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Musings: An Invitation to the Zoo

Zelda Goldfield

When I agreed to let my young sons open an informal neighborhood zoo, was I making a big mistake?

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

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LEARNING EXPERIENCE Why had I agreed to these animals in the first place? Although I had an aversion to pets, I felt I should not deny the healthy learning experience it offered my boys

D on’t get me wrong.
I’m truly fascinated by the animal kingdom, intrigued by animal behavior.
I love learning about animals from books and even observing them from a safe distance at the zoo.

But I must have inherited a dominant gene from my father, born in Lithuania, who could not fathom how a frum Jew would keep an animal, such as the puppy my American-born mother had bravely suggested. In Kelm, it was not the fashion. Furthermore, a dog is an unclean animal, so how can one learn Torah and make blessings with a dog at one’s heels?

Years later, in Jerusalem, when my brood included a bunch of boys in a row, my mother’s genes must have become empowered. I didn’t agree to the horse that Yirmy begged us to buy for his tenth birthday, even though, as he claimed, we had lots of room in our garden. But when Yirmy brought home a turtle he had chanced upon in the middle of the sidewalk, how could I refuse?

And so Bootzik became part of the family. Theoretically, he resided in his box in the garden, but he usually hung out in the boys’ room where he was safe from cats, the broiling sun, frost, etc. I actually picked up Bootzik with my own hand — holding him at a safe distance with my thumb and middle finger — when I’d find him wandering around the house and no one else was home to put him back where he belonged.

But I never touched any of the other animals they brought home, and neither would my older daughters, who could not fathom why I ever consented to the zoo. We didn’t even hold the cuddly rabbits — Crembo, Snowball, Flopsy, Pinchy, and all the others we hosted over the years.

Not only had this been the best lesson in zoology they ever had, but it taught them responsibility, how to work as a team, and how to love and care for other creatures

The young children couldn’t always hold onto their rambunctious “toys” and the rabbits would occasionally seek greener pastures. “Mrs. G.!” a not-so-cheerful Mrs. Stein in the next building irately rebuked me over the phone, “Your rabbit is again devouring the flowers the gardener just replanted yesterday!” How was I to know the rabbits would prefer her pink petunias to our wilted lettuce?

My sons, in partnership with the boys next door, increased their acquisitions. Unfortunately, the aristocratic Baladi rooster was a source of consternation to yet another neighbor. Although I can sleep through almost anything — the midnight sirens of the Gulf War and my husband’s nudnik alarm clock — even I heard the insistent phone rings at 4:27 a.m. Who on earth would bother me at that ungodly hour? “Mrs. G.! Get rid of that stupid cock! It’s been waking me up before dawn for the past five nights. Where do you think we live — a farm?”

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