By Roberta Kalechofsky
Micah Publications, Inc. 2012
INTRODUCTION to the New Edition by Karen Davis, PhD, President of United Poultry Concerns
Ari, who is nine years old, has a secret he’s afraid to tell anyone. He doesn’t even understand it very well himself yet. It’s a
feeling inside of him, a “secret misery.” He lives in the Negev desert, in Israel, with his parents who are staunch environmentalists. They
participate in the Green movement to save the earth – the land, air, water, flowers, trees and wild creatures – from pollution and
destruction. One of their big projects is preventing a huge radio station from being built in the path of the migration of millions of birds –
storks, pelicans, eagles, kestrels, and raptors in flights so spectacular that people from all over the world come to see them.
Ari shares his parents’ love for the wild birds so much that he decides to create A Big Book of Birds for his school project. But it
isn’t just the wild birds that inspire him. Ari has a pet hen, a chicken he loves called Tk Tk, who is named for the contented clucking sounds
she makes that endear her to him and his family. And then there are those other birds – the ones he’s seen that haunt him like a dirty
secret in the desert and fester like a sore in his spirit. These are the chickens and geese who are caged in warehouse “barns” without
sunlight or fresh air, for their flesh and eggs. The eyes of these birds express misery and madness.
Ari seeks to understand the baffling mystery of the different “classes” of birds – the birds of the air the environmentalists care
about, his affectionate pet hen Tk Tk, and the tormented hens and geese in the cages that no one seems to care about at all. His mother, Ima, who is
usually open to her son’s inquiries, disappoints him this time. She evades his questions, just as Joseph the chicken caretaker does, causing Ari
to puzzle unhappily, but more and more thoughtfully, over “why his parents felt so strongly about the birds of the air and did not seem to care
at all about the chickens in the cages.” He wonders why his parents are so passionate about other ethical and environmental concerns, but
indifferent, even hostile, to this one.
Though Ari feels anxious and lonely with his thoughts, his quandary relates to another secret that he broods over. Ari does not like meat. He does not
want to eat the meat that everyone else enjoys, takes for granted and insists is necessary for health and strength.
He is bullied at school for throwing away his chicken sandwiches; he’s bedeviled by his Grandma Ellie who taunts him and buys him steak against
his will. She is not bothered by the flesh of a once living creature skewered on her dinner plate, but watching Ari wash the dead body – the
“meat” – before he will eat it makes her “sick.”
Ari is alone with his feelings, but in his quest for understanding, he discovers that not all grownups are the same, and that even those in positions
of authority and accomplishment have secrets both hidden and revealed that are not unlike the secret underground water in the desert that was once an
ocean with the power still to appear in surprising forms that refresh and make life flourish.
A Boy, A Chicken & the Lion of Judah
is the story of nine-year-old Ari’s quest for moral sense and self-determination in a family, in a community, that both encourages and
discourages his project of becoming his own person. Biblically, he is situated in a region of the earth where “revelations have taken
place,” and he knows that “freedom and redemption were first pronounced here.” Ari lives at a time – our time – when the
fate of the earth and all of its inhabitants are affected as never before by human activity and human attitudes. Even as people claim to care deeply
about our planet and the necessity of “protecting species,” we lock up billions of innocent birds and other creatures in tombs of living
death that torture them and desecrate the environment, merely to indulge our appetites. While many might wish to believe that ceasing this merciless
cruelty to animals has nothing to do with saving the earth, let alone our own souls, Ari’s experience offers a different, more challenging
A Boy, A Chicken & The Lion of Judah: How Ari Became a Vegetarian
is available from United Poultry Concerns. $10 includes shipping. To order online go to