Nesting instinct

Nesting instinct

What would you call two inept pigeons who insist on building a poorly constructed nest on your front doormat — inside an apartment house hallway?

Naturally, we named them In and Ept.

These two hapless birds discovered that they could easily fly into the hallway via the slatted window in the stairwell. Then they’d come to roost on top of the circuit-breaker cabinet.

All winter, we heard their coos during the daylight hours, deafeningly magnified by the hallway’s echo chamber. Then they suddenly began depositing twigs on our doormat. It dawned on us that In and Ept were attempting to build a nest.

These particular pigeons didn’t appear to be experienced engineers. But what they lacked in skill they made up for in determination. When the nest finally started taking shape, it became harder to get in and out of our apartment.

I e-mailed my nephew, an ornithology student, to ask his advice. "Destroy it," he wrote back. "I know it seems cruel, but maybe that will give them the hint that they shouldn’t be building an indoor nest in the first place."

Maybe so, yet we didn’t have the heart to ruin their shoddy handiwork. I bought another doormat, and carefully slid the old one — half-nest intact — to the side, a little closer to the circuit cupboard. And guess what? In and Ept just as carefully moved each little twig to the new mat, smack in front of our door.

What finally ended this little domestic building project was the teenager downstairs. It’s his job to mop the hallways every Friday afternoon. I guess for a few weeks he was mopping around the mat, but one week (perhaps it was pre-Passover cleaning frenzy) he shook the mat’s contents out the slatted window and draped the mat over the stair rail. Even though we replaced the mat in its usual spot as soon as we discovered what had happened, In and Ept took their cooing and their twigs elsewhere.

I write this on the Fast of the 17th of Tammuz (July ‘0), a day on which we are to reflect on the calamitous events that led to the destruction of our two Holy Temples about 556 years apart — and simultaneously to exile and enormous suffering — and I realize that In and Ept aptly symbolize our struggle in modern-day Israel.

It doesn’t seem sane to the rest of the world when Jews doggedly build homes in the inhospitable places of our promised land, in its sandy valleys and rocky hilltops. It seems futile to pour heart and soul into dwelling places that could (heaven forbid) be reduced to rubble by enemy bombs or by the hand of our own government.

Just three years have passed since the destruction of the Jewish communities of Gush Katif and northern Samaria. In the ensuing years, brave and determined young Israelis have tried time and again to establish new homes, nothing more than tents or metal caravans, in areas where our forefathers walked but our leaders fear to tread. Like the pigeons in our hallway, the idealistic builders appear in the eyes of most outsiders as misguided, deluded, and doomed to failure.

It would surely be easier to give up on this venture and go build our nests in a politically correct tree. More than a few people have asked us: Don’t you worry about sinking your savings into a house that sits precariously between Jerusalem and Jericho? Don’t you lose sleep over the possibility that you could be forced to leave? Don’t you fear that you may one day have to shut yourselves behind the steel door of the fortified room appended to every new Israeli residence?

And we smile and shake our heads "no." We know our true home is here, just as In and Ept instinctively felt certain that theirs belonged on our doormat. I have a feeling the birds will return this winter to start all over again, twig by twig.

Abigail Klein Leichman is an Israeli-based correspondent for this newspaper.