As a female Jew who sees her dogs as her children, why not make a bark mitzvah?

By Diane Herbst
Updated January 06, 2009 03:56 PM

The ceremony was brief: a blessing over egg challah and grape juice “wine,” a speech about my gratitude for my youngest’s presence in my life and all that he’s brought, and a swim in the frigid fresh-water creek. The bark mitzvah of two-year-old Smokey – or about 13 in doggie years, the bar and bat mitzvah age of Jewish boys and girls – continued with a modest reception at his home in New Jersey, with three other dogs and a dozen humans who ate a cake that had “Muzzle Tov Smokey” written across its white frosting by a bakery worker who said “Hey, I like all cultures” when I apologized for my odd request. (check out Smokey’s bark mitzvah video).

As a female Jew who sees her dogs as her children, why not make a bark mitzvah? As I’ve found out, I’m not alone in my insanity. (See Bumpy Schneider’s Bark Mitzvah). For about 25 years, congregants of Temple Shir Shalom in Santa Monica, California schlep to the synagogue parking lot with their dogs for a group bark mitzvah led by Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels. “We first did it as a lark, but at the same time it was very serious,” says Comess-Daniels. “People wanted to celebrate their dogs in their lives.” Yarmulkes with chin straps, photos snapped by a bark mitzvah photographer, and bark mitzvah certificates are standard fare. Comess-Daniels, himself the proud papa of a bark mitzvah’d Australian shepherd, blesses the dogs and sings an adaptation from Fiddler on the Roof that includes the words: “May God protect and defend you, may He always shield you from fleas.”

A bark mitzvah – for me a great excuse for a party, despite a few relatives decrying it as sacrilege – can cost as little or as much as you wish. (Check out the $10,000 bark mitzvah of Elvis). The first bark mitzvah I threw was in 2004 for my oldest, Rudi, a golden retriever. A modest affair, I ordered doggie yarmulkes and a tallis (Jewish prayer shawl) from and a beautiful $70 doggie/human carrot cake with sugar-free cream cheese frosting from Canine Ranch and Doggie Spa in Manhattan. At Party City I found a red dog-shaped pinata which I filled with treats and bobbed from a broom handle as Rudi and her puppy pals tore it open and gorged themselves.

Comess-Daniels, who plays guitar as he sings to his bark mitzvah boys and girls, sees nothing sacrilegious about this twist on tradition. “To take a moment to celebrate the animals in our lives that bring so much to us, it’s something that absolutely should be celebrated,” he says, “and to recognize what an important part of our families they are.”

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