The invitations were sent. The table was set with “beagles” and lox. The cake, frosted with words that read “Muzzle Tov Sade,” was ready for feasting.
It was Sade’s bark mitzvah.
Matthew and Mindy Fingerman, a young couple living in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, decided to throw a bark mitzvah for their dog, Sade, a 2-year-old terrier mix, in January. About 25 of their friends and family gathered at their home for the simcha.
Bark mitzvahs aren’t new. The first recorded bark mitzvah took place in Beverly Hills (of course) in 1958 for a cocker spaniel named Windy. The celebration has been duplicated numerous times over the past six decades.
“When it started for us, it was just going to be a get-together under disguise,” Matthew Fingerman said. “We had so much fun creating activities for the kids and incorporating different foods and different puns.”
For the Fingermans, the bark mitzvah was also a way to raise money for MatchDog Rescue, the shelter from which they had adopted Sade, and to share their pride in some staples of Jewish culture with their friends, many of whom aren’t Jewish.
“My wife and I are pretty involved in the Jewish community here,” Matthew said. “We wanted to do something fun and lighthearted and also that would just give back and also incorporate [Sade] in the middle of our Jewish community.”
The couple had recently adopted the dog and were told she was about 2 years old, which the couple figured put her right around bark mitzvah age in dog years.
“We had a little bit of a creative license in all of that,” Matt Fingerman joked.
For the celebration, the Fingermans sent out elegant invitations they created through Vistaprint, and Matthew set up a Spotify playlist filled with b’nai mitzvah favorites, including Israeli pop music and Fiddler on the Roof. They also created a quiz where people could test how well they knew Sade, with questions about her fears (the dark), her favorite toy (a stuffed turkey) and where she is from (Texas).
Then, at the end of it all, their guests could take home a party favor — a small bag filled with dog-themed cookies.
The guests loved it, Matt Fingerman said.
“It’s hilarious,” he said. “We’re in a house filled with Judaica from my family and [Mindy’s] family, and they know how much we take Judaism seriously in our home and how important it is.”
A few years ago, Judy Horowitz held a bark mitzvah for her grandson’s cavachon, Lizzie.
It was her grandson’s idea, Judy said. The grandson, Sam, lives in North Carolina and attends Jordan Lake School of the Arts, a school for students with special needs. After having his own bar mitzvah in May 2015, he wanted to have one for Lizzie, too.
Sam is on the autism spectrum, and attended Sunday school for years through Matan, which helps Jewish communities make accommodations for children with special needs.
“It was very meaningful for him, that he went through all of that and became a bar mitzvah and became a man,” said Dan Horowitz, Sam’s father. “Sam felt very strongly that Lizzie was a Jewish dog and that she should have a bark mitzvah.”
The family had never heard of a bark mitzvah before. They thought Sam made it up.
“He wanted Lizzie to have the same kind of experience that he had,” Dan said. “Religion can sometimes be an abstract concept for a typical kid, but for someone on the autism spectrum, it’s a lot to work through. Going to Sunday school for all those years helped him, but he was exploring, ‘If I’m Jewish, who else is Jewish?’”
A year after Sam’s bar mitzvah, the family gathered at Dan’s aunt’s house, where her dogs could attend as well. Lizzie wore a kippah and an Eagles scarf instead of a tallit around her shoulders, Sam led a few blessings, and Judy shared a few words from the program.
“Lizzie, may you be blessed in the name of God who created you and may you and Sam and Teresa enjoy your wonderful life together,” the program read. “Take care of each other. Amen.”
It was a happy, familiar affair, Judy said. Sam was was so pleased with how it turned out, he put on another bark mitzvah for someone else’s dog.
“It was meaningful for my son,” Dan said. “That’s why everybody was excited about it. I don’t think it was super meaningful to the dog.” JN
This article was originally published in the Jewish Exponent, a Jewish News-affiliated publication.