On Sunday May 11th, the Hebrew Congregation of Somers held its third annual Bark Mitzvah to bless and honor the animals its members hold so dear. Attended by about 30 pets and their owners, the serene setting next to Shenorock Lake mirrored the relaxed demeanor of the bipeds. But the dogs were another matter at the outset of this day set aside for them.
A lot of barking and sniping at each other, having a leg over Mother’s Day may have been a little unsettling, but a calm definitely emerged at a distinct moment of the proceedings. “It’s his presence,” said Mary Wolchan of Rabbi Fred Schwalb’s arrival.
Either way, Emily Siegel attributed the anxiety to anticipation. “They know they are going to be blessed,” she said succinctly.
As such, Olli’s rambunctious attitude toward other dogs was on display, and while he may need more guidance from a higher paw, it’s quite understandable to Emily’s son Zach. “He got bit above the eye by a German Sheppard, and now he doesn’t trust other dogs,” he said, but around people, Olli is very gentle, he added.
Lauren Dahling’s Roxie, on the other hand, may be dialed in direct to a higher authority in the way she goes about her family business. “She turns on the faucet by herself and drinks from the sink,” said Dahling.
The Dahling’s were amenable to a blessing just the same.
Mindy Kahn of Golden’s Bridge seemed a little more in need when it came to Hilda. In the last few days, she said, “Hilda ate the remote and my husband’s glasses,” joked Kahn.
That said, she hopes the blessing turns out to be a “good influence,” while believing that dogs create the community feeling God probably had in mind when he gave them to us. “They bring people together,” she asserted.
Alan Most felt the same and didn’t diminish the elevation Rabbi Schwalb bestowed upon them. “It’s an acknowledgement of the importance of dogs in our lives,” said Most.
And he believed that for even lower profile dogs than his “Mattingly.” Like his namesake at firstbase, said Most, “He’s able to catch a tennis ball at a pretty good distance.”
Bringing it back is another matter, but Mattingly’s complacency couldn’t hold back yet another mass disruption among his peers. Rabbi Schwalb stepping to the center of the lawn, yelps of anticipation preempted his delivery.
Speaking up, the commotion among the dogs died down as quickly as they rose. “People and pets, family and friends, we are grateful to God for these perfect companions you have created for us. We pray that all dogs find a safe place to live with plenty to eat. We bless those that rescue animals and care for them in animal shelters,” he said. “This is a true Mitzvah.”
The Rabbi went on to acknowledge the joy and laughter they bring into the home, while the affection we return hopefully reminds us of the unconditional love that God has for us.
Still, this celebration does not have a specific biblical reference like the St. Francis of Assisi blessing in the Catholic tradition, but the Rabbi felt there’s plenty of room for interpretation. Explaining that during Exodus, as God unleashed the Angel of Death, dogs did not bark to warn the Egyptians of their impending doom. “This allowed the Jews to escape so God loves dogs,” said the Rabbi.
The dogs seemed quite as ease with the extrapolation, but the Rabbi was at a loss as to the welcoming response from the four leggers. “No idea,” he said.
Doug Chuney of Yorktown, however, didn’t think there was such a mystery to it. “Rabbi Schwalb just has a way about him. He starts to speak and everyone is ready to listen,” said Chuney, and including dogs wasn’t really a leap.
The dogs obviously agreed and returned the blessing as they quietly exited with their families.
Rich Monetti coverage of event at the Jewish Congregation of Somers with Rabbi Fred Schwalb, Emily Siegel, Zach Siegel, Mary Wolchan, Lauren Dahling, Mindy Kahn, Alan Most Doug Chuney.