three chickens to 28 people?

Did you say chicken?

Who doesn’t love chicken?

When dating my husband, I remember discussing our food taste and quickly found a common ground: Chicken!! He even mentioned he could eat chicken every day, and I totally agreed!
Years before, for my eleventh birthday, my father asked me what gift would I like, and I answered: “I would like to eat a whole chicken”. Surprisingly enough, I got my wish and still fondly remember licking my fingers..
Before we moved to South America, while in the US, we had a neighbor whose husband was working as a Shochet for “Empire” (Kosher chickens company). They were so nice to sale us boxes of chicken at wholesale price. Whenever I would see their name on our caller ID, my heart would skip a beat in excitement and joy! I knew chickens would be decorating our tables any day of the week and that was such a pleasure! I would jump into the van and drive down the street accompanied by one of my big boys to carry the precious load.
(Of course, I bought plenty of chickens on the local Kosher supermarket, but for some reason, this family enjoyed passing them on to us, from a large family to another.)
Later on, when we moved here, my husband once again had an opportunity to use his certification of Shochet (received in Jerusalem – 13 years ago), and every week, he goes to the local chicken market and makes Shechita.
Of course, we cannot remove all the feathers, as in “Fiddler on the Roof”, so the whole skin is stripped and we have skinless chickens, supposedly more healthy.
Our 7 year old son Benyamin, asked me the other day why are the chickens white in Peru when they were brown in America. I guess that’s his own way to say that he misses the crispy chicken skin (and so do I).
Three weeks ago, I realized that I used three chickens for Shabbat instead of the five my husband brought home. I had put two in the freezer, which I was going to use for the day meal Sholent, but my housekeeper, Elizabeth, cut the chickens in such small portions, that I managed with the three I had in front of me. When I realize the mishap, I decided we would eat chicken on Tuesday (“Paamayim Ki Tov”), and invite a pregnant religious friend who can use the proteins.
That Tuesday, I asked Elizabeth to prepare the two chickens for me to cook.
She could not believe it and had me repeat three times surprised we were eating chicken in the middle of the week. She kept lamenting: “Chicken?! But it’s not Sabbado!!” and when she understood I meant it, she asked me if she should cut tiny portions as always. Her face dropped when I asked for large portions.
She was clearly confused, wondering what happened to the Senora!
As my husband is in the US for a few weeks and we only have a very small freezer section on top of our fridge, we are unfortunately reduced to three chickens per week.
 Now, about our “Project Inspire”.
As the streets of Cusco are filling in quickly with more and more Israelis who have no other option of eating a proper Shabbat meal, we took upon ourselves to invite the maximum amount of people we can, for each and every Shabbat meal.
Equipped with additional tables and chairs as well as some wooden benches, we calculated that we could invite 14 people for each meal, to join our family of seven. I have prepared invitations and every Wednesdays or Thursdays night, I go to the local hostels, notorious for being frequented by Israelis, and distribute my invitations written in Hebrew and sign-up those who are ready to commit. (I require signing-up before Friday, to make sure I have no more and no less than 14).
On Thursdays, the invitations are often accompanied with small home-baked chocolate cakes, covered with plastic wrap bearing the inscription of “Shabbat Shalom” in Hebrew letters, to incite them to get a taste of Shabbat.
We have had at least 14 guests signed-up the last few Shabbat meals and this week, as we were seated and finishing serving the traditional chicken soup, I was surprised to hear knocks at the door and a dozen of additional people walked in! They were apologetic and asked if they could just seat with us for a few minutes…Of course I invited them to “squeeze on the sofas” and organized a second Kiddush, a second Motsi and a second round of salads and chicken soup.
I was so happy that I made a mountain of Challah rolls, which I recently learnt how to braid into a “rosette’ for a pretty result.
I also make my own Hummus, a staple at any Israeli meal, and I decorate it, “restaurant style’ with a circle of olive oil, garnished with garbanzo beans, and sprinkled with two color spices, paprika and dill.
It was such a sight to see all these young Israelis, most if not all after serving IDF for three years, living what is probably “the vacation of their life”, enjoying an authentic Shabbat meal, with Kidduch and Motsi.
Fresh home-made Challa and real grape juice (which we squeeze ourselves, week after week, as there is no Kosher grape juice, let alone wine in Cusco!!).
Many times, one of them would follow me to the kitchen to tell me privately how much they appreciate being with us, having a real Shabbat meal and eating chicken for the first time in months.
One even told me that he makes his own Challa out of a small cooking pan.
Others offered payment, which I refused vehemently. I told them to put the amount of their choice in Tzedaka instead, and they looked at one another with a blank stare, then asked:”Where is that?”.
Birkat Hamazon was read beautifully by a young man, shaved head and leather jacket, who obviously was reading it for the first time in his life, but being Israeli, it was of course not a problem!!

They often ask if we are somehow connected to local Chabad (who are currently absent for three months) and I reply that Chabad are Shluchim of the Rebbe, and we are Shluchim of Hashem.
This week, I used the last three chickens, and had them cut, as usual, in very small portions.
Three chickens were served lovingly to 28 beautiful people, who maybe didn’t have a Kippa on their head, didn’t know what Tzedaka is, and never heard Birkat Hamazon, but definitely had a smile on their face and sometimes a tear in their eye.
Joined together around the Shabbat table, strangers but yet brothers, connected by the unbreakable link of our eternal Jewish heritage, somehow, everyone left the table satisfied and content.
And me? More happy than all of them together.
אשריך ישראל

5 responses

  1. Congratulations Daniele. When reading what you are doing, I remembered my dear Tante Renée – your grand-mother, who was an excellent host and very very capable at cooking.

    When will you pass or come to São Paulo ?


    Lola (your Brazilian cousin)

    February 19, 2012 at 11:27 pm

    • Merci, Lola! C’est un grand compliment pour moi.

      j’aimerai bien revenir au Bresil mais je ne sais pas quand! Comment vas-tu?

      February 19, 2012 at 11:49 pm

  2. Hey Rochel! What a great story! It’s really wonderful what you are doing there! You’re really making a big difference in these people’s lives! I think though that all of us Jews, whether Lubavitch or not, are Shluchim of Hashem, Mordechai and I send our love to you and all the kids!
    Keep up the good work..we are very proud of you! 🙂

    February 20, 2012 at 3:19 am

  3. yakov klein

    amezing wow

    June 29, 2012 at 4:02 pm

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