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 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 had gathered at their home for the simcha.
Bark Mitzvahs aren’t a new concept. The first recorded Bark Mitzvah took place in Beverly Hills, California in 1958. More than 100 guests came to the Bark Mitzvah of a cocker spaniel named Windy, who belonged to a former mayor and his wife, according to JTA.
“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 that it was just a really fun way to celebrate purely tradition with friends and family and incorporating nontraditional family members in that.”
For the Fingermans, the Bark Mitzvah was a way to celebrate their housewarming, welcome their new dog into their family and raise money for MatchDog Rescue, the shelter from which they had adopted Sade. It was also a way 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 Fingerman 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. (They named her after the singer — pronounced Sha-day — whose music they danced to at their wedding.) The vet told them 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, and Matt Fingerman 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.
Their 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.”
Several years before, Judy Horowitz held a Bark Mitzvah celebration for her grandson’s cavachon, Lizzie.
It was her grandson’s idea, Horowitz said. The grandson, Sam Horowitz, lives in North Carolina with his parents and attends Jordan Lake School of the Arts, a school geared for students with special needs. After having his own Bar Mitzvah in May of 2015, he wanted to have one for Lizzie, too.
Sam Horowitz 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. “The way he was thinking about it was that we had had Lizzie as a puppy for a while and felt very strongly that she was a Jewish dog and that she should have a Bark Mitzvah.”
Sam wanted all the family — and the family pets — to attend.
“He wanted Lizzie to have the same kind of experience that he had,” Dan Horowitz 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 Horowitz’s bar mitzvah, around Thanksgiving of 2016, the family gathered at Dan Horowitz’s aunt’s house, where her dogs could attend as well.
Lizzie wore a kippah and a scarf instead of a tallit around her shoulders, Sam led a few blessings, and Judy Horowitz shared a few words and created a program for the Bark Mitzvah.
“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 Horowitz said, a chance for the relatives to come together. Most importantly, she said, Sam was happy with how it turned out.
Back in North Carolina, he even put on another Bark Mitzvah for someone else’s dog.
“It was meaningful for my son,” Dan Horowitz said. “That’s why everybody was excited about it.”
“I don’t think it was super meaningful to the dog,” he added.
Selah Maya Zighelboim writes for the Jewish Exponent, an affiliated publication of the Baltimore Jewish Times.