Harry and Edie Cohen, a lower-middle-class Jewish couple, live with their ten-year-old son, Morris (Maurie), in a small top-floor apartment on the Lower East Side of New York City. Cohen, a frozen-foods sales representative, is angry and frustrated by his relative poverty, by his dying mother in the Bronx, and by the general mediocrity of his family and his life.
When the story opens, the Cohen family is sitting down to dinner on a hot August night, their recent attempt at a vacation cut short because Harry’s mother had suddenly become ill, forcing them to return to the city. While this less-than-happy family is eating, a ruffled blackbird comes flying through the open window and plops down on their table in the middle of their food. Harry curses and swats at the bird, which flutters to the top of the kitchen door and amazes them by speaking in Yiddish and English. The bird explains that he is hungry and is running (and flying) from what he calls “Anti-Semeets” (anti-Semites). He says that he is not a crow but a “Jewbird,” and he demonstrates this by immediately beginning to pray passionately, a prayer Edie and Maurie join, but not Harry.
The Jewbird says that his name is Schwartz and asks for a piece of herring and some rye bread rather than the lamb chop the family is eating. Harry insists that the bird eat on the balcony, so Maurie takes him there to feed him and asks his father if the bird can stay. Harry says that Schwartz can remain only for the night but relents the next morning after Maurie cries at the prospect of losing his new friend.
The uneasy truce between Schwartz and Harry is threatened by Schwartz’s requests for Jewish food and a Jewish newspaper as well as by his general garrulousness. Harry resents the bird and the fact that Schwartz calls himself Jewish. Harry makes Schwartz stay on the balcony in a wooden birdhouse even though the bird much prefers being inside with the family, where he can be warm and smell the cooking. When Harry brings home a bird feeder full of corn, Schwartz rejects it, explaining later to Edie that his digestive system has deteriorated with his old age; he...
(The entire section is 879 words.)