Imagine a typical “Jewish American Princess” finding herself, inadvertently and to her own astonishment, a “pioneer” in Israel. From a comfortable upper middle class metropolitan life, she is transplanted to living in a modern day wilderness, without electricity or telephone, trying to make a living working with dogs, horses, and other animals (not a particularly respected or profitable profession in this part of the world), and to cope with the very foreign Middle-Eastern mentality. That girl was me, and I (apparently a masochist through and through) am still in Israel, after years of struggle, smiles, tears, and adventures, telling the story of my attempts to survive life in Israel under conditions totally different from any I had experienced before or from anything I might have expected. The only things that enabled me to survive were an invincible stubbornness and a sense of humor.
The book begins with an introduction to Shaar Hagai, an overgrown and long abandoned group of buildings dating from the British mandate, perched on a hillside over the main road between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. The next few chapters explore what brought me to this point in my life – family background and an unexplainable attraction to animals and odd lifestyles.
Moving to Israel is just the start of a series of adventures. Coping with a strange and totally different mentality as I try to support myself doing the things I love – but which are not so acceptable in Israel, especially when done by a woman – result in some very strange and funny experiences. There are many animals sharing my life – first and foremost are the many and varied dogs, but there are also raccoons, cats, gazelles, geese, goats, sheep, horses, and Baba the striped hyena. And of course, the varied people that are part of this world – “sabras”, abrasive and hard to understand for an American born and bred, Arabs from the nearby village, other immigrants from varied countries – all a challenge. Marriage and raising a family Israeli pioneering style is part of life at Shaar Hagai, as well as having to cope with various disasters ranging in seriousness from a badly leaking roof to a major forest fire.
There are also adventures outside of Israel – three years spent in the heart of Africa as the unconventional wife of a career diplomat, and some rather unorthodox trips to Europe and other more exotic destinations, accompanied by a pack of dogs and non-conformist friends.
Life at Shaar Hagai has never been easy – but it has certainly never been boring! I found, over the years, that the only way to survive and stay reasonably sane was not to take myself too seriously. Tails of Shaar Hagai is a humorous look back at my life – a life very different from what is experienced by most.
Actually, I wrote this book for myself. I wanted to preserve all the adventures I have had over the years, and thought that writing them down would be the best way. Then I could pass the stories on to my grandchildren. Once I started writing and re-reading what I had written, and letting friends read parts of it, I realized that it actually was pretty good and quite funny, and that maybe I could become the James Herriot of Israel. Who knows?
Myrna Shiboleth is an animal behaviorist, world champion dog breeder and international dog show judge, and is acknowledged as the world authority on Canaan Dogs, one of the few remaining breeds of feral dogs in the world. After growing up in the U.S. and receiving a degree from Northwestern University in art, she made a radical change in her life by emigrating to Israel. She has worked at a variety of animal related occupations over the years, including stable manager and riding instructor, kennel manager and dog trainer, advisor on dog behavior to the Israel Defense Department, keeper and animal trainer at the Safari Park, and more. Her previous book, The Israel Canaan Dog, has been published in two editions. She lives and breeds Canaan Dogs and collies at Shaar Hagai Farm in Israel, lectures and instructs in Israel and abroad on a wide variety of dog related subjects, writes for professional publications in Israel and abroad, and continues to enjoy new adventures with her dogs.