Name: Cindy Margulis
Position: Executive director, Golden Gate Audubon Society
After serving as a longtime volunteer with the Audubon Society, you became executive director of the Golden Gate chapter in May. How did you get interested in birding?
Cindy Margulis: Ever since I was a child, I’ve been fascinated by animals. About 10 or 15 years ago, I started volunteering at the Oakland Zoo as a docent. I started working with a confiscated yellow-naped Amazon parrot named Brock. I learned about what it was like to be a flocking bird, and from there became interested in shore and water birds, like ducks and geese.
I learned that there were a lot of things I could do as an individual to protect them and the environment where they live. I expanded my volunteer docent work to other organizations that work with birds, such as International Bird Rescue and the East Bay Regional Park District.
J.: Do you have a favorite bird?
CM: I like many bird species, but I definitely favor water and shore birds the most because many are large, easy to see and they live their lives right out in front of us. If you like to watch wildlife, it’s very rewarding. Water and shore birds are different from birds that spend a lot of their time in the trees protected by foliage. With birds in trees, you may hear them, or see some rustling, but you don’t get a good peek at what they are really doing.
Where is your favorite Bay Area birding spot?
CM: One of my most favorite places is the Martin Luther King Jr. Shoreline in Oakland, between the Oakland Airport and Coliseum. In the Bay Area, we have resident nesting species and lots of fascinating migrants. Some of those birds come thousands of miles on epic journeys to either travel through or winter here.
You grew up in St. Louis and went to Boston University. What brought you to the Bay Area?
CM: I was working in Boston in the tech space industry during the early Internet days and was hired by a company that relocated me here in 1998. I absolutely love the Bay Area. I’ve been here 17 years and I celebrate my anniversary of moving here every year.
What was your Jewish involvement when you were growing up in St. Louis?
CM: I had the typical Midwestern Jewish upbringing: I grew up in the suburbs and my family belonged to a Conservative shul. I had a bat mitzvah, was part of Young Judaea and went to Hebrew school three times a week. In high school, I traveled to Israel, and Elie Wiesel became a mentor and dear teacher of mine.
How did you end up meeting him and how did he become your mentor?
CM: I was very active in Jewish community affairs and helped out with Soviet Jewry. I was selected to represent St. Louis with a group of Jewish leaders from around the world to see what happened to European Jewry firsthand. I was 17, and the trip was a powerful experience. We saw concentration camps and I became a spokesperson for raising awareness in the Jewish community.
Because of those experiences, I was in touch with Wiesel and ended up applying to and getting accepted to Boston University, where he taught. He mentored me through college and taught me to stand up for what is right — that’s in my DNA and how Judaism has manifested in my life.
Creatures in nature and in their habitats need to be protected. I believe that things that are unspoiled and innocent need our protection, and when you see injustice, you have to stop it and nip it in the bud.
How is Judaism intertwined with birding?
CM: I meet a lot of Jewish people through my work, be they fellow birders or through education around the environment. Being out in nature is a wonderful way to engage with people of all ages, colors, socioeconomic backgrounds. It’s sort of magical and something I need for my soul.
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