I vividly remember the Israeli soldiers on my Birthright trip watching, bewildered, as I began to pet a cat that had sauntered toward the stoop where we were sitting. Bewildered not because it might come as a surprise that I’m a cat person, but because cats—that ever-adored household pet and Internet phenom in the United States—are something of an invasive species in Israel.
There are probably very few charming Holly Golightly stories of stray cats mewling their way into an Israeli’s heart. That’s because in Israel, on seemingly every corner of every city there are about half a dozen stray cats, lurking and skulking and often clawing at each other’s faces. While Birthright may have been trying to sell us on Israel as the land of milk and honey, I quickly realized it could more accurately be described as the land of falafel and kittens.
In an odd marriage of viral Internet cat culture and Israel’s highly visible stray epidemic, a strange, niche series of tumblr blogs has emerged: cats of Israel. FuckYeahIsraelCats and Cats of Israel are all part of the so-called Nouvelle Vague of cat photos.
These days, the Internet seems to run on cats. There are major cat blogs, like Cat Shaming, a website that outs felines for the jerks they really are. There’s Pusheen, the beloved cartoon cat comic strip. And who could forget The Fluffington Post, a daily animal newsletter. If any respectable news outlet runs a piece about cats, it will undoubtedly go viral. I would be hardly surprised if a study found cat content on 80 percent of Tumblr blogs.
Still, this may be the first time that Israeli cats have gotten this much online attention. It makes sense: these blogs appear to be, on the whole, the work of foreigners. That’s not to say that Israelis have no affection for felines, but their relationship with cats is different than ours. To Israelis, a blog about Israeli cats is probably received a lot like a blog about pigeons might be to New Yorkers (or Venetians, for that matter).
I spoke with Rabbi Josh Yuter, who started one of the newer Israeli cat blogs, Felines of Israel, when he moved to Israel from New York last month. He told me initially imagined that the blog would be a lighthearted way of poking fun at Humans of New York, a website that posts photos of New Yorkers beside snippets of their life stories.
“Cats here aren’t the same as cats elsewhere,” he said, “you can’t go near them because they are diseased.”
Yuter joked about posting a photo of a lion in the Golan, implying that street cats in Israel are essentially wild animals. As absurd as our American fascination with cats on the Internet might be, there’s something inherently more absurd about approaching a feral one-eyed cat and affectionately posting a photo of it the way New Yorkers Instagram photos of their favorite bodega cats.
But the proliferation of Israeli cat blogs points to one important fact: not only is there clearly an audience for these scrawny street cats, but there’s an entire untapped market of cat photos ready to be unleashed on the world. All they need is a blogger to set them free.