Friday, September 26, 2003

Apples and Bunnies

Pop quiz: what is the biggest gift-giving holiday in Israel? If you answered Hanukah, you would be thinking in overseas terms, where the influence of a certain other holiday in December has turned the once minor Festival of Lights into a major deal.

No, in Israel, Rosh Hashanah is the clear leader and, in another twist from Diaspora traditions, the focus is on receiving presents from work rather than family and friends.

Indeed, when the economy was good, gifts from the bigger corporations could top upwards of $150 a person, sometimes paid in gift certificates, sometimes as toaster ovens, DVD players, or decorative wine racks.

I don’t know how it happened exactly, but the gift-giving tradition somehow filtered down to the Blum household. I guess Jody and I are the closest thing to a corporate entity in our children’s eyes.

And so, every September, the kids begin hinting.

Just before Rosh Hashanah three years ago, we were walking down Emek Refaim Street for our usual Friday ritual of pizza with the family. As we passed the local pet shop, what should we see in the window but these two adorable little white bunnies. The kids were immediately entranced.

And I thought: rabbits…how much trouble could that be? (Anyone who has ever owned one of these cursed creatures is probably doubled over in hysterics just about now. But I get ahead of myself...)

“They’re dwarf bunnies,” the nice lady in the pet store explained. “They’ll always stay as small as they are today.” That sounded appropriate for apartment dwellers.

“Can we get them, can we?” Merav and Amir chanted in near unison. Aviv was too young at the time to say anything

“OK,” Jody and I consented too easily (Jody has later claimed that we must have been temporarily delusional).

It's just that it seemed like such a good idea at the time.

And at first, things went quite swimmingly. The kids spent lots of time playing with the bunnies, holding them, feeding them. Jody led the clean-the-cage brigade without complaint and everyone pitched in. I felt the older kids were really learning some important lessons about taking responsibility for living things.

The bunnies were given free run of the house and we were flabbergasted when they toilet trained themselves: they only “made” in a corner of the kitchen, in an old dust pan! How considerate.

The kids named one bunny “Snow” since he was all white. The other was called “Patch” because he had a brown nose and a patch of color on his left foot.

As time went on, however, the kids became less interested in caring for Patch and Snow, and the bunnies reciprocated in kind by leaving their tell-tale pellets all around the house, usually behind the hardest to move pieces of furniture.

When they chewed through a telephone wire, they were relegated to the outside terrace in warm months and to their cage in winter. As their presence in the house became less of a novelty, they wound up spending most of the spring and summer in their small cage as well. They now seemed to fight as often as they cleaned each others’ fur.

When ten-year-old Amir, who had from the beginning been their greatest champion, announced that even he was bored with them because, as he put it, “they don’t show any love in return,” it was clear that the bunnies would have to go.

But how?

I suggested that we set them free in a nice green field. They’d savor their freedom while providing concrete evidence in support of Darwin’s theory of natural selection.

The kids looked at me like I was a psychopath.

They were similarly appalled when I proposed cooking up some yummy bunny stew. We could serve it alongside the apples at Rosh Hashanah, giving a whole new twist to the traditional holiday song: dip the apples in the bunnies…

"You're kidding. Right, Abba?" Aviv asked, entirely mortified.

"Of course I am sweetie," I replied, doing some instant damage control and thinking sarcasm is wasted on the young.

Instead, we put an advertisement on Janglo, the email list for Jerusalem English speakers. We received a number of responses and Jody interviewed each of them for suitability. After all, it was like we were putting our kids up for adoption; we needed to find a “good family.”

We finally settled on a young, newly-married Yeshiva student named Yoni who wanted to give his wife a special surprise for her birthday. She loved animals and this seemed - to her loving husband - a unique (and inexpensive) gift. He was sure she’d be thrilled.

Obviously they hadn’t been married that long.

It was about that time that Snow started spitting up blood.

Oh great, I thought. Now, on top of everything else, just as we’re pawning him off on someone new, we’re going to have to pay to take him to the vet.

I immediately thought of that classic Seinfeld episode where George runs over squirrel and, in order to impress his girlfriend, takes it to the animal emergency room and eventually has to cough up big bucks for special squirrel surgery.

Fortunately, the blood stopped. The transfer to Yoni went ahead as planned.

On his wife’s birthday, at 4:30 in the afternoon, our entire family piled into the car, and we bade one last farewell to Patch and Snow. Yoni’s wife was surprised, to say the least, but she took to them quickly.

Amir remained impassive throughout the entire operation. I saw a few moments of emotion on Merav’s face, but she took it well. Aviv asked if we could come back and see them sometime.

Bunny visitation rights?

We’ve now been bunny-less for three months and I must say I can barely remember those heady, smelly days of yore. As the High Holydays approached this year, I couldn’t help being reminded of that fateful day, three years ago, when we became pet owners for the first – and perhaps last – time.

However, the other afternoon, in the lead up to this year’s Rosh Hashanah gift-giving frenzy, we passed by the pet store again on our way to pizza. And there in the window was this adorable little puppy.

We’ve managed to resist the temptation, the demands, the expectations and the whining.

Well, at least so far…

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