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Leapin’ Lizards

Malky Lowinger

With a playful python around his neck and a smiling iguana in his hand, Shlomo Horowitz is in reptile heaven

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

 Mishpacha image

Shlomo roams around the Jerusalem Forest, searching for critters large and small. “I watch them, study them, and collect them,” he says. “I’m fascinated by their behavior, in how they act. I see niflaos haBorei in everything they do” (Photos: Lior Mizrachi, Eli Cobin)

Meet Shlomo Horowitz. Born in Boston, his family made aliyah when he was just a toddler, and he grew up in Jerusalem. He seemed like a typical youngster until one day, when he was about four years old, he approached his mom holding a roach.

“Look, Mommy!” he said. “I caught a butterfly!”

We don’t know how his mother felt about that particular incident, but one thing’s for sure. Shlomo says it was a watershed moment in his life — his very first memory of being a passionate lover of all living creatures.

Since then Shlomo has been roaming around the Jerusalem Forest, searching for critters large and small. “I watch them, study them, and collect them,” he says. “I’m fascinated by their behavior, in how they act. I see niflaos haBorei in everything they do.”

That fascination grew over time. As a young adult, Shlomo studied under famed Israeli zoologist Pinchas Amital. Then he worked for two years as director of youth education at the Biblical Museum of Natural History in Beit Shemesh.

But mostly he spent hours in the forests and the deserts of Eretz Yisrael, watching animals in their natural habitat and observing their behavior.

Shlomo is eager to share his passion with others. So he constructed his own little animal sanctuary deep in eastern Gush Etzion. He calls it “Chayot Shel Shlomo,” and spends his time there caring for over 70 species of animals and offering tours.

This is where Mishpacha photographer Lior and I are headed one sunny morning.

We arrive at what can best be described as a dusty outpost so quiet and isolated that there isn’t even a guard at the front gate. We have to call Shlomo to buzz us in via his cell phone.

There’s a certain charm to Shlomo’s little animal haven here in the middle of nowhere. He’s decorated it with miniature palm trees, a small pond, and a central seating area. There are lots of glass cages, and you get the sense that you are being watched by mysterious eyes from within.

But if I was hoping to see a bright-eyed baby deer, a little lamb, or maybe even Elsie the Cow, I discover that Shlomo has other ideas. His passion runs towards the exotic. As in reptiles. And his little zoo is filled with snakes, lizards, scorpions and yes, roaches.

“I built this place myself,” he tells us with pride. Clearly, it was a labor of love.

Say Hello to My Snakes

Shlomo and his family live in a small settlement called Nokdim, near Tekoa. His pinat chai is just across the road. His wife, Michal, it seems, doesn’t share his passion for exotic creatures. In fact, she’s terrified of snakes and other creepy-crawly things.

He hosts animal shows, birthday parties, and chugim — all of which are very much in demand.

But she’s certainly a good sport. Once, when they were dating, Shlomo left the car to buy a cold drink. When he returned, he found Michal standing outside the car, looking distraught. Apparently one of his snakes had gotten loose inside the car and decided to make an appearance.

“Umm,” he said, “so I forgot to tell you…”

It wasn’t one of her best dates, to be sure. But she recognized other qualities in Shlomo and decided to marry him anyway. “We made an agreement,” Shlomo explains. “No animals in our home. That’s why I opened up this place.”

“This place” is just one of Shlomo’s animal-based projects. He’s also managed to turn his hobby into a lucrative career of sorts. He hosts animal shows, birthday parties, and chugim — all of which are very much in demand. So much so that the Jerusalem Municipality has hired him to teach about 50 to 60 animal classes in the schools each month. He also performs at senior citizen centers. “I start my day at 7:00 a.m., loading my car with the animals. And I’m often on the road for 14 hours.” (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 693)

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