Birds o’ Baka

Birds can’t close their windows and turn on their air conditioners like we can.

‘THE ‘KEETS and the crows like the same trees, but not at the same time.’ (photo credit: PXFUEL)
‘THE ‘KEETS and the crows like the same trees, but not at the same time.’
(photo credit: PXFUEL)
Every ‘hood has its gangs. Birds of a feather flock together. It’s true, even with birds.

In our neighborhood, Baka-Geulim, I’ve noted two main bird gangs: the parakeets and the crows. Both of these species like high trees, of which we in Baka are blessed with a fair number, eucalyptus and pine trees alike. The parakeets are ring-necked parakeets, large pastel-green critters who fly at about 60 mph (90 kph), squawk loudly, and like to eat dates and other fruit.

When I see them, I remember the wild parakeets who lived in the palm trees in my grandparents’ neighborhood in Venice, Florida. Jerusalem, it seems, is also temperate enough for them.

The ‘keets and the crows like the same trees, but not at the same time. Everyone’s got their turf, like the Ashkenazim, Sephardim and Reform, each of whom have synagogues right next to each other here in Baka. At night, the parakeets have certain trees in which they congregate, usually eucalyptus. The crows have other trees they like, usually pines. When the evening sun is low on the horizon, one hears them gathering on the high branches along Rehov Yehuda, especially the crows who make a big production of it. Then at night, I guess they just sit there quietly, trying to sleep.

Like us, they are likely also annoyed by the idiots on the loud motorcycles and the radio blasters who drive through late at night, about whom the police do nothing. The birds can’t close their windows and turn on their air conditioners like we can. It’s hard to be a bird. (Iz shver de biz a fleig, in Yiddish). People often thoughtlessly make species-ist comments, such as “to kill two birds with one stone.” Bird lives matter.

Speaking of dead birds, a few weeks ago I was cutting down some branches of an ailanthus tree that was growing over the Sephardi synagogue behind Nitzanim and Kehilat Kol HaNeshama. The ailanthus was adjacent to and intertwined with a eucalyptus, so when the branch came down, it brought some eucalyptus branches down with it.

I noticed something bright green among the leaves on the ground. Turns out it was the carcass of a ring-necked parakeet who must have died some time ago, but was hanging in the Eucalyptus tree, its claws gripped around this little branch in a death-grip. I found it sort of poetic. The parakeet loved the eucalyptus in life, so he just keeps hanging here in death, blending in with the green. Beautiful. As Abigail said to David, “May the soul of my master be bound up in the bonds of life.” I GAVE the parakeet a proper military burial at sea, in full accordance with the dictates of the parakeet tradition, except I used a city dumpster instead of the ocean. At least it was green.

The parakeets are exotic and mind their own business. The crows, on the other hand, are in your face. They are very intelligent but, as Saul Bellow said, an intellectual life does not mean a moral life. They unpack public garbage cans. They like to steal things.

I had been working on a rooftop garden on Reuven Street, and had pulled out the irrigation line in the large planter with the olive tree, so the metal irrigation pin was sitting on the ledge of the planter. Some crow lands on the pergola, and with me some eight feet away, hops down and takes the metal pin and flies away!

They also dive-bomb people, individuals they don’t like, for some unexplained reason. My friend Daniel Mukhtar, who never did anything to the crows, is dive-bombed by them every time he comes to Lipschitz Park with his little girls on Shabbat. I saw it. The crows also stalk a cat who lives nearby. Just like that. For fun, it seems. Crows are the Beavis and Buttheads of the avian world. Just plain mean and crude.

By the way, Lipschitz Park is the place to be in Baka on a Shabbat afternoon. Everyone is there, especially during these corona times. We have a minyan there, a prayer quorum, complete with a Torah scroll. The women from our synagogue have an afternoon class there. In the synagogue notice, they called the park “Bustan Baka Park,” after the new development next to it.

I told the rabbi’s wife that this park had until now been called now Lipschitz Park, after Lipschitz Street. I admit Bustan Baka Park sounds somewhat more melodious than Lipschitz Park, but tradition is tradition. When I was in public school in New Jersey, we had a substitute teacher named Mrs. Lipschitz, and some of the kids, mostly the non-Jews probably, thought that was sort of funny. I guess Beavis and Butthead might laugh at that type of thing too.

Speaking of butting heads, did you ever hear the story of how the Reform synagogue in Baka, Kol HaNeshama, got its property? This is a true story. I heard it from an old-timer at Nitzanim, a Holocaust survivor who moved to North America, and later to Baka.

Many years ago, in the time of former Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kollek, the Reform minyan was meeting at the community center. One Simhat Torah, the minyan was dancing outside, and a woman was holding and dancing with the Torah. The official rav of the neighborhood, which they have here in Israel, and who was a Sephardi fellow, happened to pass by. He has already had perhaps a few Simhat Torah shots of Arak. He runs up, grabs the Torah from the woman, and pulls it away. The police were called, arrests were made, and international headlines proclaimed, “Orthodox Jews attack Reform in Jerusalem on Holiday!” As a consequence, Kollek decided to give the large property at the corner of Asher and HaRakevet streets, which included an old building, to the Reform community.

The moral of this story is open for debate. I prefer, “It’s not good to drink on Simhat Torah.” Others might say, “If you want a Reform synagogue in your neighborhood, find an inebriated Sephardi rabbi and provoke him.” Take your pick.

I myself espouse the doctrine of “Live and let Live,” just so that everyone stays in their own tree.