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Cricket’s Bat Mitzvah

            Cricket will turn thirteen later this summer, and I have been wondering how best to mark this monumental birthday. For humans of the Jewish persuasion, thirteen means it’s time for a Bar or Bat Mitzvah, to mark the onset of adolescence (Orthodox Jewish girls may have a Bat Mitzvah at age twelve instead). But, what about for a Jewish dog?

Cricket at (almost) thirteen

To be honest, thirteen seems too young for a transition into adulthood, at least for humans. A hundred years ago, kids might have left school at thirteen and gone out to work, but now that’s not even legal, and certainly not practical. But we’ve kept the Bar and Bat Mitzvah celebrations at the onset of puberty, or thereabouts, because…tradition. And because it would be impossible to convince kids to stay in Hebrew school for even more years before they can have their big party.

But dogs, even Jewish dogs, are a different story. If anything, the age of thirteen would mark old age, rather than the first steps into adulthood. And a lot of dogs don’t make it to thirteen, especially the larger breeds. I don’t understand how a religion that has rituals for almost everything, has missed the opportunity to designate lifecycle events for our pets, so I’m stuck with this somewhat inappropriate and misleading event that has come to be called, at least on social media, the Bark Mitzvah.

“Is that a celebration of barking?!”

            When we first brought Cricket home, twelve and three-quarter years ago, I looked up Cockapoos on an aging chart and it said she could live eighteen to twenty years. Dina, my Labrador mix, had lived a miraculous sixteen years, twice as long as the Doberman who had preceded her. But twenty? That’s more like a cat!

“Hey! I’m not a cat!”

At almost thirteen, Cricket is showing signs of aging, with a little cloudiness in her eyes and a habit of hearing things that aren’t there, and a tiny bit of slowing down (though not much). But she has amassed an enormous amount of knowledge in her thirteen years, and many useful skills: she can beg, and guilt, and manipulate; she can bully and wheedle and whine; she can love and cuddle and sniff like a scientist; she could have been a gardener or an archeologist or a detective very easily, if we lived in a world that allowed dogs to go to school, and she has always been the de-facto Sherriff at our home. She has also been a surprisingly effective big sister, to Butterfly, and now to Ellie, who both needed mentoring in how to be dogs after growing up under less than ideal conditions as breeding mamas. Cricket has even learned how to offer comfort, rather than just to receive it, and can, on very rare occasions, even share food with her loved ones (though she would rather not).

“Cricket never shares food. Never.”

            There’s no escaping that thirteen is old age for a dog, but maybe that’s what we could celebrate with Cricket’s Bat Mitzvah. She has accomplished an enormous amount and now she is graduating into the last third of her life; finally becoming the wise old crone she has always wanted to be.

“I am very wise, it’s true.”

I don’t think Cricket is prepared for the rigors of a traditional Bat Mitzvah, though. She understands quite a few words in Hebrew, but she has trouble with articulation, and her sense of melody is iffy (though she is, at this very moment, singing the song of her people. I think I can make out the words “chicken” and “I want”). And, really, no one with any sense would ever let Cricket into the sanctuary or anywhere near a Sefer Torah (the holy scroll, kept in the sanctuary, that Bar and Bat Mitzvah kids dread having to read from at their services). But that actually works out well this year, since all of the Bar and Bat Mitzvah services at my synagogue are being streamed, while we can’t attend in person. Maybe Cricket’s Bat Mitzvah could be in our backyard, with the support of the big Paw Paw tree (also turning thirteen this year, coincidentally). They could have a service of their own, to mark their individual, and complex, journeys to their current stages of life. A very short service.

“Grandma, how did Mister Paw Paw get so much taller than me? Rude.”

            The fact is, Cricket could care less about having a Bat Mitzvah to celebrate her accomplishments, and her quirks, or to set a hopeful tone as she marches into her senior years. She just wants the food. So I will have to stock up on chicken treats and liver and all of the other good stuff she loves to eat. In moderation, of course, because I want her senior years to last a very long time.

“Did you say food?”

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

            Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

The Adult Bar and Bat Mitzvahs

 

My synagogue, periodically, runs an adult Bar and Bat Mitzvah class. Mostly women take the class, because it is mostly women who missed out on the chance to have their own Bat Mitzvah back when they were 12 or 13. The current class has about 13 people in it, ranging in age from early forties to early eighties. There’s one man and the rest are women.

The one man in the Bar and Bat Mitzvah class is a non-Jew. He and his Jewish wife have a son in the Hebrew school and are very involved in the synagogue, and he started the classes as an opportunity to better understand the religion his wife loved and his son was learning in school. He took Hebrew language classes, and learned the prayers and history and philosophy, and gradually, through his own process, he decided that this was his community, that he would convert and become a Jew. But the fact is, he could have decided otherwise, and that would have been okay too, with the rabbis, with his wife and son, and with the community at large (for the most part).

The work he put into this, not knowing for sure how it would turn out, is what I respect so much, rather than the outcome. There’s something about having two years set aside, with teachers and fellow students and a set goal that everyone values, that I really want for myself. Graduate school was sort of like that, but more expensive. I’d love to have a two year program to learn how to deal with Cricket, with a group of peers going through all of the same difficulties. There’s a cocoon-like feeling to it, this group of people struggling towards the same goals and overcoming difficulties together, in a non-competitive environment. It’s the non-competitive-ness that appeals to me most, the idea that everyone is supposed to succeed, not just the cream of the crop. They don’t come out of this program with a degree, but I think it must be life changing, like my Bat Mitzvah was for me.

"My turn!"

“My turn!”

"I am so well trained!"

“I am so well trained!”

 

I loved my Bat Mitzvah. The ceremony itself, anyway. I didn’t love my party, or having my grandmother stay over in my room so that I had to sleep on the floor. I didn’t love my father spending months trying to convince me not to have a Bat Mitzvah at all, and the rabbis at my school complaining about the music and dancing planned for the after party on Saturday night. But I loved leading a whole Saturday morning service from beginning to end. I loved reading the Torah and chanting the Haftorah. I loved having my own congregation for a couple of hours.

My current congregation.

My current congregation.

There are four separate Adult Bar and Bat Mitzvah services being done, once a month throughout the winter, with three or four students running each, with the three clergy members there to preside and help. And their families come: grandchildren fly in from across the country; ninety-year-old mothers come from nursing homes to finally see their daughters Bat Mitzvahed; children and siblings and cousins and friends are all invited. And the rest of the Adult Bar and Bat Mitzvah students come to show their support, along with a few of us from the rest of the congregation, though not many. I went to the first of the four services, because one of the women asked specifically, and it was beautiful.

I didn’t grow up in a Reconstructionist synagogue. I didn’t even know what Reconstructionism might be. It sounded like a lot of work – like maybe we’d be building and tearing down houses every week. I’ve only been to this one Reconstructionist synagogue, so I can’t be sure if it is representative of the whole movement, but what I do know is that it is about being open minded, but rigorous. If you are going to adopt a ritual, or get rid of one, you should do your research, understand the history, understand your own reasons for your decision, and take the community into account before you proceed.

The only thing wrong with the synagogue is the prejudice against dog participation. There are no Bark-Mitzvahs, no dog-naming ceremonies, no doggy choir for the high holidays. Clearly, this is the next necessary level of innovation for the Reconstructionist movement. I’d bet more people would come to the Adult Bar and Bat Mitzvah services if dogs were invited to participate. I’m just saying, it’s something for the membership committee to think about.

Butterfly wants this outfit in pink.

Butterfly would look great in this outfit, in pink.

"Um, I'm not so sure about that, Mommy."

“Um, I’m not so sure about that, Mommy.”