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Like all of the wondrous creatures that the Lord has populated our natural world with, the cat family is most interesting and unique. The big cats such as the lion, leopard and the tiger are marvelous machines of prey, grace and beauty. Their smaller relatives, equally dangerous and equipped with speed and cunning, such as the jaguar and the cheetah are, in their own right, breathtaking in appearance and ability. Then there are the domesticated cats, which many human beings love to own and raise as pets. In this latter category of domesticated cats there is a special breed - a sub-species - the Jerusalem cat.

All of us who are privileged to live in the Holy City are well aware of the presence of these cats that we interact every day. These cats are wild, in the sense that they have no particular human owner and are forced to fend for themselves for their daily food and sustenance. They are certainly a hardy and adaptable breed, apparently afraid of no one and instinctively attuned to the dangers of urban life, traffic, curious children and open garbage cans.
The Jerusalem cat has a personality all its own. It is brazen beyond belief, agile beyond description and indestructible as a group, having weathered any attempts to control or even eradicate its presence here in Jerusalem. Some of these wild Jerusalem cats have great poise and beauty to them. Others are more of the mongrel and ordinary type. However, all of them have one thing in common – they are ubiquitous and apparently intend to remain so till the end of time.
The parking lot and garden of the building where I reside here in Jerusalem is patrolled constantly by a number of cats. I have been unable to determine whether they are a family or just close friends. I meet them every morning on my way to the synagogue and they are usually there in the evening and night as well.
They show me no respect, are clearly unafraid of my presence and one of them constantly meows at me when it spies my presence. I have never fed them because I feel that somehow that will only increase the number of cats that constantly visit. Nevertheless I am well aware of the iconic picture of the great righteous Jew of Jerusalem, Rabbi Aryeh Levin, placing a bowl of milk on the ground to feed the cats that are always around him.
There is something within me that says that I should perhaps emulate that great man in feeding the cats that are encamped on our premises.  However, I am well aware that no good deed goes unpunished. I know that my act of compassion could lead to all sorts of complications - with neighbors, other cats, and with the street cleaners, all of whom may take a dimmer view of the cats than I do.
Because of this I do nothing but I do feel guilty – especially with regard to the main cat that keeps on meowing at me on a regular basis. I doubt that feeding this cat will stop it from meowing at me, so I remain passive in responding to its voice.
There are many urban legends as to how this extraordinary number of cats came to Jerusalem. The most popular legend is that they were brought here at the beginning of the British mandate over the country in the early 1920s. The story goes that there was a plague of mice that was overrunning Jerusalem and the British imported cats to stem the plague.
The cats dutifully performed their function and have since remained as part of the landscape and population of the city. I cannot vouch for the accuracy of this legend but there are many things of ambivalent value here in Israel that were left to us by the British, so cats may be one of those things.
There are very kind people in our neighborhood who feed these cats daily. I notice that they are always surrounded by cats even when it is not feeding time. Some of them have even purchased dogs that they walk with in order to discourage the congregation of cats around them. But the Jerusalem cat is not afraid of a dog.
Here in Jerusalem many of the accepted laws of nature are somehow suspended and never enforced. I marvel at the sight of a human being simply walking along with a dog, surrounded by cats, both species of animals blissfully ignoring the commands of the human who is allegedly the master of the situation. In any event, I find cats to be intriguing creatures and doubly so when they live and thrive in the ever fascinating city of Jerusalem.
Shabbat shalom
Berel Wein

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