“Do you eat cat?” may be a strange question to ask, however it is also the start of a good story or at least I have been told it’s a good story. We made aliyah from South Africa just over two weeks ago and being in Israel while sometimes challenging and dealing with government departments can be frustrating. I was prepared for that however, there was one thing that I was not prepared for.
Walking through our absorption center (Mercaz Klita) in Beer-Sheva at night was terrifying. It was not terrifying because of crime and not even because of a terrorist, what made it terrifying was being stared down by a clowder of cats who all looked as though they might try to eat me, I am sure this would terrify anyone.
Now, most of these cats look quite sick and unhealthy and at most times extremely hungry. However only a week since moving into the absorption center we did the most Israeli thing there is, we adopted one of these cats. We adopted this tiny little kitten who was following us around, she did not look to have the telltale signs of illness, distended stomach and sickly eyes covered in who knows what. She is in good health. We call her Lavan, I know it just means white and it is not terribly creative. I am only now learning to speak Hebrew properly and she is a pure white cat, this I am told is a rare find in Israel.
We are in a new country and we just adopted a kitten, we adopted the kitten without knowing how much cat food costs in Israel. We are olim trying to scrape by on our humble savings and the very generous sal kilta given to us by the state.
In any case, it’s the afternoon before Shabbat starts everybody is rushing to get done and we head down to our local grocery store. I have been practicing my Hebrew and take this time in the store to work on it a little. With the all the confidence in the world I walk up to one of the employees stacking the shelf with products and I ask in Hebrew – ?את אוכל חתול (At Ochel Chatul) the translation in my head: Do you have cat food. The translation, in reality, was quite different: Do you eat cat?
The woman looked at me in shock for a few seconds and burst out laughing, she was in a good mood thankfully. It turns out that she does not, in fact, eat cat, she LOVES them. She loves them so much she has a cat pendant. After laughing at me and correcting my Hebrew she leads me to the overpriced cat food. Honestly, it may be cheaper to feed the kitten with tuna.
This misadventure in Hebrew has taught me that it is OK to humiliate yourself when learning a language. Making mistakes is part of learning and sometimes while learning you may accidentally ask someone if they eat cat. As a new oleh, I have come to learn that saying silly embarrassing things is just part of the process.
Growing up I was taught that English is the international language, coming to Israel has taught me that this is not true. At the Mercaz Klita where I live there are people from 12 different nationalities: Yemenites, Persians, Spaniards, Russians, Brazilian, French, Argentine all who are now Israeli. Many don’t speak English and at most I can say “Nyet” in Russian, “Ola” In Spanish and “Shukran” in Arabic. Hebrew is the great unifier at the Mercaz Klita and in Israel it allows me to connect with people from all over the world who have taken the big decision to make a new life in their homeland and sometimes while learning Hebrew one has to make the mistake of asking someone if the if they eat cat.