Kibbutz, Living in Community

Bark if you’re Jewish

I am many things. I am a writer, a wife, a mother, a sugar addict.

But one thing I am not is a dog lover.

In fact, my dog-loving friends would say that is an understatement. They’d say I’m a dog-hater.

They’d be exaggerating. But only a little bit.

For a time, I was a dog-owner hater. And then I realized I only hated dog owners who dressed their pets in sweaters and referred to themselves in the third person as “mommy or daddy” when speaking to their dog.

Now, I’m dog- and dog-owner tolerant.

It’s a prerequisite if you want to live on a kibbutz in Israel.

The two biggest concerns I had when we were considering making Aliyah is how would we keep my nut-allergic son safe in a nut-obsessed culture; and how could I possibly live in harmony with the dogs of Israel?

I tried to prepare myself in advance. I started smiling at dogs. I walked through the dog food aisle at Target. I even instructed my kids to not scream in terror when the neighbor’s dog jumped up to sniff them. Even though I think they have every right to scream and fend off with force any living thing who jumps on top of them against their will. (Why do dog owners think it’s okay when their dog jumps up on a kid? Nine times out of ten, their dog is bigger than my kid. Would they want a big grizzly bear jumping up and scratching in the area of their jugular? I think not.)

Alas, none of this conditioning worked.

On Hannaton, there are a lot of dogs; the majority of which are not on leashes the majority of the time. In fact, when the grownups are off at work during the day, there are more dogs wandering around here than humans. And they are under nobody’s jurisdiction; required to follow nobody’s rules, but their own.

They knowingly strut around — daring those of us humans still at home to just try and keep them from shitting on the playground or barking at passing cars. They stand guard over the owners’ driveways until they find a cat to growl at or a lone jogger to chase.

Most of the dogs here are small enough that I could overcome one if need be. (I think.) At least, this is what kept me calm the other night when a pack of three of them followed me home from my friend’s house.

But there is one dog here who is pushing his mazal.* I had a hunch he was a German shepherd and Google confirmed it. (The irony of his German descent is not lost on me.) He looks like this, only bigger, with sharper teeth and with a really arrogant look on his canine face.

Our first encounter was a week ago, mid-afternoon when I was at the playground with my four-year-old son. The dog seems to live across the street from the playground and barked at us as he stood guard in his driveway (no leash.) I casually kept my eye on him, but in my new paradigm of dog tolerance I didn’t want to overreact.

A few minutes later, the dog strutted over to us. I picked up Oliver and slowly walked towards the steps to my street. The dog followed us up the steps. “Look, mommy, the dog is following us,” Oliver said innocently. “What do you think he wants?”

I don’t know, I thought to myself, lunch?

We made it home unscathed, but my older son didn’t when the same dog barked at him and “stole” his soccer ball yesterday afternoon. By the time he was done with it, the ball was deflated and my eight-year-old dog lover was in tears. My son ran all the way home with the dog chasing after him, until my husband shouted at the dog “Lech!” and the dog walked away. Smugly, I’m sure.

Somehow, my son still wants a dog for his birthday next year.

As if.

Now I have to choose between ignoring a matter that is really important to me or being the annoying American dog basher.

It’s bad enough this dog chewed up my son’s brand new soccer ball, but I’m honestly concerned about my family’s safety. What good is it that your kids can run around alone all day if you constantly have to worry about them stepping in dog shit, or worse yet, being eaten by a German shepherd?

I am certain there is a dog lover reading this who will try to reassure me that domesticated dogs are harmless. That “out in the country” is the ideal place for dog owners to live so their pets can have room to play and run.

My counter argument to that is “buy a farm.”

I truly want to live in harmony with both humans and animals here. And I truly promise to try to be tolerant of your dogs despite my distaste for them. But you have to meet me half way. Be a mensch — keep your dog on a leash or in your own fenced-in backyard.

Thou shalt love thy neighbor, right?


Mazal = luck
Lech = Go!

13 thoughts on “Bark if you’re Jewish”

  1. You know I love you right? I am not a dog lover – though I am a “I love my own dog” lover (I had to overcome my own issues since I learned that the best therapy for my sensory processing disorder child is animals…). I have moved to unknown territories with zero knowledge of it’s people, culture or customs (did you know that Austin’s city slogan is “Keep Austin Weird”?) So know that what I am about to say comes from love and want for you to love your new community. This is the time of exploration, observing, and riding the wave. You do not get to complain about this. You went there with your eyes wide open (nuts, dogs and all) and now you just have to keep those eyes wide open so you don’t step in shit and train your kids to take their shoes off before entering the house. If necessary, learn clear Hebrew commands or take a class or use hypnosis. You can not beat this system – you already joined it so on this one, go with it. “Love thy neighbor” – do that first, build those relationships, and then open a dialogue about doggie etiquette. Toto – you are NOT in Kansas anymore.


  2. “No you didn’t!” (The author says as she waves her pointer finger.)
    Did you just put me in my place, girlfriend?
    I think you did.
    Touche, my love. Point taken. And…you’ll be hearing from your lawyer if your dog ever bites me.


  3. That must have been very scary! I am a dog lover and German Shepherds are one of my favorite breeds. In fact if it weren’t for allergies and asthma, we would probably have one. That said having a German Shepherd follow me home might make me nervous. Firmly believe fences, leashes and pooper scoops make good doggie neighbors. BUT that doesn’t seem to be the culture of the place you have moved. I am thinking that befriending the owner and learning more about the dog might be helpful than complaining to the about something they have always done. Learn the dogs name and any commands he might know. Teach your children how to behave around dogs. Your son very understandably ran. He was scared. Running however, can be the worse thing to do. The dog may think it was a game and was just playing.

    Cesar Milan talks about giving off a calm assertive energy. That can be very hard to do around something that makes you so anxious/fearful. If you can find a way to do that on your walks/outings you may find the dogs more respectful and less intimidating. Dogs are very astute a picking up on the energy/feelings a person is giving off. When we are anxious, they often react with anxiety.

    I hope some of this helps. It was meant to be supportive and not critical. Hope it came out that way.


    1. This is VERY helpful, Carol Anne. Thank you.

      We did tell him not to run. It goes against your instinct, though, right? To walk slowly away from what you perceive to be a danger? Tobey actually loves dogs so much. So it was even sadder when he came home crying. (He really, really wants a dog of his own. “An outdoor dog,” he says.)

      I did meet one dog today who himself gave off a calm and reassuring aura. I told him, “Hey you. Dog. I think I could like you.” And have him a little pat on the head.


  4. While I agree in part with the first commenter, I believe the bigger issue wins out here. Where I live borders Paterson, NJ and dogs in that town are usually kept to guard property – not as well-trained, socialized family pets. An incident with just such a dog (a chow mix) who was loose while I was running with my dog on the outskirts of my neighborhood still gives me chills when I remember it. I’m grateful for the fences and leashes that are ordered by law here .

    You feel unsafe and feel as though your children are in danger. This is a fact you can not ignore – dogs do pick up on your energy and you can become a target thus.

    Knowledge is power and I highly recommend educating yourself about how to handle being near a strange dog. As controversial as “The Dog Whisperer”, Cesar Millan is – I have relied on some of his advice for safe behavior around dogs off leash – when I was alone or even when my own dog was present (leashed). Things like not making direct eye contact or turning to the side send messages to them that you are not a threat or aren’t interested in getting to know one another.

    And if you can get the dog owners to agree to leashing their poochies, I know a great source for some really unique ones 😉


  5. hey Jen –
    Wow! You REALLY do NOT like dogs! I would not have known based on your visit to our house (you covered up your distaste for Georgie well!)…

    re the big German Shepard… I had a run in with him (her?) as well – though in our case he (or she?) was after Georgie, and not one of the kids. Georgie had just been spayed (or is that neutered?) and was not allowed to play with other dogs because she still had stitches, but we went out on a walk and this HUGE (though I suspect very old) German Shepard comes rambling up besides us and keeps trying to get all over Georgie… I had to pick her up to keep the German Shepard away and then it tried to jump onto my shoulder from behind… I almost went into a friend’s house to get away from it, but then some other dogs came by to rescue us (see – dogs can be useful) and the old giant German Shepard went off to play with them….

    Anyway – I do feel for you and am sorry Toby had such a tough experience. I promise to continue keeping Georgie on her leash (and even though I think I am the only fryer on this kibbutz walking around with baggies filled with poop, I promise to continue cleaning up after her).

    If you find a way to keep the doggies from pooping in the playground – let me know! (It is gross watching all the kids play in a giant litter box!)



    1. I did hide it well, didn’t I? Remember Georgie jumped all over Oliver and he freaked out and Ian put her away for us? See? You are the perfect example of kind and sympathetic dog owners!

      As for the poop…Avi says there is no way that Israelis will ever clean up after their dogs poop. What do you think?


  6. Amen, Sister! I’m right there with you. They scare the s&*t out of me. My kids run away from dogs like their clothes are on fire.

    Robby told me he wants to be a veterinarian; I told him he would have to overcome his fear of dogs. He now wants to be a fireman.


  7. rega rega, in my Kibbutz they agreed (with all the dog owners) that dogs can’t just walk around on their own, all dogs have to be in home or out on a leash (רצועה) took some time for everyone to follow the roles, eventually everyone did. As a dog lover and dog owner it was difficult to follow, but it makes perfect sense 🙂 Following this it was easy to get us all to collect the poop….B’htzlacha dear


    1. Good news, Meirav! There is hope.

      The Postscript to this is that we did spot the doggy and his owner walking him on a leash yesterday. Avi stopped him and calmly told him what happened. He was surprised that his dog would go after a kid and swore that he “is ultra friendly” ( I find this to be the dog owner’s less-than-silent refrain) In the meantime, we have heard through the grapevine that it’s not the first time this particular dog ate a child’s ball. So…

      There were no promises exchanged that included a permanent leashing of the dog, but our hope is that the owners will at least be more conscious moving forward. Just in case, I’m also going to get the number of the dog catcher. Once burned, twice shy, and all that


  8. Chiming in very late here.

    Great advice to learn how to present yourself to a strange dog to minimize the dog’s reaction. You should teach your kids the same. Dogs can read fear v.v. quickly and will usually respond with some amount of aggression to establish the dominance order. If you maintain your calm assertive posture a dog will stay calm, too.

    Balls are a dog’s territory. Sorry. My dogs do not understand that some balls are ok and others are not. They’re just not that smart. A dog who sees a ball rolling around is going to chase it and probably grab it. If it’s not a skilled soft-mouth retriever, that dog’s teeth are going to puncture the ball.


    1. Thanks for chiming in, Karen.

      The biggest issue for me is that there is a law in Israel that says your dog must be leashed. This law works for me, but apparently not for others. While I can teach my human child to the best of my ability to handle himself safely in front of unleashed dogs, I don’t think that I should have to worry about whether or not it will work, particularly when there are no adults around to monitor the situation. I should not have to worry that as my child is walking the three blocks home alone from the bus stop, while holding his soccer ball, that he may get into it with an unleashed, unmonitored dog.


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