A memoir
about glasses,
glass ceilings,
and a glass half full.

If you loved Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine, you’ll absolutely cheer for real-life Barbi Prim. 


“Extraordinarily powerful.”
–Rabbi Sally Priesand, America’s first female rabbi, and Rabbi Emerita of Monmouth Reform Temple, Tinton Falls, NJ

“Funny, heartbreaking, and yet bursting with hope.”
–Helen Aronoff, MD, Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist with Western New York’s Children’s Psychiatric Center

“Celebrates the sweetness of hard-won acceptance.” 
–Lois Weis, State University of New York Distinguished Professor, and coauthor of Class Warfare: Class, Race, and College Admissions in Top-Tier Secondary Schools


Barbara J. Ostfeld Awarded the Reform Movement's Highest Musical Honor For video, start at 15:31. To read the article, click here.

In Catbird: The Ballad of Barbi Prim, the world meets an insightful 8-year-old who has already taken a few steps toward becoming a pioneer—but also a shadow of her quirky self.

Though she didn’t learn to ride a bike until she was twelve and never did learn to climb to the top of the rope in gym, at seventeen she innocently cracked through a stained glass ceiling and was admitted to Hebrew Union College’s School of Sacred Music. At age twenty-two she became the first woman ordained as a cantor in 3,000 years of Jewish history, but foolishly turned down an invitation to appear on What’s My Line?

Nevertheless she persisted, serving for more than twenty-seven years as cantor of congregations in Clifton, New Jersey, and in Great Neck, Rochester, and Buffalo, New York, and then for ten years as the placement director of the American Conference of Cantors.

Download the one page title information sheet here. 

About the book

Barbara Ostfeld in the Media

  • Cantor Barbara Ostfeld: "The Nachson, the Miriam, the Devorah of the American Cantorate"

    At URJ Biennial, she’s awarded the Reform Movement’s highest musical honor

    Editor’s note: The text that follows was presented before a live audience at the 2019 URJ Biennial on Wednesday, Dec. 11 as Cantor Barbara Ostfeld, the first woman to be ordained as a cantor, was presented with the 2019 Debbie Friedman Award for Contributions to Jewish Music.

    Cantor Claire Franco
    President, American Conference of Cantors
    Etz Chayim Hi l’machazikim ba. It is my distinct honor to offer congratulations to Barbara Ostfeld, as the president of the American Conference of Cantors, as her colleague and as her friend. Barbara truly is the human embodiment of an Etz Chayim.

    Decades ago, Barbara planted her roots in the soil of a calling that was not open to women. Her passion, her bravery and yes, her chutzpah allowed the women that followed, like me, to carve our initials in the trunk of our profession. And like the branches, fruit and leaves of a tree, her place in our history will continue to enrich the Judaism that we all celebrate this evening.

    Barbara’s voice gave a place to ours and quite literally changed the way that our people heard our sacred music. We are forever grateful.

    Read the rest of the story at URJ.org, and Barbara’s powerful acceptance speech here.

  • Union for Reform Judaism’s Highest Award Winners Include Interfaith Trailblazers, Diplomatic and Advocacy Leaders for Israel, and the First Woman Ordained as a Cantor


    November 6, 2019, New York, NY – Preeminent Jewish and interfaith global leaders will receive Reform Judaism’s highest honors at the 75th URJ Biennial in Chicago, Illinois, in December 2019.

    The Tri-Faith Initiative of Omaha, Nebraska, Julie Fisher and Ambassador Daniel Shapiro, and Cantor Barbara Ostfeld will receive special recognition and will be among the featured speakers at the URJ’s Biennial General Assembly, which is North America’s largest Jewish gathering, attracting some 5,000 Reform Jewish leaders over five days. The URJ is the most powerful force in North American Jewish life, representing the largest segment of the Jewish community and inspiring 1.5 million people.

    “Not only do these renowned leaders personify Reform Judaism’s core values, they all identify the Reform Movement as a pivotal influence toward accomplishing their change-making work,” said URJ President Rabbi Rick Jacobs. “We could not be more proud or more inspired by the powerful activism and advocacy of these pioneering award-winners.”

    Read the entire release at URJ.com

  • Sexism is Routine for Female Clergy - Barbara's piece for the Lilith Blog

    A female cantor walks into a funeral chapel. The funeral director says, “Nice to meet you, Cantor. Turn around and let me see the rear view.”

    Rabbis and cantors who are also women hear some version of this from time to time, but less frequently today than 40 years ago.

    Although we’re aware that it’s impossible, many of us try to dress in a way that’s designed to prevent sexist comments. By keeping our necklines high and our hemlines low, by avoiding anything clingy, we work at a calculus that has variables clearly beyond our control. Our sought-after formula usually depends on some perfect calibration of the “female” aspect of the term female clergy and the “clergy” part. If nothing else can, the theory goes, looking HOLY should shut it all down.

    Read the rest of the article at the Lilith Blog

If you’ve got a book club or study group, we’ve got a guide for you.

Whether you’re rebellious or reserved, vocal or shy, The Ballad of Barbi Prim will strike a chord. 

Here is a list of 9 reader’s guides . . . because one size never fits all. If you would like any or all of them, please email us.

Book Clubs
For book clubs that meet regularly, or any other group discussing Catbird in one session.

Study Groups
For groups discussing Catbird over multiple sessions.

#MeToo Discussion Groups
TRIGGER WARNING: This guide contains information about sexual assault and/or violence, which may be triggering to survivors.
For classes, congregations, professional associations, women’s groups, and any other group discussing women’s lived experience.

Women Clergy Groups
For women’s clergy groups of any kind. 

Music Lovers
For music lovers of any kind, including people involved in music as a vocation. 

Youth Groups
This readers guide is for discussion groups made up of teenagers. It’s based on three excerpts, which are included in the guide, so reading the book isn’t necessary for this discussion group. I can be used in schools or youth groups of any kind. 

Jewish Groups
For any group that discusses Jewish identity and experience. 

Deep Personal Discussion Groups
TRIGGER WARNING: This guide contains information about sexual assault and/or violence, which may be triggering to survivors.
This reader’s guide is intended for groups of people who share painful experiences similar to some of Barbara’s. 

Targeted Catbird Excerpts by Theme

Get in touch

Or you can email us directly at : hello@catbirdbook.com

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