Raising a Jewish Cat at Hanukkah Time
When I was in kindergarten, my family rescued a cat that we named Toby. Toby had his own blue yarmulke with a Star of David sewn on it. Every Hannukah, I would hold Toby up to the menorah as we lit the candles and recited the prayers. When I was 21, as Toby’s years sadly came to an end, I said Yizkor at the vet as the needle went in.
My husband and I don’t have children. We met when I was 33 and Robert was in his forties. We wanted to remain a family of two as long as possible—and I guess, at some point, we thought it was too late to have kids.
Around Hanukkah time in 2020, I decided I wanted to rescue another cat. I wanted to welcome someone new into our family, someone to care for and love.
So as a 43-year-old once and future cat owner, I went on the Connecticut Humane Society’s website to begin the process. I immediately fell in love with a 2-month-old gray kitten who had been born in the society’s shelter. Soon, I was researching food and what kinds of litter to buy. I purchased a cat carrier, food and water bowls, a litter box and some toys on Chewy.com. I even googled what plants would be allowed to stay in our home once the cat arrived, since there are many that can make cats sick if ingested.
I filled out the rescue application, had a preliminary phone interview with a nice woman from the Humane Society and made an in-person follow-up appointment. All this for a cat!
It was a cold day in early December, two weeks before Hannukah, when Robert and I drove to the shelter in the nearby town of Newington. Wearing masks, we met Jack, the center administrator, who led us to a small room with a bench and the same blue bird toy I had just purchased from Chewy. To me it was a sign that this adoption was bashert.
We waited a few minutes while Jack went looking for the kitten. Soon, Jack returned carrying a black crate. Gently, Jack opened the crate door and scooped up the cat before putting her down on the floor, at which point the tiny gray thing skittered toward the back of the bench, up against the wall.
“I’ll leave you two alone with her so you can get to know her,” Jack said.
I picked up the birdie-on-the-stick and waved it in the air a few times. Timidly at first, the cat pattered toward it. In no time at all, she began jumping up in an attempt to catch the plush bird. My husband, who previously had only had dogs as pets, looked at me as if his heart was melting. We both shook our heads yes.
We named her Sunshine. She is the light of our lives, the purrfect gift for our little family.
Sunshine is now 2 years old. As a work-from-home writer, she and I spend a lot of time together. One of her favorite things is to lie on my desk behind my laptop, as I tap away at the keys.
I swear I’ve made her meshugge. Sunshine may have picked up on my OCD since she now rubs her little head a few too many times on the kitchen chair when she wants food. I suspect that she’s seen me tap my finger on things many times when I am anxious, and this is her version of that tick.
Once, during Passover, she stood on a box of Streit’s matzah—an impromptu yet classic cat moment that I quickly snapped and made my iPhone wallpaper. This fearless cat will walk right across the countertop to the Shabbos candles, which we’ve learned to move out of her reach.
Need more proof of her Jewishness? When we give Sunshine lox, she laps it up.
Every year on Rosh Hashanah, we host a dinner for my brother-in-law and niece. Sunshine loves to jump on the dining room table while we recite prayers. She even sipped a bit of wine from the kiddush cup. After that episode, we gave her the nickname Shikur, or “tipsy” in Yiddish.
Sunshine shows symptoms of being a Jewish American Princess, which I hope is OK to say about a cat even while the term comes laced with baggage for women. Her toys and catnip treats have taken over our home. On Hanukkah this year, as we did last year, we will gift her the expensive feline filet mignon treats that look like a chocolate bar.
May this cat live 120 years in cat days. She’s a blessing every day. She teaches me about gratitude and living in the present even on my dark days. When I stare into her eyes, they are filled with hope, love and wonder.
I even created an Instagram account (@cattherapywithsunshine) that documents how Sunshine helps me cope with OCD and other mental health struggles. When I’m down, there she is at my feet or on her cat condo. All I have to do is snap a picture or pet her fur.
Alexis Zinkerman is a writer based in Connecticut. She blogs at A Mile a Minute Fresh Takes on Mental Health.