"Cat" is the new "Squirrel"

When Israelis heard I planned to bring a cat to Israel, their universal response was this: "Why? We have plenty of those here!"

I read recently that Israel has 6 million street cats, which means that the ratio of street cats to Jewish residents in Israel is about 1:1. (It seems higher!) And I realized a few months ago that I have yet to see a squirrel in this country: hardly a coincidence. As a consequence, Israelis see cats basically the way we see squirrels-- as ubiquitous, dirty nuisances. (Some Israelis do own pet cats, but more often they own pet dogs who bark crazily at the roaming neighborhood cats.)

Street cats lounge around the yards, sidewalks, and alleys of Israel wherever you look. At first glance, they look no different from house cats-- often they are quite well-fed, and until you approach to a dangerous proximity, they sunbathe and preen just as any other cat would. They are also very territorial: I recognize the cats (like the one in the picture) who live in our apartment building courtyard, and different cats live down the street where my husband's aunt and uncle live. The cats own their specific sections of the streets, just as Zeus and Pixel own my apartment.

Closer up, they do have a harder life. Sometimes people would bring street cats into the vet's office where I volunteered for my first few months here, and they bore the scars of life on the street*-- I won't go into detail because, frankly, there was a reason I wouldn't eat big lunches after working at the vet's office. Our vet would provide medical care at a big discount, and he would never let a street cat leave without spaying or neutering it-- marking that the job had been done by snipping the point off of one of the cat's ears. (All vets do this, so keep your eyes out for point-less ears!)

Quite a few people feed street cats, leading to immense feeding frenzies. My husband says that the cats now look much better fed than they did when he grew up in Beer Sheva in the 80s, leading to what he calls the "Street Cat Economic Index"-- the fatness of our street cats illustrates the strength of our economy. We have money to put out water, food, or throw precious scraps into our garbage, and the cats benefit.

I once saw a cat that seemed to have been twisted up into the fork of a small tree, and I panicked that the cat had been killed and put there by teenage hoodlums. (In fact, I told my husband not to look-- he has an even softer heart for cats than I do. His camera phone is full of pictures of cute cats he ogles on his commute to work. :) Instead, my husband approached the tree-- and the cat untangled herself, sprang down, and scrambled off into the bushes. She was simply catching a nap in her treetop hammock.

My cousin studying at a hareidi yeshiva in Jerusalem claims to have been told that cats are the reincarnated souls of prostitutes. In that case, I'm not sure what the sheer quantity of cats says about this country. :) (Maybe, based on my post yesterday, they are the reincarnated souls of women who DRESS somewhat like prostitutes, but who are actually very nice and chaste...)

*The cats, not the people


  1. I think you've read an exaggerated statistic. Most estimates put the cat population in Israel at about 2 million. Though I do agree it does seem like there's more. ;)

    I may point out that my cell phone is "full of pictures of cute cats" because you had asked me at some point to take pictures of street cats for a future blog post. (This one)

  2. I love seeing bowls of cat food left on streets that have many street cats.

    It's very hard to find a squirrel in Israel. If you do find one, it's not your average American kind. The only one that exists in Israel is the Persian squirrel, and you'll only find him around mountains and forests in the north.

  3. Your post titles are as funny as their content!Blessings to you - I was in a sorrowful mood after reading about the Sioux and Cherokee tonight and am feeling much happier now. Thanks.
    Shalom from Texas.

  4. Last week I took my family with my mom to the old city of Jerusalem and during our outdoor lunch several cats congregated under and around our table. At some point most of our group went to the bathroom leaving me alone with the slowest eater in our family and about 4 cats. A couple of young American girls walked by and got all excited about the cats asking me, "Are they yours? Are they friendly? Can we pet them?" I felt the way you might feel standing next to an ugly smelly man and someone thinking you're couple.

  5. wow- this was a really good post- i laughed alot! i am not a cat fan though- i sort of think they are somewat selfish- and always trying to steal food wenever they can


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