Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Hava Nagila at the Olympics

Check out this Jewish gymnast at the Olympics and the background music she chose!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

A Key, a Monk, and a Kitten

In March, I spayed/neutered 17 cats in the Christian Quarter on Muristan road, and have been feeding them lots of dry cat-food almost every day for nearly a year.   This past Sunday (June 3)  a sick kitten and 2 dead siblings appeared there which I could not reach, as the area is locked behind bars and a locked door.  To get in, there are 2 possibilities:

1. Contacting the Christian Arab St. John's Eye Hospital in another neighborhood which owns this property, and they send a guy to unlock the padlocked bars.  Both the administrator and the guy with the keys hate me because they think that my feeding the cats increases their numbers, whereas I have actually controlled the numbers at great expense in time, energy, and money, so they should be kissing my feet.

2.  Knocking on a big black metal door, behind which lives an ogre named Imad.  Imad once spent time in jail because he got into an argument with his beloved brother over a shirt and hit his brother over the head with a piece of wood, killing him.  Imad and I have had several spats, as he harasses and curses me when I feed the cats (which is very surreptitiously late at night or before 6 AM, but even so, twice he happened to be there).   In fact, 2 Sundays ago, he was there at 6 AM as I was intending to sneak food to the cats, and he pronounced a particularly juicy curse.  I grabbed a paper cup from a garbage pile that had the muddy remains of Turkish coffee and snarled "Say it again!  Say it again!", threatening to throw it on his clean sky-blue Sunday morning church shirt and grey suit.  Alarmed, he said, "Go in peace, sister! Go in peace, sister!"   Anyway, if I knocked on his door to ask permission to enter the garden to rescue the kitten, he no doubt would have refused, just to be sadistic.  

Here is the area:

I  went over there anyway Sunday morning (after calling the eye hospital, but they are closed on Sundays), but Imad wasn't home.  I went back at 6 PM.  On the way, I saw a Bedouin shop-keeper  (Nile) who I am friendly with, and told him the problem.  (He actually gave to me the scarf that I'm wearing in the above video as a free gift for helping cats!)  He immediately came with me, saying that even though Imad is crazy, he is on good terms with him, and would deal with him so I could rescue the kitten.  

Anyway, Imad wasn't home again, but suddenly, a Greek Orthodox monk with a key entered the big black door to Imad's place, and Nile got all excited and just before the door shut behind the monk, he asked permission for me to slip in to rescue the kitten.  Whisk!  The kitten was in my carrier in no time, and home in my bathroom.  I told Nile he was my hero.

Here's the kitten on You Tube:

Here is the kitten after 2 days of AD Hills, water, a little medicine, and petting........

Anyone want to adopt her?

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Late Afternoon Pre-Shabbat Hike

Leora and I met in the 1986 tour guide course. Then she married a redheaded dentist/rabbi and had 10 red-headed kids and 1 blond. We know trails within a 10 mile circumference of Jerusalem, except for this one.  This relatively isolated trail beckoned on the trail map, but seemed dangerous, being a bit toward Arab villages. And yet, it appeared as a family hike in this Friday's Jerusalem Post. So, I strapped on the gun and went to Leora's, where we all scurried to cook and clean for Shabbat, and then piled into the van at 2:30 PM.  (Shabbat candle-lighting was at 6:32 PM -- At one point in the video, you can hear 4-year-old Davidie worrying, "I don't want to drive on Shabbat".)  Turning off the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway, we drove behind the hill of the Arab town of Abu Ghosh, onto a road that Leora vaguely remembered being on once, and that I had never been----with only forests and fields in sight.  

Our first steps on the trail revealed "pristine nature" (a nearly obsolete phrase anywhere near Jerusalem).  The hill we hiked down faced north, and hence was green, whereas the opposite southern-exposed hill was stark.  No phony pine forest was planted here.  Only the natural "Mediterranean scrub-land".  The lower down we hiked, the more green groves of cypress, oak, pistachio, and carob trees there were, casting their mysterious inviting shadows.

As hike-loving tour guides, we were astonished to see these ---till now unknown -- untouched surroundings just beyond Jerusalem's doorstep.  This was the one radius of Jerusalem's circumference that we had not explored. 

No jeep road yet mars this valley, nor a JNF lookout pavilion aggressively carved into the hills, nor a snack bar, a zip-line, nor a goat-cheese farm. Miraculously, this little corner of paradise has somehow been left alone till now.  Just Hashem's artwork and a few ancient crumbled ruins.

If you see a big black bush near the end of the video -- it's my hair.  

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Fine Felines For Free 

Here are 2 felines that need to find good homes.  The black one is already
neutered and vaccinated.  Interested people should call me in Jerusalem at:
050 761 2109        I will bring them to anywhere in the country.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

A Surprising Kitten Adoption

 2 weeks ago I found a kitten crying in the Christian Quarter.  I had him for 2 weeks, and named him "Cubby".

One late afternoon last week, I was walking to the Jewish Quarter parking lot to do the daily feeding of about 12 cats there, with a 2 week old kitten folded in my sweatshirt. This is what he looks like (click on the video):

 The thought crossed my mind how no one would ever know I was carrying a tiny animal on me.  Just then, a passing Armenian lady stopped and asked if I was holding a baby animal.   I showed her, and she lit up, saying she wanted to ask her kids if they wanted it.  I asked if she ever had a cat before, and she said she had a cat for 18 years.  I said that this kitten was too young right now, but that I had a bigger kitten at home.  Would she like to see it?  "OK".  So I ran around the corner and got Cubby, and took him to the doorway of their old Armenian house.  They (the lady, her adopted niece, and the niece's 2 little girls-----Emily and Tatiana) took him eagerly.  I asked, "Do you have any food for him now?" 
  I ran back to my place, and brought canned food, dry food, and clumping sand.  They invited me into their enviably tidy, clean home, and took me to the back room, where the bedridden grandmother was cuddling Cubby on the blanket.  I said, "I have to go get a camera -----This is going on my blog."  So I ran home a third time for the camera.
Upon returning, I was informed that his name would be :"Musky"  I said, "Oh, that's a fine name.  Why 'Musky'"? 
 "It's a kind of dog from Alaska." 
 "Oh, that's 'Husky'". 
 "Oh, yes, that's right".
"But 'Musky' is nice, too.  It's a nice smell."
A nice neighbor then appeared, announcing that she would like to adopt the tiny kitten at the end of April, when he's old enough.

They showed me a photo of an elegant man holding a cigarette-----the late husband of the now invalid grandmother.  They met when he came for a visit from Egypt for a cousin's wedding.  Like many men, he barged into a room without knocking, and there was his other cousin----now the grandmother----in the middle of getting dressed for the wedding.  She complained to her family about this jerk who burst in on her without knocking.  Meanwhile, he was telling his family that he will never marry anyone but her.

We all agreed that he looked like Clark Gable.

Here is Cubby (Husky) in his adoption ad, followed by him snuggling with his adoptive family:

Then the lady invited me into her living-room, saying that the couch and many upholstered chairs along the 4 walls were 80 and 100 years old, and started regaling me with stories about how previous generations of her family were connected to famous people in Israeli history.  For example, her father had gone to the same school as one of the Prime Ministers, Yitzchak Navon.  When Jerusalem was reunited after 19 years in 1967, Yitzchak Navon quickly came to Jaffe Gate and asked around to find his old boyhood friend from the Armenian Quarter.  Her grandmother knew 7 languages (including English, Hebrew, Yiddish, and Arabic), and so was the translator for Glubb Pasha when he was here before the 1948 War of Independence.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Greeting the Swifts, March 12, 2012
The 4th Annual Commemoration of Their Return
Written by Tova Saul

Jeremiah 8:7  "Even the stork in the sky knows her appointed seasons, and the dove, the swift and the crane observe the time of their migration. But my people do not know the requirements of the Lord."

      This evening (March 12, 2012) no less than the mayor of Jerusalem greeted nearly 90 pairs of a small species of bird who have just finished their yearly journey from South Africa to return to their nesting crevices in the Western Wall.  Here, from mid-February till June, at twilight, small black winged silhouettes speedily and gracefully wheel and swoop overhead with high pitched cries.

     The life cycle of a swift, which lives to be about 10 years old, can exhaust you, just thinking about it. The fledglings “work out” in the nest, doing push ups with their wings.  They need to strengthen their muscles, because after 42 days, they fly from the nest, and only stop flying after 3 years, when they build their own first nest.  They eat, drink, sleep, and mate while flying.   (After the ceremony, I asked Dr.Yossi Leshem ------Israel's most famous ornithologist and Director of The International Center for the Study of Bird Migration----how they don’t crash into things while they sleep, and he answered that they fly very high while sleeping.  But now as I write this, I wonder---If they are sleeping, how do they know to stay up so high and not crash into things?  I also wonder why they evolved in such an energy-intensive way, when it seems that other animals have evolved ways to conserve their energy.

   The parent birds feed their young by catching insects throughout the day, storing about 2000 insects in their crops ( pocket in the throat that birds have),  forming a “bolus” (a small package), and feeding it to each chick twice a day.

      A swift cannot stand on its legs, or take off to fly if it's on the ground.  It must be at least a few feet high, clasping a vertical surface, in order to let itself drop and swoop away.  A year ago, a neighbor emailed me an hour before Shabbat, saying a bird was sitting by their front door.  I told them to bring it to me.
It was a swift.  I googled "Yossi Leshem" and----- to my surprise----- he answered the phone, and told me to take it to the Jerusalem zoo.  (The taxi was 100 shekels, for which the family declined to reimburse me.)  Shortly afterward, one of the fantastic staff of the Jerusalem Bird Observatory (Alen) informed me that the bird was probably fine, and simply needed to be held a meter off the ground so it could fly away.

Schoolchildren and adults attending ceremony

First our mayor spoke:

Mayor Nir Barkat

He said that just as the swifts always return to their nests at the Kotel, the Jewish people have always returned to the Kotel, to Jerusalem, and to
the Land of Israel, and that Israel is the nest of the Jewish people..
Mayor Nir Barkat
     And then other VIP's spoke, such as a rabbi of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, Naomi Tzur of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, and Yossi Leshem, himself.

   He explained the life cycle of the swift, and mentioned how their numbers are decreasing drastically across their range (40% less in London, for example), due to destruction of old buildings that have nooks and crannies for their nests, and replacing them with modern buildings.  Various cities, such as London and Tel Aviv, are building nesting boxes for them to increase their numbers.  One school project in Tel Aviv has built 30 nesting boxes on their school building.
Dr. Leshem would like to reach more people from a spiritual angle to be interested in birds, and nature in general.  He wants to introduce Jewish, Christian, and Muslim leadership to their own many religious values concerning wildlife conservation.  He mentions that there are also swifts in Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity and also in many old mosques.  He plans to persuade 20 Israeli mayors to implement bird conservation policies in their cities.

Dr. Leshem also explained to a Russian news team how Israeli farmers and scientists have worked together with their counterparts in Jordan and Arabs in the West Bank to build thousands of nesting boxes for barn owls and kestrels in crop fields to control the rodent populations, eliminating the need to spread tons of poisons.

Yossi Leshem interviewed by Russian news team

Here are my 2 attempts to capture the swifts' flights and cries on video this evening:

Just for fun, I took a look at some of the rabbinical commentaries on Jeremiah 8:7, quoted above.  Some say that the stork, swift, crane, and dove, who don't have the capacity that humans have for advanced thought------even they do the will of God by going where they need to go and doing what they are supposed to do.  Furthermore, birds understand that they need to behave in certain ways to avoid harsh consequences-----being somewhere with scarce food, and to behave in ways that will bring them to better conditions------availability of food in a warmer climate.  Humans, commentators continue, who have the benefit of advanced reasoning, the guidance of Torah, and the hindsight of the deeds of their ancestors, should be able to do a better job than they do at living according to Godly laws and values.

My own 2 cents say the opposite:  Animals are pre-programmed to do what they were created to do.  Humans, created with free will, have a much tougher job figuring it out and an even tougher job sticking to it.

At any rate, the swifts are back for a short while.  May they live long and prosper.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012


Animal Therapy at St. Louis Hospice near Jerusalem's Old City

 This short video is about using animals to cheer people up in a hospice which is a 10 minute walk from where I live.   

         Once a week, I visit Marcie, who is in part of the video (towards the end).  6 years ago, she suddenly had a brain hemorrhage that left her very disabled, although her mind is totally intact.  Once in awhile, I bring her kittens, if I have any.  Once, a tiny kitten         
snuggled and curled up by her neck, covering half of her trach tube.  I asked if it was bothering her breathing, and she shook her head no.  Anyway, I spend at least an hour a week there.  Usually, we watch Modern Family on her laptop.      
            Every Thursday at 1 PM, Marcie hosts the "Happiness Club", during which women friends can show up and read and discuss together passages from Rabbi Pliskin's "Gateway to Happiness" at Marcie's bedside.