Galilee Diary: Sustainability III

They had with them every wild animal according to its kind, all livestock according to their kinds, every creature that moves along the ground according to its kind and every bird according to its kind, everything with wings. Pairs of all creatures that have the breath of life in them came to Noah and entered the ark.
-Genesis 7:14-15

Planning a vacation to Crete, we were interested to read in some of the hotel reviews references to the multitude of cats that are ubiquitous and annoying, including in hotel dining rooms. We are looking forward to comparing notes, as every visitor to Israel, and everyone who lives here, is very aware of the feral cats that are such a distinctive feature of our urban landscape. I suspect that the tourists in Crete writing their complaints had not stopped off here on the way. Tossing the household garbage into the Shorashim dumpster often elicits an explosion of cat energy, as they come flying out the various openings of the container; and on my early Tuesday morning walk from my hotel to HUC in Jerusalem, there are a few corners where I always have to navigate a herd (Flock? School? Pack?) of scrawny cats dining on a breakfast put out for them by cat-loving residents of the neighborhood. Indeed, we even have a small colony of about half a dozen feral cats here at Shorashim that are fed by one of our members, outside his office in the central plaza of the moshav, and that lie around on the picnic furniture, lazily observing the passing traffic.

Recently we had a guest speaker at Shorashim, the father of one of our members, a retired professor of zoology. He has studied the research on wild domestic dogs and cats, and the picture that he presented was not pretty. The population explosion of such animals, in places with moderate climates, has been enormous, and their population density is hundreds of times what it would be in a wild environment. And since, no matter how well fed they are, their hunting instinct does not diminish, it follows that the population of their natural prey is under severe pressure. If all they hunted were mice and rats, that might be good news. But they are equally happy pouncing on songbirds, or benign snakes and lizards and frogs which have their own place in the balance of predators, prey, and human pests (eating insects, for example). In short, it seems that the human-facilitated population explosion of these invasive species is not doing us any good in the long run.

What can be done? The solutions seem simple, but have proven very difficult to implement. One method that has been proposed – and tried – is to capture and sterilize the feral animals. However, it turns out that this is only effective if it succeeds in covering virtually all the animals in a wide geographical area; otherwise, local migration, and the successful reproduction of the few who escape the sterilizers’ clutches, soon lead to a return to rapid population growth. The other main method would be simply to deny feral cats a ready supply of food. This requires that cat lovers who feed feral cats in quantity must refrain from this practice. Good luck with that! And it requires that garbage dumpsters be made cat-proof. Israel may be a high-tech superpower, but this low-tech challenge has thus far proven too much for us. Much of Israel’s household garbage is collected in neighborhood dumpsters, made of heavy steel, with plastic doors and sliding lid mechanisms for emptying them. These various closures seem to have an effective life of just a few weeks – no sooner are they replaced or repaired, when the wear and tear of frequent rough dumping leaves them shattered or twisted, providing easy feline access.

We may be on the way to a silent spring, but not as Rachel Carson imagined it.

Originally published in Ten Minutes of Torah, a daily e-mail on a topic of Jewish interest. Sign up now to add 10 minutes of Jewish learning to your life each day!

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Rabbi Marc Rosenstein

About Rabbi Marc Rosenstein

Marc Rosenstein grew up in Highland Park, IL, at North Shore Congregation Israel. His first visit to Israel was as a high school student in the first exchange of the Eisendrath International Exchange (EIE) program in 1962. He was ordained at HUC-JIR in 1975, and then served as assistant rabbi at Community Synagogue, in Port Washington, NY. Rabbi Rosenstein was a teacher and also a principal at the Solomon Schechter Secondary School in Skokie, IL. He also served as the principal at Akiba Hebrew Academy in Lower Merion, PA. In 1990, he made aliyah, moving to Moshav Shorashim, a small community in the central Galilee, founded in the early 1980's by a group of young American immigrants. He is presently the director of the Israeli Rabbinic Program of HUC-JIR, as well as the director of the Makom ba-Galil, a seminar center at Shorashim that engages in programming to foster pluralism and coexistence. Marc is married to Tami (originally from Waukegan, IL), a speech clinician working with handicapped infants and children. They have three children; Josh, Ilana, and Lev.

4 Responses to “Galilee Diary: Sustainability III”

  1. avatar
    Bernice Lieberman Reply August 15, 2012 at 6:56 am

    Mark, an interesting comment, about life in Israel. However, not worth my time reading this early morning as I am looking for strength and inspiration for the challenging day that is jus t beginning as daylight breaks.

  2. avatar

    Hi, Marc–
    It’s a “clowder” or “glaring” of cats! Or, as I recall from a wonderful children’s book (“Millions of Cats” by Wana Gag) “hundreds of cats! thousands of cats! millions and Billions and TRILLIONS of cats.” Ah, Nature! In Rockland County, it’s Canadian Geese (they really should have been naturalized by now, if not neutralized) and squirrels.
    There’s no purrrfect solution.

  3. avatar

    I have to say that when my daughter and I were in Israel last time, we were not enamored of these cats despite being animal lovers. With their super long canine teeth, they look like something out of a Dracula movie!

  4. avatar

    When some friends and I went to Morocco a few years ago, we were amazed at all the cats. The caretaker at our bed and breakfast told us that the prophet Mohammed loved cats, so the local populace continues to harbor and feed them. No idea whether that explains it…

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