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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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….
That would be awesome! Though Cricket might not agree.
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.
If Ellie were just a little bit smaller maybe I could sneak her in. She’d love it!
And so would you.
So sweet. She Dorang look too happy to be on the leash though 😊
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.
It was absolutely wonderful! Thank you!
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!
I, too, can feel like I don’t fit in at church. Congratulations on bringing more of yourself to Shul and letting people see who you are.
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.
I would love to be able to bring her again!
I can’t imagine that it would hurt anything to ask. The worst that could happen is he says no. The best is that he says she’s always invited. 🙂
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.
It really felt wonderful!
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.
Ellie would love to run through the classrooms and meet everyone! I love your priest!
So do we!
I loved this. I wish I could take my ellie places with me too. I’m happy your vertigo is better. Take care, suzanne 🌷
Thank you! Cricket and Ellie would really like to go to the supermarket, but I don’t think dream is going to come true for us.
Delightful story! So wonderful you were allowed to bring Ellie with you.
They’re both so sweet. So glad Ellie went with you. Hugs to both of them.❤❤
Pet day, interesting. our church back in MA is having pajama day this Sunday.
I’d be a little worried about pajama day.
They have bird seed???? I’m all in.
The local birds seem to like it too!
I’m so happy that Ellie is being so well treated and loved!
One thing is definitely right here. “Every day is dog day”. 🙂
Best wishes, Pete.
Cricket agrees wholeheartedly!
I understand your love for your canine girls!
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.
Ellie is thinking about all of the places she wants to go next!
Bless her. How does Cricket feel though? 🙂
Cricket just wants to be with her Grandma. She’s a grandma girl.
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.
Cricket might argue with you about her sinlessness. She’s proud of her rebellious nature.
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.
Miss Ellie is planning to teach as many people as possible how to be dog people.
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.
Ellie can meditate on chicken for hours at a time!
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!
Animals just make everything better!
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!
Ellie’s wondering how she can get herself invited to one of the Friday night dinners at the synagogue. Chicken!!!!!
If she is deemed an “emotional support animal,” could she come to all the services then?
I don’t think so. It seems to be a very contentious issue for some reason.
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!
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!
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.
She’s so much more than I expected already!
It’s amazing how dogs can open up your world – I wouldn’t
have met some of the best people I’ve ever known if it hadn’t been for Max. I pray that Ellie can help you the same way he helped me.
So glad you could take her. One of my dogs (bassets) would do well and the other would spend the whole time howling.
The howling could be considered harmony. Maybe.
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.
It was an incredible feeling!
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.
I tend to think that large religious groups are hard to trust, but individual religious people can be wonderful.
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! ❤
That sounds awesome!
Hi There!!! 🙂
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.
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!
Lucky Ellie 🙂
Dog lovers are the only people who matter. I’m sure that other woman just had allergies.
Have you thought of having a weekly dog walking group for church members? I don’t know how feasible this would be. In Scotland there are lots of dog walking areas but if you are quite urban this would be more difficult. The Rabbi may be happy to let you post your plans on a notice board.
Interesting idea! Thank you!
Lovely to take your dog or dogs with you. I’m sure most people would be welcoming.
There is a saying about not worrying about fitting in because you will turn out ordinary. And you, my dear, are extraordinary! You are a gifted writer, a woman with a loving heart, full of compassion for others, and the ability to bare your soul to strangers. That takes courage and bravery. Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind. They love you, quirks and all!
Thank you so much!