The longer I live, the longer my list of questions grows. Besides issues with major ramifications I find difficult to understand but won’t even get into, there are the less significant things that also leave me scratching my head. For example, why are political parties called just that when the word “party” is the last word that would describe what they actually do? I don’t know. Why do we sip coffee straight from a mug and eat soup out of a bowl with a spoon? I don’t know. Why are such unique yet similar and rhyming words associated with both the beginning and end of life (womb and tomb)? I don’t know. Don’t get me wrong - I am not up all night pondering these questions. I just wonder.
A question about something that actually does impact my life is why did Hashem create cats? And for that matter, why did He create animals that rhyme with cats, like bats and rats? I really hope I’m not offending any cat or bat or rat lovers out there but of all the amazing things that Hashem created, these bat-rhyming animals are not among my favorites. I have yet to see a child jumping up and down with excitement as he unwraps a stuffed rat at his birthday party. Nobody would ever do that to a kid. Luckily, I don’t see many rats around these parts. The bats I see from time to time tend to stick to specific locations that are easily avoidable. But cats? They are a whole other can of worms (another one of my “favorites”), especially here in Israel. They walk around freely, and startle (a word frequently used when talking about cats) those around them as they suddenly (another cat-related word) jump out of garbage containers. They fight like cats (okay, that’s not so surprising) and sound like screaming babies. My family is in the recovery phase of several cat traumas. As a social worker, the thought has crossed my mind to open a support group for other victims of cat trauma. Maybe one day…
Some time ago, I noticed a cat walking on our mirpeset. This never happens, since our mirpeset is on the second floor of our house. We went out to check the situation and found that the cat had decided to invite all of its friends, as well as their friends and relatives, to our home. Our mirpeset had been converted into a feline dormitory. We saw fully grown cats strolling around at their “come one, come all” convention, only missing name tags stuck to their bellies. We also found a small litter of cats snuggled behind our barbecue. The word “snuggle” usually implies cuteness and coziness, often triggering a desire to hug. But there was none of that here. These were cats. And not just cats. They were black, creepy cats! We shooed them all away and were relieved when our mirpeset had returned to its original function. All was well until…
We have another mirpeset off our bedroom which houses our washer and dryer. Half of it is enclosed by glass sliding doors and a screen. One afternoon I was casually transferring my wash to the dryer when a big mother cat suddenly (very) and unexpectedly (very, very) jumped out from her hiding place on the far side of the machine. She had found her way in when the door had been left open. This time, not only was I startled (yes, that word again), but so was she. The two of us shrieked our heads off. My daughter came running and joined the bandwagon, now a fearsome threesome. The poor cat tried to get out the same way she got in, but this time the screen was closed. She was stuck. Once I regained my composure, I began laughing hysterically. I used the end of a broomstick to open the screen at arm’s length so that the cat could escape. My neighbors who had heard what had happened were amused. They jokingly suggested that I go for a massage to calm myself down. I didn’t think I needed a massage but I thought the cat could probably have used a manicure, most likely having chipped a nail or two as she tried to claw her way though my screen.
I tried to convince one of my cat-loving colleagues to add this adorable mother and babies to her cat collection at home. Okay, so they weren’t really adorable, but since one is allowed to lie for shalom bayis, I figured that it’s also permissible to lie to help someone find a bayis where they could one day have shalom. Although she did not agree to take the cats, she did build them a home out of a cardboard box which was deliberately placed on the outside of my screen door. The mother took a few of her cats to a new location (no argument from me) but abandoned a few in the five-star cardboard home. My husband and daughter, who are truly rachmanim b’nei rachmanim, used a syringe to feed the baby cats until the very end. Every now and then when I do my laundry, I take a quick peek around to make sure there are no unwelcome guests on our mirpeset.
Recently, my husband went to a shiur. When he left the house, he was fine. When he returned, he looked like he had been beaten up by a bunch of thugs. It seems that when he had walked down the stairs leading to our home, he found a group of cats congregating in front of our door as if they owned the place, which apparently, they do. As my husband tried to shoo them away, they suddenly charged right towards him, screaming in unison. Startled (yes, again), he fell backwards on the stairs, hit his head, and got scratched up and bruised. He had been the victim of a cat attack from which he needed a few days to fully recover.
To counter my negative feelings, I decided to do a quick search about how cats contribute to society. Admittedly, my sources are not the most scholarly of journals, but it seems that cats definitely play a significant role in our lives. First and foremost, they kill mice and rats in barns, which lessens the amount of grain loss due to rodents. Without them, we would have less food. In addition, cats have been said to reduce stress and anxiety, lower the risk of heart disease, and protect children against allergies. There are even stories of cats saving people’s lives. I have a newfound appreciation for the cats that roam around my city.
It seems that cats are very necessary for the survival of mankind. Everything on this earth was put here for a reason. If we can assume that all animals, even ones we may not like, have redeeming qualities and were placed here for our benefit, how much more so can we assume the same about people, even ones we may dislike or vehemently disagree with.
Suzie (nee Schapiro) Steinberg grew up in Kew Gardens Hills. She works as a social worker and lives with her husband and children in Ramat Beit Shemesh.