(first appeared under ‘Letter from Israel’ in the AJR Journal, January 2012)

A ginger cat scampered along the gangway in front of the stage at the special concert given in the Jerusalem Theatre by the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra last Independence Day. The young soloist who was playing Rachmaninoff’s very demanding third piano concerto didn’t seem to notice, though the audience did. One of the young lady ushers stood up as if to apprehend the offender, who of course took not the slightest bit of notice. Wisely, the young lady then sat down again, as she would only have made matters worse by trying to catch the creature.


The cat climbed the five steps at the side of the stage, and the orchestra played on. The cat then had second thoughts, scampered back the way it had come and disappeared through a hole in a side wall. The orchestra didn’t miss a beat.


This reminded me of a similar incident I had witnessed a few years earlier. We were at a concert given by the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra in Tel Aviv’s Mann Auditorium. We had bought tickets because the concert included a performance of Mahler’s 6th symphony (a rare treat), not realising that the occasion would be graced by various dignitaries, including the mayor of Tel Aviv, the speaker of the Knesset and visitors from the US Congress, including the then Speaker, Nancy Pelosi. The mayor of Tel Aviv was in the middle of addressing the audience when a tabby cat wandered in and began climbing a wooden balustrade or bannister dividing the seats at the side of the auditorium from those at the centre. I should have mentioned earlier that because of the presence of the foreign dignitaries the event was being televised.


The poor cat, frightened out of its wits, started to ascend the banister, passing right by where we were sitting. Everyone turned to look, and a titter went around the auditorium. When an intrepid member of the audience tried to stop its progress the animal turned tail, scurried back down the wooden railing and dashed out of the side door to the street.


The Mann Auditorium, which was inaugurated in 1957, was considered at the time to be an architectural gem and one of the most sophisticated cultural facilities in the world. The hall, which was built primarily as a home for the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, is notable for its size and good acoustics. Since its establishment many top musicians have played there, as have many renowned orchestras from all over the world. It is currently undergoing extensive renovation, but that’s another story.


Its internal structure is somewhat strange, however. One can enter from the side, between the box office and the artists’ entrance, where there is virtually nothing separating the street from the auditorium. Tel Aviv, like many of Israel’s cities, abounds in stray cats, which are useful for keeping down vermin. Hence the proximity of the street to the auditorium appears to allow for the possibility that uninvited guests might find their way in. There are, of course, attendants at the doors who check tickets, but a cat (and, I imagine, even a stray mouse) could easily sneak in unnoticed.


And that, it seems, is what happened at the gala concert. We were amused by the incident, and relieved that it had occurred ‘only’ during the speeches and not while the music was being played. The cat (and we) gained international renown and we had our fifteen seconds of fame when the international news services picked up the footage from Israel television and we found ourselves featuring alongside the cat on CNN, Sky, and the BBC news services. At last, some positive news coverage of Israel!