Bintel Blog

Frummer Crows: Jewish Birdlover Esther Woolfson

By Benjamin Ivry

  • Print
  • Share Share

Admirers of Israeli novelist Meir Shalev’s “A Pigeon and a Boy,” a tragic romance of two pigeon handlers, will recall the human drama inherent in birds. Even so, the degree to which the Glasgow-born Jewish writer Esther Woolfson is devoted to Corvidae, the bird family which includes crows, ravens, rooks, et al. may surprise some readers.

The author of “Corvus: a Life with Birds,” published in spring 2009 by Counterpoint, with a paperback edition forthcoming at the end of March, Woolfson was raised in an observant family. After Israel’s Six-Day War, Woolfson chose to study Chinese at the Hebrew University. After she returned to Scotland, several years ago, her family rescued a fledgling rook, whom they named Chicken and accepted as part of the mishpokhe:

On Friday evenings, she recognizes… the sound of Kiddush, the lighting of candles, the recitation of blessings (my one enduring nod towards the life spiritual)… and will express eager, vocal anticipation of the coming of Shabbat… or the cutting of the challah… Such frummers! Who’d have imagined!

Doves, a crow, a magpie, etc. were soon added. Woolfson’s musings in “Corvus,” reveal a strong, highly intelligent personality as found in nature writers like Gavin Maxwell, with willfulness triumphing over mere eccentricity. Woolfson notes that in the Book of Genesis, the “creation of birds preceded the creation of beasts.” Recognizing the various calls of her pet rook is made easier, explains Woolfson, by her experience as a teenager working at an Israeli kibbutz nursery, where a stern nanny-in-chief taught her how to interpret the cries of babies. As a Jew, she identifies with birds, deciding that Stalin’s term for Jews: “rootless cosmopolitans,” turns out to be a “pleasing enough designation, one that might have done for either of us, human or bird…because all of our lives are fissile, brittle, subject to contention and to storm.”

Woolfson’s new project is reportedly to teach her birds, already accustomed to hearing Chinese and Hebrew, the rudiments of Yiddish.

Listen to Woolfson read resonantly from “Corvus.”

Watch Woolfson and her beloved birds at home filmed by BBC Scotland.

Corvus by Esther Woolfson - Clip 1 from Granta Books on Vimeo.

And here.

Corvus by Esther Woolfson - Clip 2 from Granta Books on Vimeo.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: birdwatching, Esther Woolfson

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • “Look, on the one hand, I understand him,” says Rivka Ben-Pazi, a niece of Elchanan Hameiri, the boy that Henk Zanoli saved. “He had a family tragedy.” But on the other hand, she said, “I think he was wrong.” What do you think?
  • How about a side of Hitler with your spaghetti?
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • William Schabas may be the least of Israel's problems.
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • Did Hamas just take credit for kidnapping the three Israeli teens?
  • "We know what it means to be in the headlines. We know what it feels like when the world sits idly by and watches the news from the luxury of their living room couches. We know the pain of silence. We know the agony of inaction."
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • BREAKING: Missing lone soldier David Menachem Gordon has been found dead in central Israel. The Ohio native was 21 years old.
  • “They think they can slap on an Amish hat and a long black robe, and they’ve created a Hasid." What do you think of Hollywood's portrayal of Hasidic Jews?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.