gap year in israel

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When you first arrive in Israel for your gap year you are sure to marvel at a huge variety of sites, feel the difference in culture to your home country and generally discover lots of new and exciting things. However, one thing that you probably aren’t prepared for is the huge number of cats roaming Israel’s streets. No matter where you are in the country, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv or anywhere else, you will see masses of cats out and about. There seems to be hundreds of them, in fact, one estimate says that there are currently around two million cats in Israel and this could increase to around eight million in just a few years (that would make the cat population equal to the human population!). There are various stories circulating about why there are so many cats. The most popular seems to be that during the British Mandate the British imported a large number of cats to deal with rats. Since then, thanks to the warm climate, the cat population has steadily grown and it shows no sign of slowing down. There are some efforts to capture, spay and neuter the cats, but the program is behind schedule and Israel’s climate allows cats to reproduce two or three times a year. Furthermore, you will notice that many people are happy to feed the cats. People will often leave cat food outside their doors as well as leftover food and bowls of water. If you live in a block of flats, don’t be surprised to see little piles of cat food left outside your neighbours’ doors and you will often see a number of furry creatures running away when you start to walk down the stairs. In general, Israelis like animals and will care for them. They may not always invite the cats inside or try to domesticate them, but they will certainly make sure that any local cats are well fed. That said, around 30% of Israeli home pets have been adopted from the street while about 20% are adopted from animal shelters. Further to this, there are numerous laws in Judaism prohibiting cruelty to animals and this has spread to the wider culture. As a result, people are generally very tolerant of the street cats and treat them kindly. There have been a few suggestions of ways to deal with the problem. One of the more extreme ones is to deport all the male or female cats to another country and that way prevent breeding. However, this idea was met with a great deal of opposition and it seems that for now spaying and neutering is the only action being taken. Many of you will be leaving your pets behind when you come for your gap year program in Israel. While this will undoubtedly cause you some sadness, rest assured that you are sure to see plenty of animals in Israel, and even if you are not a ‘cat person’, don’t be surprised if you find yourself wanting to adopt a cute cat off the street.