Interview With a Vegetarian Who Attended a Jewish Blessing of the Animals Ceremony
Eileen Schwalb is a vegetarian and a lifelong animal lover. This past Passover, she and her dog, Max, attended a blessing of the animals ceremony led by Rabbi Robin Nafshi in New Jersey.
What kind of dog is Max, how old is he, and how long have you had him?
Max is a five-year-old Dachshund. He has enriched my life for five years.
Why did you take Max to the blessing of the animals ceremony?
I am a vegetarian. I have read everything I could find about Judaism and animals. Judaism stresses compassion to all animals. This brought my studies alive. Rabbi Robin Nafshi previously provided me with books and blessings for animals. The event was an opportunity to combine my love of animals with my love of Judaism. Max is a blessing in my life.
How would you describe the ceremony and what happened there?
The ceremony allowed Max and I to share Judaism with other pets and their owners. I brought home blessings that Max and I recite today. On the High Holidays, many members of my temple bring their dogs to the tashlich service at Duke Island Park in Bridgewater, but the animal blessing was specifically for animals. There's a strong dog community where I live, but now Max and I had a Jewish dog community.
What did you get out of the experience? What did Max get out of it?
It was powerful to include Max in my Jewish life. He's part of my Jewish life at home. I continue to use the blessings I learned. It was a chance for me to connect with other animal lovers. I wasn't alone in Judaism. Sometimes I feel like an outsider because I am single and without children. Max loves other dogs and people. He is very much part of my Jewish life at home. Max responds to the name Rabbi Kerry Olitzky. When I say that name, he knows to get in our special spot for quiet reading of meditations.
Was this your (and Max's) first blessing of the animals ceremony? Had you ever considered going to another (Jewish or otherwise) blessing of the animals ceremony before?
This was Max and my first blessing of the animals ceremony and I would love to attend another. A church around the corner from me has a blessing of the animals, but I would not attend a non-Jewish ceremony. Max and I attend many dog-friendly events, but it was incredible to attend a Jewish ceremony. I felt more connected to my Judaism.
Is there anything else you'd like to add?
My mom's 2nd yahrzeit was the week of the ceremony. My mom died during Passover, so the holiday is painful. My mom loved animals. Despite brain damage from a stroke, one of the things my mom remembered to the end was the Welsh Corgi named Foxy I had growing up. Petting the rabbi's two corgis was healing for me. Max had a special relationship with my mom and at the end they were always together.