8 Nights, 8 Heroes

Inspiring stories to share around the Chanukah lights.

Dec 20, 2008 as originally appeared for Chanukah on aish.com

Chanukah is the time when we joyously recall the heroic Maccabees and the miracle of the oil that burned for 8 nights. Throughout Jewish history, there have been heroes in every generation. We thought it would be fun to choose 8 Jewish heroes, and each night, as we light the Chanukah candles, to read about a different hero.

How did we choose these 8? We included a variety — those who demonstrated leadership qualities and others who reached great spiritual heights; young and old, famous and ordinary. The first 4 heroes in our list are historical figures, and the next 4 are alive today.

Each has an interesting story to tell, and each fought to preserve our heritage so that we can continue to live as proud Jews today. Enjoy!

  1. Abraham
  2. The Maccabees
  3. Rebbe Akiva
  4. Rabbi Chiyah
  5. Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau
  6. The Chicken Lady
  7. Sherri & Seth Mandell
  8. Shlomo Mulla

1) Abraham

There was a time when the world looked very different than it does today. People worshipped idols of wood and stone. Many people were illiterate, there was no concept of equal rights, and people abused and enslaved others. That’s because people did not know about God.

This is the world that Abraham lived in. When he was three years old, Abraham saw the world of nature with all its beauty and perfection — and concluded that for a world so perfectly designed, there must be a designer. Abraham had discovered God.

On the surface, this conclusion is not so amazing. If you went to a toy factory and saw the process of design, manufacture and assembly, would you mistakenly think these toys are produced by accident?!

What is so remarkable about Abraham’s discovery is that he lived in a world filled with idolatry. His family even owned an idol store! One day, Abraham was asked to watch the store. He took a hammer and smashed all the idols — except for the largest. His father came home aghast. “What happened?!” he shouted. “It was amazing, Dad,” said Abraham. “The idols all got into a fight and the biggest idol won!” There was no way for his father to respond; deep down he knew that Abraham had tuned into a deeper truth.

Abraham wasn’t satisfied with just his own understanding. he reached out in an effort to enlighten others. He brought guests into his tent, which was open on all four sides and pitched right in the middle of an inter-city highway. And he endured all types of mockery and persecution for holding beliefs that were politically incorrect.

In fact, the Torah calls him Avraham Ha-Ivri — Abraham the Hebrew. Ha-Ivri translates literally as “the one who stands on the other side.” The entire world stood on one side, with Abraham standing firm on the other. His resolve to do the right thing — and to reach out to others — formed the foundation of the Jewish people. And because of this, the majority of the human race today accepts Abraham’s concept of a loving God.

2) The Maccabees

The year is 167 BCE and the horrible persecution of Judaism by the Greeks was in full swing. The Greek troops showed up in the town of Modi’in (a site west of Jerusalem which you can visit today off the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway) and demanded that the Jews there sacrifice a pig to the Greek gods. The elder of the town, Matityahu the kohen priest, refused.

But there was one Jew in the town who was willing to do what is unspeakable in Jewish eyes. As he’s about to sacrifice the pig, Matityahu stabbed him, also killing the Greek official present. He then turned to the crowd and announced: “Follow me, all of you who are for God’s law.”

Those who joined Matityahu and his five sons head for the hills, expecting that the Greeks would come back and wipe out the whole village as a reprisal. In the hills, they organized a guerilla army, led by the oldest son Judah, nicknamed Maccabee, which means “the Hammer.” Maccabee is also an acronym for the Hebrew, “Who is like you among the powers O God” — the battle cry of the Jewish people.

The Maccabee army was at most 12,000 men, fighting against the Greek army of 40,000 men. Beyond numerical superiority, the Greeks had professional equipment, training, and a herd of war elephants (the tanks of the ancient world). But what the Jews lacked in training and equipment they made up in spirit.

After three years of fighting, the Jews were able re-conquer Jerusalem. They found the Temple defiled and turned into a sanctuary where pigs were sacrificed. When they re-entered the Temple, the first thing they did is to light a make-shift menorah (the real gold one had been melted down by the Greeks). But only one vial of pure lamp oil with the special seal was discovered. They used this vial to light the menorah and miraculously it stayed lit for eight days, by which time fresh pure oil was pressed and delivered to the Temple.

The Maccabees then purified the Temple and rededicated it on the 25th of Kislev, which is the date on the Hebrew calendar when we begin to celebrate the eight days of Chanukah. (The Hebrew word Chanukah means “dedication” or “inauguration.”)

More than a military victory, we celebrate the triumph of Jewish ideals which — as symbolized by the glow of the menorah — light up the world.

3) Rebbe Akiva

About 2,000 years ago, there lived a man named Akiva, a simple 40-year-old who could not even read the Aleph-Bet. Akiva worked as a shepherd for a wealthy man named Kalba Savua. His daughter Rachel saw that Akiva had a very fine character. She said to him: “If we were to become married, would you promise me to go study jewish wisdom?” He agreed and they secretly got married.

When Kalba Savua heard that his daughter had married the poor shephard Akiva, he sent her out of his house and vowed to disown her. So Akiva and Rachel slept on straw. He would pick the straw out of her hair, and told her: “If I could afford it, I would give you a crown of Jerusalem of Gold.”

One day, Akiva came across a stone that had been holed out by a constant drip of water. He concluded: If something as soft as water can carve a hole in solid rock, how much more so can Torah — which is fire — make an indelible impression on my heart. Rabbi Akiva committed himself to Torah study, and spent the next 24 years studying. He went on to become the greatest sage of his generation.

When he returned home with his 24,000 students, the entire town flocked to greet him. When Rachel began to approach Akiva, some of the students (not knowing who she was) stepped forward to protect their rabbi. At which point Rabbi Akiva turned to his students and announced: “Everything we have achieved is entirely in her merit. We owe it all to her.”

When Kalba Savua heard the news, he came to Rabbi Akiva and revoked his earlier vow. And then, Rebbe Akiva bought his wife a golden crown of Jerusalem.

But these were the days when the land of Israel was ruled by the Romans, who tried to end the practice of Judaism. The Roman authorities eventually arrested Rabbi Akiva for “illegally” teaching Torah. As he was being tortured, Rabbi Akiva rejoiced in fulfilling the biblical command to “love God with all your life.” As he died, Rabbi Akiva uttered the words of Shema Yisrael. His self-sacrifice for Torah continues to inspire Jews till today.

4) Rabbi Chiyah

During a time of persecution about 1700 years ago, the great sage Rabbi Chiyah was concerned that the teachings of the Torah might become forgotten by the Jewish people. As a precaution, Rabbi Chiyah captured a deer, slaughtered it, and gave the meat to orphans. Then he tanned the hides and wrote five separate scrolls, one for each of the Five Books of Moses. He took five children, and taught each of them one book. He then took six more children, and taught each of them one of the six orders of Mishnah, the oral law.

Then he told each of the 11 children: “Teach what you’ve learned to each other.” With this, the Talmud says, Rabbi Chiyah ensured that the Torah would never be forgotten by the Jewish people.

This raises a question: 11 children is a pretty small class. Why didn’t Rabbi Chiyah simply teach all the children all the books? Why did he teach each child only one book?

The answer is that it was essential to the process for the children to teach each other. To ensure that Torah should not be forgotten, you have to teach what you’ve learned to others. That’s the secret.

So if you know the key to happiness, teach it. (The key to happiness is to appreciate what you have, rather than bemoaning what you don’t have.) Is your friend sad or depressed? Give him some joy! If you have the ability, you must help.

This is not about “forcing your opinion” on others. Rather you simply convey information that allows your friend to get in touch with what he already knows — and re-discover it on his own.

Don’t sell yourself short. You have the ability to make a dramatic impact on others. You don’t have to be a U.S. Senator to make a difference. With one piece of wisdom you can help humanity.

Rabbi Eliyahu Essas is a former refusenik from the Soviet Union. He lived there at a time when it was totally illegal to study Torah. Consequently, Rabbi Essas secretly got a hold of some Jewish books, hid out from the KGB, and began to teach himself Torah.

After a while, people started coming secretly to study with Rabbi Essas. But of 5 million Soviet Jews, he was one of the few who could teach and his time was in great demand. So he made a rule: “Before I begin teaching you, you must agree to teach over what you’ve learned to others.” In this way, Rabbi Essas was able to multiply his effect.

Although we don’t live under an oppressive Soviet regime, the concept still applies today. You learned something precious? Say to yourself: “That was fascinating. What did it teach me about living? How can I transfer this insight to others?”

Teaching benefits you as well. Having to explain an idea to others forces you to clarify it for yourself. You’ve taken it out of potential and made it a reality.

When you teach someone, make sure they understand how important it is to teach it over to someone else. That’s ensuring that Torah will never be forgotten by the Jewish people.

5) Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau

Yisrael Meir Lau was born in 1937 in a Polish town where his father served as the rabbi. At age seven, Yisrael Meir was sent to a Nazi slave labor camp. The Gestapo commander discovered that a few children were in the camp. He believed that children are not productive workers and wanted to eliminate them.

So little Yisrael Meir quietly used his feet to gather some earth and stones into a small mound. Then he stood on this mound to appear a bit taller, and opened his mouth to deliver the first speech of his life:

“I believe there is some misunderstanding. It is a mistake to think that we children cannot work. When I was even younger than I am now, I pushed a wooden cart piled with 60 glass bottles and distributed water to workers. Outside in the snow, I repeatedly filled up the bottles throughout my 12-hour shift. So you cannot say that we children lack working potential.”

The Gestapo indicated that along with this nice speech, a hefty bribe will help. So Yisrael Meir’s older brother took out a diamond that his mother had given him, which he’d sewed into his clothes. The diamond, along with the speech, saved Yisrael Meir’s life.

In 1945, Yisrael Meir became — at age 8 — the youngest survivor to be liberated from Buchenwald. Nearly his entire family was murdered. He was for all intents and purposes an orphan.

He was among the first immigrants to arrive in Israel after the Holocaust. His uncle took him home and explained that he had been saved in order to continue the family’s rabbinical chain (they were 37 generations of rabbis). Yisrael Meir was told that it is like a relay race, where the torch is passed from hand to hand, and he is not permitted to extinguish the fire.

He studied hard, stayed focused on the goal, and became a respected rabbi. He served as Chief Rabbi of Netanya, then Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv, and in 2003 completed a 10-year term as Chief Rabbi of Israel. In 2005, Rabbi Lau was awarded the Israel Prize for Lifetime Achievement. In November 2008 — on the 70th anniversary of Kristallnacht — he was appointed Chairman of the Yad Vashem Council, dedicated to preserving the memory of the Holocaust for future generations.

With his life hanging in the balance, 7-year-old Yisrael Meir Lau mustered all of his courage and stood up to the Nazis. This same determination drove him to great heights, passing the torch of tradition to a generation of Israelis.

Click here for a short film about Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau.

6) The Chicken Lady

If you’d meet Clara Hammer on the bus or in the supermarket, you probably would have smiled at her. She’s a sweet 93-year-old great-great-grandmother. But you’d never imagine that she is affectionately known as the “Chicken Lady,” responsible for feeding hundreds of poor families in Israel.

Clara’s kindness campaign began 22 years ago during a routine trip to a kosher butcher shop in Jerusalem. She was standing in line and saw the butcher give a young girl a plastic bag filled with nothing but fat and skin. When Clara got to the front of the line, she asked, “How many cats and dogs does that family have that it needs so many scraps?”

The butcher explained that the family had no pets, but seven children. They used the fat and skin for “chicken soup” and for stew. The words went straight to Clara’s heart. She looked across the counter and said: “From now on, give the family a whole chicken and I’ll pay for it!”

What motivates Clara to help? Born in a small town in the Ukraine, Clara and her family survived three pogroms before running away to Romania. The Romanian border police refused her family entrance and they were jailed for five months. It was there that she experienced terrible hunger. And Clara decided that she will do whatever she can to alleviate hunger today.

Today, Clara assists over 700 people and pays the butcher a weekly bill of over $1,000. The butcher has an entire computer dedicated to Clara.

Her apartment in Jerusalem is filled with images of little chickens — stuffed chicken dolls, figurines and mugs. In 2008, Clara Hammer was awarded an honorary “doctorate in kindness” by Yeshiva University. She is a modern-day hero, showing us all what one person can achieve — with a little imagination and a lot of caring.

Click here for a short film about the Chicken Lady.

7) Sherri & Seth Mandell

Seth and Sherri Mandell moved to Israel from America in 1996 because they loved Israel and wanted to put Judaism in the center of their family’s life.

Their lives were devastated in May 2001, when their 13-year-old son Koby was murdered by terrorists. Koby went hiking with his friend in a canyon near the Mandell’s home. There, in a cave, Arab terrorists stoned the two boys to death.

The Mandells, parents to three other younger children, knew that in order to go on, they needed to take the cruelty of Koby’s murder and transform it into kindness. They wanted to help people like themselves, struck by terror, to be able to return to life, with strength, hope, and healing.

For that reason, they created the Koby Mandell Foundation which provides healing programs for families struck by terrorism. Children, whose siblings or parents have been killed in terror attacks, attend week-long camps where they get counseling and bond with other children who share their circumstances. Mothers who have lost children in terror attacks attend 2-day healing retreats. Participants are helped to find meaning in their loss, so that families become stronger rather than weaker from their traumas.

In this way, the Mandells respond to pain and suffering with a Jewish response — to build, to grow, to make meaning out of suffering, to choose life, and to help others in this mission. The terrorists will not win; a network of love and sharing is created in the wake of the terrorists’ attempts to destroy the people of Israel.

And in this way, they keep Koby’s spirit alive in the world.

Click here for a short film about Sherri & Seth Mandell.

8) Shlomo Mulla

Shlomo Mulla grew up in a small village in northern Ethiopia. When he was 16 years old, he and a group of friends decided to go to Israel by foot. Their plan was to walk from their village to Sudan, then to Egypt, to the Sinai desert, to Beersheva, and finally to Jerusalem.

They took a guide to show them the first part of their journey. Shlomo’s father sold a cow to get the two dollars to pay the guide. They walked barefoot, day and night, with no rest. They saw tigers and lions and snakes. They walked through the desert with no water. They were captured by robbers in the jungle, who took all their food and money.

They walked 780 kilometers in one week. When they got to the border of Ethiopia and Sudan, the border guards shot and killed Shlomo’s best friend. They put all the boys in jail and tortured them.

After 91 days, Shlomo and his friends were released. They were taken by truck to a big refugee camp. Soon after, they met a man who told them to get on a truck. They drove for five hours through the desert. Then they stopped and were told to get out of the truck. Then an airplane landed, and everyone was pushed inside. The door was closed and amidst singing and clapping, the crew announced: “Shalom Aleichem” — Welcome. It was all part of a secret Israeli government operation to rescue Ethiopian Jews.

Shlomo and the other Ethiopian Jews arrived in Israel with the goal of helping to build the society. Shlomo learned the language and diligently worked his way up. He gained a reputation for the ability to get things done, with a special sensitivity to the 120,000 Ethiopian Jews now living in Israel. In February 2008, Shlomo became the second Ethiopian ever elected to the Israeli Knesset.

Click here for a short film about Shlomo Mulla.

based on an idea by Flaura Koplin Winston

This article can also be read at: http://www.aish.com/h/c/f/48964671.html

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:

 Donate Online Now

Contributions can also be deposited at:
Bank Leumi    Branch 905
Ramat Eshkol, Jerusalem
Acct no. 651200/75

On A Wing And A Prayer

By: Rosally Saltsman
Published: April 18th, 2016

Saltsman-041516-Chana-wBookErev 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 39 surrounded by mementoshad 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.

38 at home

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:

 Donate Online Now

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.

contributing to the Clara Hammer Chicken fund helps little children have chicken for Shabbat

The Chicken Lady of Jerusalem

In 1999, Chaya Hammer was awarded the coveted Yakir Yerushalayim award for her contribution to the citizens of t24 at Hackerhat city.

Something about the young girl in front of her on line at Hacker, a butcher shop in Jerusalem, seemed familiar, although Chaya Hammer had never seen her before. Perhaps it was the empty basket slung over an arm covered by a threadbare sweater sleeve or the lank braids hanging alongside a too-thin face? “She reminds me of myself,” realized the older woman in surprise, as her mind whirled back to the distant memories of herself as a young new immigrant in the Promised Land.

“Next!” The booming voice of the butcher interrupted Hammer’s reverie. Seeing who was next, the butcher reached under the counter, extracted a bag filled with chicken fat and skins and handed it to the girl. Thanking him, she turned and left. “Goodness!” Hammer recalls exclaiming to the butcher as he filled her weekly order. “That family must have a lot of dogs or cats to feed!”

“Actually, they have no pets at all,” he replied. “The father is on dialysis, unable to work, and the mother has her hands full trying to care for a large family on her own. We have been giving them meat on credit for a long time already, but their bill now exceeds 10,000 lirot, and we simply cannot afford to keep it up. Now we save all the chicken parts that no one wants; at least this way they can have soup and cholent for their Shabbat meal.”

This was too much for Hammer to hear. “From now on, give that family chicken and ground meat every week— and put it on my bill!” she said.

Some time later, the butcher asked her if she was interested in taking on another needy family. It never occurred to Hammer to refuse.

Over two decades later, this ninety-six-year-old powerhouse is responsible for providing 490 families throughout Israel with their weekly chicken and meat. Local recipients “buy” what they need at Hacker and “charge” it. For needy families who live a great distance from Hacker, Hammer sends over one hundred checks each month in attractive cards that wish the recipients “chodesh tov,” a good month. Even the stamps she chooses are decorative. By dressing up the donation, Hammer believes that the recipient will feel that he is receiving a present rather than a handout.

Hammer’s average weekly butcher bill amounts to $1,000. Before the Jewish holidays, it’s usually $1,500.

“I always work with the Hacker brothers,” says Hammer, who is affectionately known as “Mrs. Chicken Lady.” “I never question the bill; I trust them implicitly.” Nor has she ever requested a discount from the butcher shop. “They’re entitled to make a living too. If I can help them in that way while helping others at the same time, I feel twice as good!”

Generally, Hammer sends her “clients” directly to Hacker, although there are times when the brothers bring her attention to specific cases. The local families have no idea of the role she plays in their lives. “I prefer it that way,” says Hammer. “I like the fact that I can go to the butcher, stand behind someone I know I’m helping, yet she has no clue who I am. ”For those outside the local area, she has no choice but to reveal her identity.

Hammer’s cheerful mood dissipates as she shares some of the stories of those she helps. Pulling out an old newspaper, she points to a photograph of a young woman staring forlornly at the camera. Life is a daily struggle for this woman, who was born without arms or legs. After tracking her down, Hammer began sending her a monthly check, and calls her occasionally, just to say hello. She has no plans to meet the woman though. “I think it might embarrass her. [The money is] easier to take when you are anonymous.”

In 2000, when terrorists murdered a young couple, Hammer took over some of the financial responsibility for caring for their eight orphans. When “Shlomo,” a father of fifteen, died after falling down four flights of stairs, the widow and her children were “adopted” by the “chicken lady.”

“Miriam” and her father have been receiving a monthly stipend since Hammer learned of their hardship. The crippled man would sit on street corners in Tel Aviv, playing the accordion in order to feed himself and his daughter. Not only did Hammer take care of them financially, but upon learning of Miriam’s dream to be a professional violinist, she got hold of a secondhand violin, had it fixed and then personally traveled to the city where Miriam lived to deliver it.

Donors to Hammer’s “chicken fund” come from all walks of life—Jews and non-Jews, religious and unaffiliated. Most of the donors hear about Hammer’s efforts via word of mouth, or through articles. People have been known to ring her doorbell, hand her an envelope with money and escape before she can even say thank you. No one has ever requested a receipt; donors know that every penny goes directly to those who need it. Hammer personally pays for the hundreds of stamps needed monthly. “I, too, want to donate to this worthwhile cause,” she explains.

Each donor receives a thank-you letter. As a concession to Hammer’s arthritis, first-time donors now receive a form letter, which is constantly updated. Even so, Hammer always tries to add a few personal words at the bottom, and always signs the letters herself. Repeat donors get handwritten letters.

No stranger to poverty herself, Hammer knows what it feels like to go to bed hungry. It is this memory that gives her the strength to persist in her mission. “I picture the children’s faces, remember the hunger and can’t rest until I’ve done something to help,” she says. “Hashem sends me the strength because He knows I’m trying to care for His children.”

The oldest of three children, Hammer was born in Vinograd, Ukraine. “We were rich back01 Resnick family then,” she reminisces. “My grandfather and father would buy eggs from the local farmers, and send them to a brother near Kiev to resell them in town. After we miraculously survived three pogroms, my family managed to escape, crossing the frozen Dnestr River into Romania. There were forty-two in the group, eleven of whom were children. I was only ten years old.”

At this point in her story, tears well up in her eyes. “My Ima fell in the deep snow, and my father turned back to help her up. The smuggler guide would not let him go to her! He forced us on, leaving my Ima in the deep, cold snow, all alone in a harsh foreign land—she without us, us without our Ima. It was many, many months before we learned what had become of her.

“Soon after, we were caught by the Romanian authorities and thrown into prison, adults and children alike. For five long months, we received nothing more than a small ration of bread and water daily.

Eventually, word of our imprisonment trickled out, and the local Jewish community managed to arrange our release. We finally found our Ima in a hospital, alive but ill.

“After arduous travels, we made it to Israel, where we lived in a tent. Between the ages of ten and fourteen, I knew hunger firsthand, going to bed hungry almost every night.”

Hammer’s mother never fully regained her strength; she contracted tuberculosis. Hoping to find a cure for their mother’s illness, the family moved to the United States. Nevertheless, at the age of thirty-four, Hammer’s mother died.

An eventual return to Israel remained my priority; so much so, that it was one of three conditions I set before agreeing to Ephraim Hammer’s marriage proposal,” says Hammer, who lived in Los Angeles. (“The other two conditions? He had to agree that we would speak only Hebrew between ourselves, and [that he] would teach me how to drive his Ford!)

“Ephraim and I took numerous teaching jobs, working mornings, afternoons and evenings in order to save money as quickly as possible, yet it was not until our three daughters had established their own families that we were able to return to Israel. Ephraim always encouraged me with all my projects, and although he passed away twenty years ago, before the ‘chicken business’ really grew, he took it to heart as much as I did.”

Eventually, Hammer’s daughters also made it to Israel, and now, says Hammer, five generations of her family live in the country. 07 Clara with her girls

Winding down her story, she gets up and fondly straightens an award that hangs on her wall. It’s the coveted Yakir Yerushalayim award given to those who have made a significant contribution to the good of Jerusalem’s citizens. In 1999, Hammer received the award from then-Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert. “Despite all those I’ve helped, I still can’t rest,” she sighs. “I [have] hundreds … still calling for food.”

It’s this thought that keeps Chaya Hammer going.

Ninety-six-year-old Hammer manages the files for the 490 families throughout Israel to whom she provides chicken and meat every Shabbat.

Originally published:

from the OU (Union of Orthodox Rabbis) in Spring 2007 edition of the Jewish Action newsletter

click here to view the original publication on the OU.org website

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:

 Donate Online Now

Contributions can also be deposited at:
Bank Leumi    Branch 905
Ramat Eshkol, Jerusalem
Acct no. 651200/75

written by:

Michelle Borinstein was born in South Africa, moved to the United States and is finally home in Yerushalayim, where she lives with her husband and children. She has had numerous articles and poems published in a variety of publications and is currently writing a number of children’s books.


Chicken Feed – Clara Hammer makes sure no one goes hungry on Shabbat

framed acrostic 

Every Thursday, Sheina Homnick, 18, runs an errand for her grandmother. It’s a simple one, to be sure, but laced with kindness just the same. Venturing from her grandmother’s apartment to a butcher shop three blocks away in Jerusalem’s Sanhedria neighborhood, she delivers a check to the proprietors, the brothers Moti and Alti Hacker.

In 1999, the checks totaled 156,070 shekels, roughly $40,000. The money constitutes a debit account that enables 132 impoverished families to deck their Shabbat tables with chicken and flanken, roasts and soy burgers—whatever it takes to feast like royalty on the holiest night of the week.

Few of the recipients know the source of their good fortune, and their benefactor, Sheina’s grandmother, Clara Hammer, prefers it that way. “When I go to the butcher, I can stand in line like everybody else,” says the 90-year-old. “In front of me can be two families who get chickens. And they say ‘thank you’ to the butcher, nothing to me.” Though she’s garnered some press coverage and last year received Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert’s highest citizenship honor, Hammer is a do-gooder who believes in Maimonides’ dictum that charity is most selfless when it is anonymous.

Nevertheless, she’s become known as the Chicken Lady of Jerusalem, a title she wears with pride, judging by her Chicken Lady Tshirt and all the chicken tchotchkes that fill her nest. There’s a chicken pillow on the sofa and a chicken needlepoint on the wall, a chicken candy dish, chicken (no piggy allowed) bank, chicken fly swatter, chicken mug, chicken tea kettle and chicken windup doll that struts to (what else) the “Chicken Dance,” all gifts from her legions of donors in Israel and the United States.26 with visitors

Chicken Feed Clara Hammer makes sure no one goes hungry on Shabbat.

“The Chicken Lady of Jerusalem” not only distributes food, but finds clothing and other essentials for needy people.

Hammer’s voice breaks just mentioning a non-Jewish woman, Judy from Ohio, who sends annual contributions and, in 1997, included a gold-framed ditty spelling out her name:

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Around like a





Miracles happen in

Each life she




“It’s people like that who give me the courage to carry on,” says Hammer, whose helpers multiply almost as abundantly as her own brood. (She now has 33 great-grandchildren and nine grandchildren from her three daughters.) For example, when North Carolina’s Blue Star Camps sought a charity project two summers ago, they chose the Chicken Lady. She reaches across her cluttered dining-room table and snags a cardboard box filled with slips of colored paper on which campers penned messages to attach to their dollars. All come with a chicken drawing and begin, “Dear Chicken Lady”: “Good fortune will smile upon you for all the good you do” and “I think it’s awesome what you did. You probably saved many lifes” (sic) and “You rock! What you’re doing is great” and “You showed me that one person can make a difference, so many people have a chicken dinner.” And how about this one: “I like chicken/I like liver/Chicken Lady/Please deliver.”

Contributors just keep appearing. Recently, a man rang her bell, stuck out a hand clutching 500 shekels and rushed back to his waiting taxi. An acquaintance in Chicago mails $500 twice a year. He, too, appeared unexpectedly and, although the Chicken Lady was out, he left a bag filled with cosmetics (his line of work), fruit and a check. The Jewish Agency occasionally brings by American kids who chomp on popcorn as Hammer spins her tale.

Hammer gives the word “organization” new meaning: her ledger book (43 pages last year alone) lists the names of each contributor, with penciled marks denoting those who have already been sent thank-you notes. Among her few concessions to age are form letters to first-time givers. Veteran contributors qualify for handwritten replies.

The Chicken Lady has a knack for bringing work upon herself because, it turns out, she’s not satisfied being just the Chicken Lady. Not long ago, the Orthodox newspaper HaTzofeh reported on a crippled man playing an accordion for his food on the streets of Tel Aviv. So Hammer sent—and still sends—a monthly check for 300 shekels, along with an extra 200 shekels for t25 boxes full of file cardshe man’s 14-year-old daughter. That’s because the girl, Nika Sapozhnikov, attends the Givatayim Conservatory and dreams of a musical career. But with the family in dire straits, she had no money for a violin. So the Chicken Lady temporarily became the Music Lady. Hammer secured an old, lovely instrument from a friend, paid to have it repaired and trekked to the Sapozhnikov home, where an appreciative Nika regaled her with Vivaldi, Bach and Mozart.

“She helps me so much,” says Nika, who uses her stipend to purchase new strings, along with special clothes for concerts and, of course, to defray the family’s living expenses. “The violin makes such a nice sound. If she wouldn’t be helping, I don’t know what I’d be doing. I’m serious. I wouldn’t be able to learn violin.”

To Miriam Malka of Ashdod, who sent a letter relating how her daughter Nurit’s classmates mocked her for having to wear her mother’s winter coat, 52 inside • Winter ’00 inside israe l Being everyone’s salvation borders on full-time employment, and Hammer sometimes feels overwhelmed. Hammer, suddenly the Clothing Lady, sent a check for a new coat. The thrilled Nurit showed up one day to model it. “She was beautiful!” exclaims the Clothing Lady, as if talking of her own daughter. “I let her kiss me. I said, ‘In two years, I’ll see you at your wedding!’”

The Sapozhnikovs and Malkas are among 32 families who know Hammer as their benefactor, but only because they live outside Jerusalem and she has no choice but to send them checks. Hammer always mails them on Rosh Chodesh—the first day of every Hebrew month—along with best wishes for a good month. “Today I got a call from somebody who received a check,” she says. “I’m glad not all of them call, because it would be too time-consuming.”

Being everyone’s salvation borders on full-time employment, and Hammer sometimes feels overwhelmed. She voices displeasure about a social worker who just referred two new families to her, but it’s hard to take her too seriously. “I would like not to take on any more. I feel that physically, chronologically, I can’t. I wish people would stop calling me,” she complains. “A few weeks ago, a rebbetzin called me about a family with 10 children. What can I do? How can I say no?”

Precisely the point. She can’t. Says Alti Hacker, the butcher: “She has the emotions of a mother. A mother worries about every child. So does she.”

Just then, a Russian immigrant couple enters the shop, plucks three chickens from the freezer and requests two packages of fresh cutlets. Hacker asks if they know Hammer’s name and they nod “yes.” He asks how long they’ve been coming to his store, and they say about three years. When such couples first arrived in Israel, Hammer would accompany them on food-shopping trips. “I went with them to the butcher,” she says, “because they didn’t speak the language yet and they didn’t know what it was to go to a store and get something for nothing.”

When Hacker introduces them to me, they shake their heads “no” and scoot out. Their bill comes to 64 shekels Winter ’00 • inside 53 (about $16), smack in the range of the average “sale.”

Hammer’s charity couldn’t help but rub off on the Hackers. Any time a Chicken Lady customer comes in, the butchers debit only their cost and take no profit. “This is to give people a nice Shabbat. We’ll even throw in the bones or wings for soup at no charge at all, if that’s what they request,” Hacker says. All this goodness got started 20 years ago. “I went on a Thursday to get a chicken for Shabbat,” relates Hammer. “I was in line when the butcher handed a young girl a plastic bag with what I saw was just skin and fat. She took it, said ‘thank you’ and left. My curiosity was aroused. I asked him how many cats and dogs the family had. He said: ‘None. The father’s on dialysis and they owe me 10,000 lirot and I can’t give them any more, so I save this for them. For Friday night, they make soup and Saturday they have cholent.’

“I was so angry I was shaking. I said, ‘You’re giving them poison! You throw it out, and every week, you give them two chickens and anything else they want— schnitzels, hot dogs, whatever.’ That’s when my chicken fund was born. Then he recommended a family to me, then another, then word spread. Social workers, or those from organizations I belong to, started to ask me if I’d take on a family. Once, it was written up in a newspaper, and that was it!”24 at Hacker

Hammer’s own background lacked such benevolence. She and her parents, brother and sister fled their native Vinograd, Ukraine, during the pogroms of 1917. Smugglers took them across the river to Romania, but the family was caught and imprisoned in Galatz for three months.

“We were rationed out a bit of water and a piece of bread,” Hammer recalls. The beleaguered family eventually reached Palestine. “When we were in Haifa, we lived in a tent and had nothing to eat. Between ages 10 and 14, I went to bed hungry. I know what hunger is. I have never forgotten it.” They finally made it to the United States, where they settled in Pittsburgh and where Hammer’s father, Meir, opened a grocery store.

Strangely enough, the prison experience was partly responsible for Hammer’s amateur singing career. A guard promised Hammer’s father he’d give Clara a chocolate if she could master a Romanian song after he sang it three times. She did, and won the chocolate, the first she’d ever tasted.

Now, 80 years later, the elderly widow can still belt out the young girl’s tune, “Deschide, Deschide, Fereastra” about a boy calling for his girlfriend on the other side of the window to come in and eat. A few minutes later, unprompted, she offers up “A Yiddishe Mama,” clasping her hands, her palms upward, eyes closed.

Hammer has always loved music. Her photo album is filled with programs that list Clara Hammer as providing the vocal entertainment at Jewish organization events in Los Angeles and Brooklyn, where she and her husband Ephraim taught Hebrew for more than 40 years before immigrating to Israel in 1969.

In Los Angeles, she painted a Mogen David on a white bed sheet and sang in the streets to raise money for Hadassah. At one such performance, with what can only be called adorable chutzpah, she told the assembled crowd, “Ladies and gentlemen, please get your paper money ready while I sing because change disturbs my mood.”

“It’s a wonderful feeling not to be selfish, to be concerned,” says Hammer, closing the album. “I could go to lunch three, four times a week with the girls. They go to the Malcha Mall to try on clothes. What do I need it for?

“I can make kiddush and sing ‘Shalom Aleichem’ and know that over 130 families have chicken and can do the same. When I sit down Friday night with my great-grandchildren and know that a few hundred children also eat, I enjoy my food.”

from Hillel the Scribe communications newsletter, “Inside Israel” by Hillel Kuttler

click here to view original newsletter from Winter 2000

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:

Donate Online Now

Contributions can also be deposited at:
Bank Leumi    Branch 905
Ramat Eshkol, Jerusalem
Acct no. 651200/75

Tizku L’mitzvot   תזכו למצוות

Still Changing the World One Chicken at a Time…


The work of Clara Hammer’s world-famous Chicken Fund is being carried on in her memory by her daughter, Chana Homnick, and her great granddaughter.  

   chicken clipart   +   clipart_challah   =   Shabbat family         

 We provide chickens to more than 900 children every week and their families. More than 250 families continue to depend on the generosity of this fund for Sha

bbat dinner each week and festive meals on holidays. With your help we can restore the sense of peace and contentment on Shabbat to these homes.

Clara Hammer, who passed away just before her 100th birthday, was known affectionately as “the Chicken Lady of Jerusalem.” She was honoured with a Yeshiva University Doctorate of Kindness and received many other awards, including those denoting her as a Yakirat Yerushalayim and Eishet Chayil.

37 Yakirat Yerushalayim ceremony

So, when yo enjoy your Shabbat and Holiday meals with your family, please remember that your donation enables the needy to enjoy their Shabbat and festive Holiday meals as well.

To help support the good work of the Chicken Fund, they can send contributions to:

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:

Donate Online Now

Contributions can also be deposited at:
Bank Leumi    Branch 905
Ramat Eshkol, Jerusalem
Acct no. 651200/75

Tizku L’mitzvot   תזכו למצוות

Appearing now at Hacker’s Butcher Store

sign at butcher store

To help support the good work of the Chicken Fund,

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:

Donate Online Now

Contributions can also be deposited at:
Bank Leumi    Branch 905
Ramat Eshkol, Jerusalem
Acct no. 651200/75

Tizku L’mitzvot תזכו למצוות