By: Rosally Saltsman
Published: April 18th, 2016
Erev Pesach marks the 6th yahrzeit of the indomitable and legendary Clara Chaya Hammer a”h, the Chicken Lady of Jerusalem who, from the age of 70 until she returned her pure and happy soul to her Maker, trading in chicken wings for angel wings, a month short of her 100th birthday, fed hundreds of families and performed countless acts of kindness for the people of Jerusalem and its environs.
Her daughter, Rebbetzin Chana Homnick (not a spring chicken herself), and her great granddaughters, Elisheva and Shira, continue the legacy of Clara’s unremitting (and mostly anonymous) kindness.
Due to her tremendous charisma, Clara’s chicken fund continues to thrive and Chana says that miraculously she is still able to maintain it. The fund needs about NIS30,000 shekel (about $8,000) a month to feed all the families who rely on it. The fund regularly provides for about 200 families a month, more on Rosh Chodesh and holidays. All donations go straight to the fund. Chana underwrites the cost of envelopes, stamps and notes (not chicken feed) herself.
“I get notes thanking and blessing me,” says Chana, “But they’re really blessing my Ima.”
Modest and always devoted to her mother’s memory, Chana Homnick works hard to keep the fund alive. “I’m getting all the compliments now,” she chuckles warmly.
Clara used to give anyone who visited her home two towels – one for milchig and one for fleishig. The milchig one had a picture of a cow and the fleishig had a picture of a chicken. Recently, Chana got a note from someone who said she treasures those towels. Clara was known for giving many gifts (and getting many gifts), all chicken-themed. Clara was always keen to make sure that if she sent money to a needy person, a personal note acco mpanied the check so that the recipient felt respected.
Clara didn’t wait to be asked. One time she was on her way to the butcher when she saw tattered laundry hanging in a yard. She knocked on the door and offered help and the family gratefully accepted. There are so many people knocking on our doors in these beleaguered times asking for donations, but Clara stood out as the woman who was always looking to give. Looking being an active verb. She would notice when people needed, and what they needed, and she did everything she could to fill the void with energy absent in women half her age.
When a friend of her granddaughter heard that Clara had died, she said mournfully, “Who am I going to go to now for moral support?” This woman who had experienced post-partum depression had gone with her new baby to visit Clara. Clara started dancing with her and singing her signature song, Ashreinu ma tov chelkeinu and raised her spirits.
Today, Chana scans the news and when she hears of someone who has experienced a tragedy and needs help, she contacts the person and offers to add him or her to the fund’s list of grateful recipients.
Chana also continues her mother’s custom of sending out warm letters (and I mean letters, not notes) of gracious gratitude. And the people she sends her letters of gratitude to are often children and grandchildren of the original donors who are continuing the family tradition of supporting the Chicken Fund. Donations come in from all over the world.
About 20 years ago, a couple from Florida who were contributors to the Chicken Fund and were getting married sent Clara money to take some new olim for a night out. She took them out to a restaurant and they had a wonderful time. This couple continues to send contributions to the Chicken Fund to mark special occasions like anniversaries. Recently, this couple’s son became bar mitzvah and in honor of the occasion they sent Chana money to make a bar mitzvah celebration for some underprivileged boys. Chana contacted an orphanage and took 10 boys who had just become bar mitzvah out to a restaurant decorated just for the occasion. It was night filled with music and dancing those boys will never forget. From generation to generation, donation to donation, celebration to celebration, the Chicken Fund helps spread joy and make memories.
Chana Homnick commissioned a book about her illustrious mother. Written by C.B. Gavant and published by Feldheim, The Chicken Lady of Jerusalem – A Life of Giving tells Clara’s story, beginning with her years as a little girl in the Ukraine tending to chickens, having no idea how much they were going to dominate her life and help her contribute to the lives of others. Proceeds from the sale of the book go to the fund.
On this 6th year without the Chicken Lady we pay tribute to her entrepreneurialship, her singing talent, her dedication as a teacher, her charisma as a speaker, her vivaciousness, her love which she gave to four generations of progeny, her love for Eretz Yisrael, but most of all for her life’s work as a chesed lady. Lords and Ladies will come and go but there will always only be one Chicken Lady.
May the memory of Chaya bat Meir serve as a blessing.
Donations can be mailed to:
Clara Hammer Chicken Fund
PO Box 18602
Jerusalem, Israel 91185
or you can donate through the red paypal button below:
Contributions can also be deposited at:
Bank Leumi Branch 905
Ramat Eshkol, Jerusalem
Acct no. 651200/75
About the Author: Rosally Saltsman, originally from Montreal, lives in Petach Tikvah.