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April 24, 2014 | 24th Nisan 5774

Dogs

Galilee Diary #512, October 13, 2010
Marc Rosenstein

There shall be an area for you outside the camp, where you may relieve yourself. With your gear you shall have a spike, and when you have squatted you shall dig a hole with it and cover up your excrement. Since the lord your God moves about in your camp to protect you and to deliver your enemies to you, let your camp be holy...
        -Deuteronomy 23:13-15

Misgav county, the open area surrounding the town of Karmiel (over 50,000) and 10 nearby Arab towns and villages, comprises thirty communities of 50-500 families that are generally described as "rural." For the most part they are bedroom communities, though each has a few small businesses and some even have a little "industrial zone" with workshops and offices. Shorashim is one of these. People who live here want to feel as though they live in the country and are pioneers settling the land, without giving up on quality of life - education, medical care, culture, shopping, environment, etc. Essentially, we are all suburbanites with the self-image of country folk, which leads to some funny/annoying dilemmas.

For example, dogs. Now that Shorashim has an internal web forum, it has been buzzing with correspondence about dogs. There are a lot of dogs here. Dogs do not have a positive image in traditional Jewish culture, nor in the Middle East. However, it seems that in reinventing ourselves as earthy peasants like our erstwhile neighbors in Europe, we have developed a love of dogs. Today, dogs are quite common in the big cities (especially in the more upscale neighborhoods); and for those who choose to live "in the country," keeping a dog is part of the experience; here on Shorashim, for example, the majority of families have at least one dog or are momentarily between dogs.

The problem is in the perception of the setting in which we live. If we were a farming community, the dogs would run with the livestock and hang around the barn and fields as a natural part of the ecosystem. That's how we'd like to see ourselves. But we're not a farming community, we're a suburb with small yards and carefully tended public spaces and no fields or barns - if the dogs want to run free they have to go beyond the fence and contend with the foxes and jackals. So if your dog runs free, it will willy nilly do much of its running in your neighbor's garden, or on the playground or the central lawn, where it will become a nuisance on two levels: a) if your dog runs free you can't really clean up after it; and b) interactions with other dogs, cats, and humans are also out of your control and can be unpleasant. And if you have to keep your dog tied up all day and walk it on a leash and clean up after it - then why did you leave Tel Aviv? Interestingly, there is a county ordinance against loose dogs, and occasionally the dog catcher has been called by an irate neighbor and the owner has had to bail out his pet; but unlike in the cities, there is no cleanup law.

Several of the newer families at Shorashim, with small children who suffer from the condition of the playground and the fear of overly playful loose dogs, have voiced their concerns on the forum recently, and a number of veteran members have joined in. But it has been a one-sided conversation - the dog-owners have been silent. A petition has been posted. The executive council has not responded publicly.

This all is, in the grand scheme of things in Israel - and the Middle East - trivial. But it is a perfect case study in what makes a community a community: how much is the majority prepared to be inconvenienced by the needs of the minority? How much is the minority willing to push on the limits of "niceness" to have its voice heard? How should a decision be made?  Who wants to be in a state of tension/discomfort with a neighbor over something trivial - especially considering that we are a small community, geographically isolated? What kind of leadership is necessary to bring the issue to a consensus conclusion? Who cares enough to spend enough time on a proper process of deliberation and change?

Once we resolve this, we can move on to creating a constitution for the state.

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