The Challah Boys


I am a Jewish woman living in the South, brought here by what might have been a not well-considered intention.  The extremely high costs of living in the San Francisco Bay Area and a relationship which was going the proverbial “nowhere” provided the incentive for jumping state lines and inventing a new life in a North Carolina city lush with green foliage and  the scent of wafting magnolia blossoms— and peopled by folks with lilting accents and a slower world.   

Soon after we arrived, wintry weather showed up at our doorstep with 12 inches of snow. Having been raised in Toronto, Ontario, Canada and upstate New York, I was accustomed to sudden deluges of the cold, white stuff. But my Berkeley, California boy had never seen it in anything but virtual reality and rushed out rather precipitously into our backyard, scooping huge handfuls of it up, oohing and ahhing, almost disappearing into the snowdrift.  In Buffalo, the huge and formidable snowplows always came, dealing firmly with the products of the inclement eastern weather but no one showed up in Greensboro. 

Becoming reacquainted with snow was a wondrous thing.  I made a mental note to purchase a shovel at Lowe’s – that is when the roads on my block were clear enough to accommodate some movement by my car, barely recognizable in its blanket of snow.

Several days later an unusually warm day cleared the streets, and  I was finally able to take our family out for a  ride.  I had been craving something that is a reflection  of my culture and background. Challah. 

 A new friend had mentioned that Spring Garden Bakery carried it on Fridays and in the language of Yelpers “it would not disappoint.” Sure enough, the challah was there and when we returned home, the sky had darkened and it abruptly began to rain. I prepared a Shabbat meal of roasted chicken, potatoes and carrots to accompany the floury treasure.

By the third day, the bread had begun to harden.  Not wanting to waste a morse,l I tore it in small pieces, scattering it beneath the dogwood tree in the yard for any small creatures that might be hungry.  Moments later I heard a cacophony of sound and running to the front window saw what is poetically called “a murder of crows” populating the trees and starting to alight on the ground.  These birds looked like the crows in California –large and all-black with hoarse, cawing voices, unlike the cardinals, indistinguishable from each other by markings or gender.  From my readings, I knew them to be common sights in treetops, fields and roadsides and in habitats ranging from open woods, city parks, to town centers. 

 Usually they were regarded as pests, eating crops and bothering other birds and animals.  I remembered reading somewhere that they liked to collect and keep bright objects in their nest. I watched as one carried off a small piece of tinfoil in its beak that had been lying near some steps.  Feeling curious, I ran over to the internet and did a Google search and learned that they are considered one of the smartest and most social of birds, working together to solve problems and raise their babies.  

 Amazingly, they are able to make and utilize tools, such as shaping wood and sticking it into a hole to search for food.  The English graduate student in me vaguely recalled a Shakespearean reference to crows which I later was able to locate: “Lawn as white as driven snow; Cyprus black as e’er was crow; Gloves as sweet as damask roses.”  My mind often turns to poetry when free-associating  and I remembered another verse where the topic of crows figured by Robert Frost:  “The way a crow/shook down on me/The dust of snow/From a hemlock tree/Has given my heart/A change of mood/And saved some part/Of a day I rued.”

This pilgrimage of crows to my home had meaning; it tied me directly to my old  life on the West Coast. There is something about familiarity that quickens the heart and, even now, as someone who grew up next to a railroad track and the sound of trains, I still rejoice in that plaintive music..  Perhaps it is why I subconsciously chose  to inhabit a house within easy distance of the rushing locomotives of my youth.  

Little did I know that my feathered visitors would fancy the Jewish bread on the ground.  I watched as time and again they swooped from the trees unerringly  gathering a piece and quickly departing to another site where they might savor it on their own.  The challah disappeared in no more than five minutes. Several of the crows tussled with each other, trying to steal the food. 

 A feisty squirrel appeared from out of nowhere, intent on sharing the repast, and charged a lone crow who accidentally dropped his booty which the varmint ran away with. I imagined I even saw a look of chagrin on the crow victim’s face.  At that moment I recollected the axiom that “fortune favors the bold” and figured that maybe intuitively Mr. or Ms. Squirrel might have known that. And acted accordingly.

Since then, I have taken to buying a challah every Friday. My son says the prayers in Hebrew,  his blue eyes large. I do not entirely understand the words but their musicality fills me with its cadence.  As a Spanish Jew, I sometimes say them in the Spanish that has been in my family since the Middle Ages and probably before. This recitation gives me comfort.  Every Sunday I take at least a quarter of a loaf and distribute it in particles for the crows who arrive almost immediately, frantic for the opportunity to partake of the holy bread. For a moment I join in a long view of nature, happy for their delirium in eating and that I could contribute to that event. It makes me happy to share the challah because I know in some infinitesimal way all living creatures are joined at the hip in their effort to live and sustain life. 

I call the crows the Challah Boys and am secretly glad that they always show up to score a bit of Spring Garden Bakery’s finest.   My boy says wryly “maybe they’re Jewish?” and as implausible and ridiculous a  conceit as that admittedly is, I like to think “why not?” and laugh. It feels like anything is possible now in my new home.