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Going Back to Shul

Now that I have more free time, because I don’t have a social work internship this semester, I’m free to return to my regular activities, including the irreverent Bible seminar at my synagogue every other Thursday night. I could even go to the open choir practices, which are supposed to be less stressful than the ones I tried five or six years ago, where I tried to learn twenty new pieces of music, in four part harmony, in a month. Or I could join a committee, of some kind. But, I’ve been feeling reluctant to step back into the flow, aware, all over again, that I don’t quite fit in.

On the first day of Rosh Hashanah, every year, we have the one event of the year where my dogs are invited into the synagogue community. The service is called Tashlich and it’s all about casting our sins into the water, by way of bread (traditionally), or bird seed, or cheerios. It’s a kid and dog friendly service, because it is held outdoors and it is short. There’s also singing, which makes it Rachel-friendly. I am not a believer in this casting-off-of-sins business, so I never join in with that part of the service. But I go, because it’s dog day. How could I skip dog day?

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“But, isn’t every day dog day?”

It was pouring rain for Tashlich this year, but I wasn’t going to skip Cricket and Ellie’s only opportunity all year to be seen and heard. We arrived before anyone else, and Ellie tried to make friends with the geese, despite the rain, dragging me through puddles, and piles of green goose poop, while the geese studiously avoided her. Someone I often see at services arrived after us, and said he was surprised that I had dogs, which seemed off to me. I thought everyone in the world knew that I had dogs; that you could see it through my skin. My dogs are my family, but I’m not sure that’s something the people in my community are able to understand, because my dogs aren’t human children. There is no synagogue school, or dog-friendly classes, or services for them on a regular basis. I can’t bring my girls to the bible seminar, or to choir practice, which means I can’t bring a big part of who I am with me.

IMG_0719

“I never knew going to services could be so much fun!”

The dogs were completely soaked by the time the rest of the small crowd arrived, but they got the chance to meet a grey-haired toy poodle who looked suspiciously like a baby lamb, and a tiny Maltese, and even a few bigger dogs. I met a woman with a husband, two little boys, and a dog, and she told me that she had to come despite the rain. I thought I’d found a kindred spirit, but she said, no, it’s not because it’s the one time of the year that dogs are allowed, but because she had so many sins she needed to get rid of. I wasn’t sure if she was joking or not.

ellie after the rain

“Mommy, did you know that rain is very, very wet?”

The next day, the junior rabbi came up to me at services, congratulating me on going to services, “rain or shine.” I explained, for what felt like the hundredth time, that I went because it was my only chance to bring my dogs to shul, but she didn’t seem to understand what I was saying. Maybe, in her eyes, I was just an obsessively religious person, I don’t know.

And then I missed Yom Kippur with vertigo, and continued to wonder if it was really worth all of the effort to keep going to shul if I was left feeling, endlessly, unknown. I went to Friday night services, two days after Yom Kippur, because the world had stopped spinning, and because I just like Friday night services. When the senior rabbi came up to me, to see how I was doing post Vertigo, he asked if there was anything he could do, and I got brave for a second and asked if Ellie could come to services on Monday morning, for Sukkot, since the services were being held in the Sukkah, and the Sukkah is, technically, outdoors. And the rabbi said yes.

I’m not sure I would have been motivated to get up early for services on that Monday morning, without the promise of Ellie being able to go to shul with me. I knew not to even think of bringing Cricket; she’s terrible with crowds, and her Attention Deficit Disorder would have made the two hour service torture for her. But Ellie was perfect. She sat quietly on my lap and let people pet her. Only one person seemed to have a problem with her being there: when I first walked into the Sukkah, holding Ellie in my arms, and sat down in the back row (of three), one woman from the back row stood up and moved up front. She didn’t say anything to me, just moved, so I don’t know if she was allergic to dogs, or just didn’t like being around them, but it made me feel uneasy. I worried that other people would have the same reaction, but as soon as they began to notice Ellie, they smiled and reached out to pet her. One woman purposely sat down next to me and fell in love with my Ellie within minutes. The junior rabbi laughed at Ellie’s funny faces from across the Sukkah, and made sure that the one little (human) girl at services had noticed the puppy dog. The senior rabbi made a point of publicly welcoming Ellie, as a hypoallergenic family member who was able to join us at services for this special occasion.

ellie in therapy

Ellie learning how to be a therapy dog, in therapy.

I’m still trying to absorb how good it felt to be allowed to have Ellie with me at shul. I don’t expect to be able to bring her to synagogue with me on a regular basis, because we are rarely outside for services or other events, but just knowing that she’s been seen, and that I’ve been seen with her, means a great deal to me.

 

About rachelmankowitz

I am a fiction writer, a writing coach, and an obsessive chronicler of my dogs' lives.

77 responses »

  1. Maybe they will have more outdoor services. Or maybe more people will bring their dogs. Or maybe they will, specifically, ask (nay–demand) that you bring Ellie. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?! Cricket, please accept my apologies….

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  2. How lovely of the rabbi to recognize the importance of bringing Ellie. He also seemed to care about the vertigo. We have a woman who brings her little dog every Sunday to Mass. I have no idea if it is a service dog or not. No one seems to care. May you find your home in your synagogue in as many ways as possible.

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  3. So sweet. She Dorang look too happy to be on the leash though 😊

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  4. What a wonderful experience for both of you! Dogs unite us I always feel, bringing people together in ways they normally wouldn’t because they open conversation among people.

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  5. Love this story, Rachel. And, I especially like that you “stepped back into the flow” by asking the flow to accommodate you – by allowing you to, “bring a big part of who you are” to shul, on appropriate occasions. Pat yourself on the back, and give Ellie a scratch behind the ear!

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  6. I think it’s great that the Rabbi agreed. As long as she’s quiet and sits on your lap I would think she might be a welcome addition. Most people do love little dogs.

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  7. What a wonderful experience. I find it especially gratifying when other people understand how comforting dogs are. I’m so glad the senior rabbi made a point of welcoming Ellie. It underlines the fact you both were very, very welcome.

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  8. What a big step for you, to go ahead and ask the rabbi if Ellie could come, and victory that he not only said yes, but introduced her! The woman who moved must have some growing to do in her life. Our young Episcopal priest brings his first ever dog, 3 legged bully mix, to the church on Sundays, and the dog gets to run the hallways between services and go to “Sunday school” to get loved and petted by everyone, children and old folks alike.

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  9. I loved this. I wish I could take my ellie places with me too. I’m happy your vertigo is better. Take care, suzanne 🌷

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  10. Delightful story! So wonderful you were allowed to bring Ellie with you.

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  11. They’re both so sweet. So glad Ellie went with you. Hugs to both of them.❤❤

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  12. Pet day, interesting. our church back in MA is having pajama day this Sunday.

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  13. They have bird seed???? I’m all in.

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  14. I’m so happy that Ellie is being so well treated and loved!

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  15. One thing is definitely right here. “Every day is dog day”. 🙂
    Best wishes, Pete.

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  16. ramblingsofaperforatedmind

    I understand your love for your canine girls!

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  17. How lovely that Ellis could be included. Ellie and cricket are your furbabies, as Maggie is ours. She goes everywhere with us, which is why we are so fortunate that so many shops and cafes accept dogs, not to mention we can take her into The Stump in Boston should we wish to light candles, the same as we could take her into the Abbey when we were on the boat.

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  18. Sorry the vertigo still plagues you, though I am pleased you told about the doggies’ day out! Of course, they are sinless, but it never hurts to show them off at synagogue. They are beautiful! And, as you note, they are your family.

    I feel the same about my two Persian kitty brothers, though they DO have sins. Of course, they’d never let me take them to church if it meant standing in the rain! Too bad. I love showing them off.

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  19. There are dog people and non-dog people; very few fall in the middle. There are god people and no – god people; many do fall in the middle as I do. I’m pretty sure that if there is a god that he, she, or it is a dog person. In my Christine “faith” all dogs more closely resemble Jesus through their acts as most people I’ve met.

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  20. I go to a meditation group and yesterday a lady brought her dog with her. The dog was as good as gold, the only sound he made was the occasional grunt of approval. He definitely added something to the meditation. Oddly enough, he looked a bit like your Ellie! I’d love to have taken Millie and Pearl, but sadly they wouldn’t have been so well-behaved.

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  21. I think I feel as out-of-step with the world as you do about this exclusion of animals from daily life – I’d feel much more comfortable generally if animals were included and welcomed everywhere. Sadly I’m not able now to have any kind of animal companion at home so I have to rely on birds in the garden and other people’s dogs in the park. I’d have made a bee-line straight for you and Ellie!

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  22. Love this piece, Rachel. I share your wishes to involve those furry members of the family, though ours have always been best appreciated in smaller settings minus other dogs. It’s a natural desire on our part to involve our “pets” with our human friends, one of the things that separates us from the non-animal people. Love that Ellie was able to be part of that sublime fall Sukkah experience. Colorful leaves and hay, wine, food, people–and a good dog!

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  23. If she is deemed an “emotional support animal,” could she come to all the services then?

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    • I don’t think so. It seems to be a very contentious issue for some reason.

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      • because too many people have abused it. And I’m not sure that there’s really any kind of certification process for and “emotional support animal,” like there is for a true service dog. (I may be wrong about that.) I used to take my Max everywhere, but I would just ask if it was okay and very few places told me no. (I never brought him in anywhere without asking first.) I hope Ellie can come with you more often, it’s so good for everyone!

  24. Seen and, from the sounds of it, mostly welcomed. Good for you and good your Rabbi allowed Ellie’s attendance. Perhaps with a few baby steps the rest of the congregation will be more open to it. Good luck!

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  25. This made my heart smile. Max used to go everywhere with me, and it opened my world up so much. Ellie may be more of a gift to you than you’ve realized.

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  26. So glad you could take her. One of my dogs (bassets) would do well and the other would spend the whole time howling.

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  27. Having part of your family with you is so important! I have no doubt it enriched your experience at Sukkah. People don’t understand that our dogs have given us more love and have stood by us better than most humans.

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  28. I have a small feeling of hope for any religious group that allows dogs for their meetings. Good for you for asking and taking Ellie!
    She is an inspiration for the indomitable spirit of family which should, in my opinion, be the foundation for all good things.

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  29. The last two churches I worked for were pretty dog friendly. Nemo “worked” in the office with me, the pastor had a Golden the size of Nemo, and a woman who trained Lab puppies to go on to the next phase of service dog training would have her Puppygartner with her every week. One day, I’m going to start a Dog Church in honor of My Nemo. Near the water so they could frolic in joy and receive communion treats, because he would have really liked that. Then you and the girls could definitely come and feel totally welcome! ❤

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  30. I think you make a really important point, about how part of you is excluded if Cricket and Ellie are not allowed. I never thought of it like that before. Well done for asking if Ellie could attend again, and how nice that it was allowed.

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  31. Feeling like you belong when you worship is important. I hope you can find ways to make your family (i.e., your dogs!) a bigger part of your religious practice, because it sounds like they help you to feel connected and to belong. I don’t think you have to have a community to be connected spiritually, but it can help, and it’s interesting that your dogs make the whole thing more powerful for you. Maybe you can suggest more dog-friendly services? Hoping your synagogue gets on board!

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  32. Dog lovers are the only people who matter. I’m sure that other woman just had allergies.

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