Ehud Olmert as a cat, illustration by Sarah Lazarovic

Ehud Olmert, cat.
CREDIT: Sarah Lazarovic

In preparation for the meeting with Lev’s preschool teacher, I shaved and took my good suit out of the closet.

“It’s a ten-in-the-morning meeting,” my wife laughed. “The teacher will probably be wearing sweat pants. And with that white shirt and jacket, you’ll look like a groom.”

“Like a lawyer,” I corrected her. “And when the meeting’s over, you’ll thank me for dressing up.”

“Why are you acting like she wants to talk to us because Lev did something bad?” my wife protested. “Maybe she just wants to tell us that Lev is a good kid who helps the other kids in his group?”

I tried to picture our Lev in the preschool yard generously sharing his sandwich with a scrawny, grateful classmate who forgot to bring a snack that day. The incredible strain of trying to conjure up that image almost gave me a stroke. “Do you really think they asked us to come to hear about something nice Lev did?” I decided to abandon my rather limited imagination and focus instead on my wife’s surprising optimism.

“No,” she admitted sadly. “I just like arguing with you.”

The teacher was actually wearing sweat pants, but she really liked my suit and enjoyed hearing that it was the same suit I wore to my wedding.

“But then he could still wear it without having to hold in his stomach,” my wife said, and she and the teacher exchanged the empathetic smiles of women stuck with men who have three pizzerias on speed dial but have never seen the inside of a gym.

“Actually,” the teacher said, “the reason I asked you to come does have something to do with food.”

The teacher told us that little Lev had forged a secret pact with the school cook, that she was bringing him chocolate on a regular basis, even though the board of education had strictly prohibited children from eating sweets on school grounds. “He goes to the bathroom and comes back with five chocolate bars,” the teacher explained. “Yesterday, he sat in a corner and kept eating until streams of chocolate started running out of his nose.”

“But why don’t you talk to the cook about it?” my wife asked.

“I’ve already done that,” the teacher sighed. “But she says Lev is so manipulative that she just can’t help it.”

“And you think it’s possible,” my wife continued, “that a 4-year-old can control an adult and force her to—”

“Don’t pay attention to her,” I whispered to the teacher. “She knows it’s possible. She just likes to argue.”

In the afternoon, I took advantage of a friendly soccer game with Lev to have a heart-to-heart. “You know what Ricki, your teacher, told me today?” I asked.

“That even though I water her computer every morning, it doesn’t help and the screen will always stay a midget?” Lev asked.

“No,” I said. “She told me that Mari the cook brings you chocolate every morning.”

“Yes,” Lev said happily. “Lots and lots and lots of chocolate.”

“Your teacher also said that you eat all the chocolate yourself and won’t share it with the other kids.” I added.

“Yes,” Lev agreed quickly. “But I always explain to them that I can’t give them any because kids aren’t allowed to eat sweets in school.”

“Very good,” I said. “But if kids aren’t allowed to eat sweets in school, why do you think you can?”

“Because I’m not a kid,” Lev smiled a pudgy, sneaky smile. “I’m a cat.”

“You’re what?”

“Meow,” Lev answered in a soft, purry voice. “Meow, meow, meow.”

The next morning, I was drinking coffee in the kitchen and reading the papers. The coach of the Israeli national soccer team was caught by customs smuggling more than $25,000 worth of cigars into the country. A Knesset member from the Shas party bought a restaurant and forced his parliamentary aide, paid out of the Knesset budget, to work there. Basketball coaches for Maccabi Tel Aviv, the country’s star team, are facing charges of income tax evasion. Then, while I ate breakfast, I read a little about the trial of former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, accused of graft, and topped it all off with a short item stating that former Finance Minister Avraham Hirshson, presently incarcerated for embezzlement, has been called “a model prisoner” by his fellow inmates.

For years I’ve struggled in vain to understand why such well-heeled, successful people choose to break the law, risking punishment and scorn, when they already have everything. Olmert, after all, was not living in abject poverty when he forged flight expenses so he could squeeze another thousand dollars out of Yad Vashem. And Hirshson wasn’t exactly starving when he embezzled money from the organization for which he was working. But then, after that heart-to-heart with Lev, it all suddenly became clear. Those men, just like my son, cheat and steal and lie only because they are sure they are cats. And as adorable, furry, cream-loving creatures, they don’t have to abide by the same rules and laws all those sweaty two-legged creatures around them have to obey. With that in mind, it’s easy to predict the former prime minister’s line of defense:

Prosecutor: Mr. Olmert, are you aware of the fact that forgery and fraud are against the law?

Olmert: Of course. As a moral, law-abiding former prime minister, I am completely aware that they are against the law for all the citizens of the country. But if you read the country’s laws carefully, you will see that they don’t apply to cats! And I, sir, have been well-known throughout the world as a lazy fat cat.

Prosecutor (flabbergasted): Mr. Olmert, certainly you do not expect the court to take your last remark seriously.

Olmert (licking the cuffs of his Armani suit): Meow, meow. meow.

Translated by Sondra Silverston.