My wife, in a rare flight of fancy, said that this part of the story began with a ball of yarn. In fact, it began months earlier with a shopping bag – two of them, in fact. Our neighbor Yaffa, a rather imposing woman, was walking home from a shopping excursion at our local Super-r-r-r, carrying these same shopping bags laden with groceries. She stopped for a minute to rest, and a very tiny kitten ran up to her and jumped into her lap. She looked down at the kitten; the kitten looked up at her. Many people would have removed this small animal, stray cats being a dime a dozen in Maale Adumim (except that dimes are very scarce in our neck of the woods); but there are those who understand, that if there is a stray kitten in your lap, it must be part of G-d’s greater plan. Jaffa picked up this small creature, put him in her pocket book, and took him home, naming him, don’t ask me why, “Witty Kitty.”
Needless to say, as all baby animals do, over the weeks and months, WK began to grow, becoming quite the strapping young cat. Yaffa, meanwhile, had met an appropriate man and was about to get married. She realized that there were two things she would have to give up: her Sephardic eating habits over Pesach, and………her Witty Kitty. Finding a home for her rice and beans would not be a “biggie,” but her cat? There may be as many cats as people in Maale Adumim, and most of these felines depend on human throw-aways for their livelihood. I’m sure some of you are beginning to figure out what comes next, and you are correct. WK, now the size of a young deer, came to co-occupy a litter box with Mimi, our aged American cat, who is not used to sharing. There were quite a few verbal altercations between these two over the next week or so, so when we heard a ruckus in our pinat ochel (dining area) one evening, we assumed it was the two felines fussing. But Mimi was with us in the bedroom, so what could be going on? Barbara went to investigate, and so began the saga of the yarn ball.
A well-meaning friend, herself the manager of a herd of cats, had brought over a ball of yarn, lavender in color, for Witty to play with. In a matter of minutes, he had unwound the ball; and in a few more minutes had wound the yarn around himself and a dining room chair. If we had not intervened, he probably would have dragged the chair around the entire house in his efforts to escape. Barbara realized that we would have to assist in untangling him – which she did, in the process getting scratched and bitten in her thumb by this frantic animal.
The following day, Barbara was sitting at work (she is now employed part time as the Administrator of the Seniors Program, for which she gets paid almost as much as a cleaning lady), when she noticed that her thumb was beginning to swell. She left work at 2:30 and hurried over to the main Maccabi health center in Jerusalem (located in the Clal Building, which I have previously described as the ugliest building in town), waving her swollen thumb in the air so that she would get prompt attention. Her thumb, of course, was infected; so she was given a prescription for an antibiotic, which she got filled at the Maccabi pharmacy down the block. So far, so good, except that everyone, including Barbara, forgot Rule No. 1 about taking antibiotics, which is, DON’T take them on an empty stomach.
Now all this happened in time for Barbara to cross Agrippas St. at 4PM and meet me along with a lot of other people for a tour of the adjoining neighborhoods Mazkeret Moshe and Ohel Moshe (both built in 1883 and named for Moses Montefiore, their benefactor). About five minutes into the tour, Barbara, who had been standing, sat down on a stone railing. I walked over to her, and she told me that she did not feel good; she felt as if she were going to faint. If nothing else, my wife is a woman of her word: she promptly fell off the railing onto the sidewalk. I just stood there, looking down at the woman with whom I have been married for twenty nine years, my helpmate, the mother of my children, the love of my life, lying insensible on the ground. Fortunately, there was a doctor and a nurse in the tour group; both of these women took over and restored Barbara to full consciousness (if you are drawing the inference that I am not much good in medical emergencies, you are correct). After a decent rest, time to eat and drink (interrupted by the husband of the doctor, who had come back to alert her that the woman who had arranged the tour [Naomi from the OU Israel Center] had slipped and fell and herself required medical attention), Barbara was fine and was able to return home unaided. We were not charged for the tour.
A few days later, I did get a chance to participate in a tiyul in essentially the same area, this time with with my Ulpan class (I will discuss our return to Ulpan in another entry. Please be patient.). We left our class after taking a brief quiz and walked across King George St. to an area called “The Mashbir” (the name of the first “department store” in Jerusalem) where we met a young woman who served as our tour guide. She soon had us walking through the narrow streets and alleyways which collectively make up an area called Nachlaot, which I have described as a mixture of Mea Shearim and Rehavia. If you know Jerusalem, you probably understand what I’m saying. For the rest of you, here goes: we’re talking about an area in the middle of downtown Jerusalem, a few blocks from where they are tearing up the main street, Jaffa, to build a light rail system, and yet you might think you’re in a small village with tiny streets filled with trees, shrubs, and flowers and carefully preserved houses. The people who live here are a bewildering assortment of hareidim, artists, Bratzlever wannabes, and the usual mix of religious and secular people that you would find elsewhere in downtown Jerusalem. Here we were threading our way at twilight through pathways where I had never been – even though I know the area pretty well. Except for the low voice of our tour guide, who had urged us to be as quiet as possible not to disturb the residents, at times you could have heard a pin drop. The adjectives “calm” and “quiet” rarely seem to apply to anywhere in our ancient capital; it was more like we were in a village in a faraway land – except for the prevalence of synagogues and buildings of Jerusalem stone.
The tiyul ended, and we all went our separate ways. I walked across Agrippas and through the shuk, now closed for business and also strangely quiet (although if you listened v-e-r-y closely, you could almost hear an echo of the men who had been screaming a few hours before, “agvaniot [tomatoes] 2 shekel, kilo) in a never-ending cacophony). I caught a bus up Rehov Yaffa, and then my bus back to Maale Adumim, which, as everyone knows by now, is a little bit east of Yerushalayim.
A FELINE FOOTNOTE: Would that I could say that the two black and white cats, an arthritic old lady from American and a young Sabra, were getting along as well as the men in the competing stalls in the shuk, but they aren’t. More on this and other matters to follow.