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Dog's funeral inspires annual service for blessing pets

Rabbi Mark B. Greenspan greets Antonia, an almost

Rabbi Mark B. Greenspan greets Antonia, an almost 80-year-old tortoise that was brought to the annual blessing of the pets at the Oceanside Jewish Center. (Oct. 07, 2012) Credit: Amanda Douville

Laura Koss-Feder sat with her family and their dog Chester, a 7-year-old Shetland sheepdog, as they recited a prayer of thanks. The Oceanside family wasn’t praying for themselves, this time it was for Chester.

More than a dozen dogs, a few stuffed animals and a tortoise were brought to the Oceanside Jewish Center on Sunday for the third annual service for the blessing of the pets. Every year during Sukkot, the weeklong Jewish biblical holiday of thanks, Rabbi Mark B. Greenspan organizes the annual pet blessing.

“Animals are a huge part of our lives,” said Greenspan, 59, of Oceanside. “I began to rethink the question, how do we celebrate the fact that animals are just as important as members of our families?”

During the service, Greenspan recited prayers as the crowd sang and followed along. Each animal, or stuffed animal, was then given a Hebrew name and a certificate. Toward the end of the service, even Antonia, the almost 80-years-old tortoise, made an appearance.

Normally, the pet blessing service occurs in the sukkah, a temporary hut built from organic material that is used during Sukkot. But the rain forced the service indoors in the basement of the Oceanside Jewish Center, the only non-carpeted place in the synagogue.

“Rabbi Greenspan realized how important pets are to members of the congregation,” said Koss-Feder, 49, of Oceanside. “It’s truly a wonderful event.”

It was actually the Koss-Feder family that inspired Greenspan three years ago. After the dog they had for 13 years died, the family asked the rabbi to officiate a funeral. He decided to do it. After all, a loss is a loss, no matter what species, Greenspan said.

Inspired by the dog’s funeral, the rabbi went online and began researching ways to get pets involved with religion.

“I was blown away with the amount of material online about people, God and their pets,” Greenspan said.

Later that year, the rabbi decided to give it a try and invited all members of the community to come with their animals — real or stuffed.

“I thought it was going to be a fluke,” said Ian Brecher of Oceanside, who is the executive vice president for the Oceanside Jewish Center. “We decided to try something different and it actually ended up morphing into something great.”

Members of the congregation hung around after the service, enjoying plates of food as their dogs enjoyed playing with each other.

“This is the third time we’ve been here and I enjoy it because I enjoy doing anything I can with my dog,” said Linda Sion, 46, of Oceanside, who was at the event with her 7-year-old schnoodle named Noodle. “Temple is a big part of my life and so is my dog, so why not bring them together, he should be blessed as well.”

The Jewish holiday of Sukkot is meant to celebrate the fall harvest time and give thanks for everything in life. For many, that also means giving thanks to furry, four-legged animals, stuffed or not.

“Pets are a big part of our family,” said Allen Marmor, 57, of Oceanside who was attending the event with his 11-year-old pug, Chester. “It is a communal activity that everyone can share and it brings everyone together.”

Pictured above: Rabbi Mark B. Greenspan, 59, of the Oceanside Jewish Center, greets Antonia, an almost 80-year-old tortoise that was at the third annual blessing of the pets at the Oceanside Jewish Center. (Oct. 07, 2012)

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