By Benjamin Urrutia on
Although there is much controversy about (and in)
Israel as a political entity, in one area there is widespread agreement that
Israel is a leader, namely in the stands it has taken regarding animals,
from whales to geese. In keeping with this admirable tradition, it is
appropriate that a particularly valiant defender and rescuer of animals is
an Israeli, Avi Kuzi. Now in his early forties, he has spent the last
fifteen years working as a full-time rescuer of animals. The fee he charges
is 700 new shekels - close to $165, a ridiculously small amount for risking
life and limb by, for example, "rappelling down a ten-story elevator shaft
to extract a stuck cat."
Avi has been bitten, clawed and kicked many times by the frightened
victims he saves, but such experiences have not persuaded him to change his
vocation or raise his fees. He has saved thousands of his furry and
feathered siblings. Perhaps the most sensational of his exploits was the
rescue of a starving and dehydrated camel who was wandering in a desert
border zone. This unhappy being was endangered not only by nature, pitiless
here, but by past human violence, because the area was planted with land
mines. Despite the danger of a deadly explosion and the amount of harm a
disturbed camel can inflict, Avi brought the big beast to safety.
Yet perhaps more impressive is his everyday devotion to unwanted animals. As of April 2009 he was living in a "perfectly neat, spotless and odorless" North Tel Aviv apartment, with its windows wide open, in the company of seven cats, four dogs - and zero humans.One of the dogs was scarred by acid in the face. Another one is blind. A third was born without front legs. One of the cats has the same handicap. Three cats are blind. One cat's balance is off. Another lost a leg in an accident. All eleven know they are loved and well-protected by Avi. Like Leonardo Da Vinci, (See PT Issue 23) Avi Kuzi buys caged birds just to set them free.
Though Israel has been the home of such vegetarian teachers as the saintly rabbi/theologian Avraham Kook (see PT Issue 20) and others, Avi is a pioneer who derived his principles from direct spiritual experience rather than from study. When he was still very young, he had a deeply meaningful dream in which he saw a pleasant green valley full of animals, who suddenly became at first white as milk, then red as blood. He interpreted this to mean that milk when consumed by humans is nothing but "white blood," and he became a strict vegan. He carries this conviction to the point of refusing to eat in any restaurant, or to attend any party, that serves dead animals or product stolen from animals. Leather he also rejects; the hiking boots he wears are made of synthetics.
His admirers proclaim him a saint - a rough-and-tumble Francis of Assisi - or a prophet. But an aspect of his activities that many people may object to is diving armed with a knife to cut open fishing nets and set the captive creatures free. Is such an attack on property an act of vandalism, or even violence? Or is it rather the moral equivalent of disabling traps intended to inflict agonizing deaths on foxes and beavers? The difference will probably depend on current public perception. Fishing is still widely seen as an acceptable means of procuring food, whereas trapping fur-bearing animals is increasingly considered heartless pandering to a taste for luxury items. But Avi, of course, is taking the viewpoint of the fish. On another level, he is simultaneously helping to curb the threat posed by (over-) fishing to our planet's health. One immediate advantage--Avi does not need to look for homes for the rescued fish!
(The fish issue makes me wonder: Did Jesus chose at least four of his twelve apostles from the ranks of fishermen because he wanted to get them away from their nets and from the business of killing fish? I am inclined to think that may have been part of his motivation, though there are of course stories, of varying levels of historic probability, of Jesus encouraging fishing as well.)
I am not calling upon anyone to grab a knife and start slashing fishing nets, but we would all do well to imitate Avi Kuzi in his thoroughgoing commitment to a peaceable table, and to putting his unconditional compassion for all animals into action.