When I was a young man and traveling abroad, in foreign countries, sometimes far away from my people and from my country I would often meet people who barely knew what a Jew was… who knew nothing of our customs and beliefs. Many times, I was told, ‘I know there were Jews in the bible, but I didn’t know they still exist’. Sometimes people would call me an Israelite, because they didn’t want to use the word ‘Jew’; they thought it was a bad word. And so, I realized that I had to be careful about the way I talked or behaved. Because people were likely to assume that my behavior reflected upon or described all of the Jewish people. I used to tell people, ‘I’m half Jewish and half cat’.
And what I’ve chosen to discuss today, certainly describes the cat in me… much more than my Jewish heritage. Beyond the famous ten commandments, we have 613 precepts, which we consider commandments too, among them things we should do, and things we shouldn’t do, some of which are described in English as ‘good deeds’. Among the most popular of these good deeds, is visiting those who are suffering from illness, visiting the grieving. And this includes of course those who are suffering from sadness or depression. Maimonides, one of our greatest philosophers, tells us that it is a greater pleasure to visit with the grieving than it is to rejoice at a wedding.
And though this is the custom of our people, and I too enjoy visiting the ill and the grieving… and believe this is a far better way of dealing with sickness and grief than the support groups that are common these days in the west, I myself prefer to retreat. When I am ill, when I’m grieving, when I’m unhappy, I prefer to be all alone, to deal with my sorrow or my difficulty by myself. This is very unacceptable in my society, and at times, close friends and family have been offended by my behavior. I tell people that it’s the cat in me. And they try to understand. But they’re usually sure that I would feel much better if I could talk about it, or share it with others.
My daughter Rivka has discussed it at length with me, and tried to analyze my behavior psychologically. And I think that her explanations may be right. She says that I’m reverting to a behavior mode that recalls my childhood when I was very alone for a long period of time. But having studied cats for years, it’s easier for me to explain that it’s the cat in me and leave it at that. Cats will often hide away when they aren’t feeling well. And yet… when I’m not feeling well, my cat friends will often come to stay by me. And I don’t usually push them away. Because in those circumstances, they are respectful and don’t try to cheer me up. They just sit by my side in silence.
I had three disappointments lately… on the internet. People I respected, and felt a closeness too, in a human and emotional way, and who made judgments about my people that I felt were completely wrong. It hurts me because I respected and like them. I would have expected them to learn more about the subjects at hand before making their pronouncements. My first instinctual desire was to shut up. To stop blogging in English. I know there are a lot of other people who read my blog, and that even those among them who don’t sympathize with my country, realize that there might be more going on than they fully understand. And there are some that do sympathize. But the fact that someone I truly respect and feel close to as a human being would accuse me falsely has a very strong influence on me.
Which brings me to another subject, asceticism. I think I’ve written enough for today. I will leave that for another post. Let me just say that none of my cat friends pictured above were suffering from illness or unhappiness. I wouldn’t have photographed them if they were. I have too much respect for someone in pain to photograph such a scene, though some photographers I admire have done just that.