It all started with an innocent interest in doing kaparos the real way. Ari Greenspan and Ari Zivotofsky were both eighteen-year-olds learning in Yeshivat Har Etzion, although not yet friends, and as Yom Kippur approached, Ari Z. showed up in yeshivah one day with two chickens. After he performed kaparos, about forty fellows stayed around to watch a shochet shecht the bird. Once he was done, the crowd dwindled to three, including the two Aris.
As we observed the shochet clean and pluck the chicken, he asked us why we don’t learn to shecht. The notion that we, American teenagers, could actually learn shechitah hit us like a lightning bolt; after all, wasn’t shechting the exclusive domain of old men with white beards? He mentioned the name Rav Sasson Graidi, a Teimani who was then the chief Sephardic shochet of Yerushalayim, and told us how to contact him.
We accepted this challenge, and it ended up changing our lives. We spent many months learning the relevant parts of Yoreh Dei’ah, and traveled into Yerushalayim late at night twice a week, sleeping at the home of Ari Z.’s grandparents in French Hill so we could rise at the crack of dawn and scramble down the side of a mountain for the ten-minute walk to the city’s main slaughterhouse. When we returned after a few years, the mountainside no longer existed, rather a highway to Maaleh Adumim had cut the hill in half. But in addition to enabling us to learn how to shecht, this experience gave us our first real exposure to a whole spectrum of different types of Jews: serious talmidei chachamim, old European Yidden, bubbies who taught us how to kasher, and Teimani Jews. It was our encounter with this last group that probably sparked our interest in exploring diverse, far-flung Jewish communities, halachah, and mesoret Yisrael.
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