Aaron Leibel, on his Israeli Cats

My wife, Bonnie, is a cat person, and, over the years, her creatures have been nice enough to let the two of us share their homes.

For those not familiar with felines, they’re like dogs, except when a bad guy tries to break into the house, they don’t bark. Instead, they run for cover and stay hidden until the danger has passed.

Don’t misunderstand me, I love our animals — at the present time, it’s Trevor and Glenda — and I try not to hold their species against them. After all, they didn’t ask nature (I doubt if the Almighty is anxious to take credit for them) to make them cats.

On the positive side, my long association with Bonnie’s felines have helped to increase my understanding of, and compassion for, the idle and the unemployed.

But my love does not match Bonnie’s Just let me say that if you believe in reincarnation, pray to come back as one her cats. You couldn’t do any better.

Our first foray into the world of cats in Israel was our adoption in the late 1970s of an orange tomcat whom the daughters insisted on naming “Mickey.” One warm summer evening, the window was open in our sixth-floor apartment in the Neve Ya’akov neighborhood in Jerusalem, and Mickey was on the window’s ledge. Maybe he jumped, trying to get away from the cloying affection of the females in the apartment or from the shame of his name, or, perhaps, he fell — I was never able to determine.

In any case, my distraught women immediately had me scurrying downstairs to scrape up Mickey’s body so that he would be given a Jewish (cat’s) funeral. But to all our surprises, I found nothing in the garden into which the cat had plunged.

So, apparently, Mickey had survived his long fall, joining the many wild cats in our neighborhood trying to eke out a living from the scraps in the garbage dumpsters and seeking companionship from those felines of the other sex.

He apparently was very successful in the latter enterprise —he was not spayed before we got him — for we spotted many orange kittens in our neighborhood in the ensuing years.

But I digress. It seems as if Bonnie’s love for felines has been passed down genetically to our daughters — especially to Abby, daughter number 3. (Lauren, number one, takes in strays: Debra, number two, shares her abode with a cat named Golda.)

I recall during a visit to her apartment in Ramat Hasharon, Israel, in the late 1990s — she presently lives in the western suburbs of Boston — how she and her boyfriend, now husband, Meir, fed the hungry felines.

There are thousands, probably tens or hundreds of thousands, of cats who live outdoors on their own in the Jewish state. The humane society tries spaying and neutering them, but there are so many that it’s really mission impossible.

Abby and Meir already had two kittens — Tuli and his sister Tula (in Hebrew, a male cat is a hatul, a female hatula). So, every afternoon when they got home from work, after they fed T&T, they would put two big plates of dry cat food in the parking lot of their apartment building, and some neighborhood strays had dinner.

Not everyone in their building on Naomi Street liked the idea. One of their neighbors threw water at the diners who would temporarily retreat, but quickly returned to the meal when “the rain” ceased.

When they came to America, the four of them lived in the basement of our home while the two humans looked for jobs. Tula, the very incarnation of “scaredee cat,” rarely left their basement room. Tuli is best remembered at our house for stripping the bark from a newly planted tree in our front yard, killing it.

Tuli and Tula long ago have left their earthly paradise for whatever form of gan eden awaits cats.

As if to show how independent of her mother she has become, Abby has replaced them with two dogs.


Veteran journalist Aaron Leibel writes for The Jerusalem Post and Washington Jewish week. He is the author of the acclaimed memoir, Figs and Alligators: An American Immigrant’s Life in Israel in the 1970s and 1980s, available from Amazon in Kindle and paperback, Barnes and Noble, and at every local bookstore in the U.S. and Canada.

Photos: Tuli (left) & Tula