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!
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • A grumpy Jewish grandfather is wary of his granddaughter's celebrating Easter with the in-laws. But the Seesaw says it might just make her appreciate Judaism more. What do you think?
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • What can we learn from tragedies like the rampage in suburban Kansas City? For one thing, we must keep our eyes on the real threats that we as Jews face.
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • "Sometime in my childhood, I realized that the Exodus wasn’t as remote or as faceless as I thought it was, because I knew a former slave. His name was Hersh Nemes, and he was my grandfather." Share this moving Passover essay!
  • Getting ready for Seder? Chag Sameach! http://jd.fo/q3LO2
  • "We are not so far removed from the tragedies of the past, and as Jews sit down to the Seder meal, this event is a teachable moment of how the hatred of Jews-as-Other is still alive and well. It is not realistic to be complacent."
  • Aperitif Cocktail, Tequila Shot, Tom Collins or Vodka Soda — Which son do you relate to?
  • Elvis craved bacon on tour. Michael Jackson craved matzo ball soup. We've got the recipe.
  • This is the face of hatred.
  • What could be wrong with a bunch of guys kicking back with a steak and a couple of beers and talking about the Seder? Try everything. #ManSeder
  • BREAKING: Smirking killer singled out Jews for death in suburban Kansas City rampage. 3 die in bloody rampage at JCC and retirement home.
  • Real exodus? For Mimi Minsky, it's screaming kids and demanding hubby on way down to Miami, not matzo in the desert.
  • The real heroines of Passover prep aren't even Jewish. But the holiday couldn't happen without them.
  • 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.