I first realized I was raising a Jewish dog when Maude of the Mitzvahs (good deeds in Hebrew) refused to eat on Yom Kippur. True it’s the most sacred day in the Jewish calendar — a day when practicing Jews fasted — but I didn’t pay much attention to it. I ate my usual: last night’s leftovers and a Hershey bar.
Since she liked to eat an early dinner, I put Maude’s food before her around noon, and she just pushed it away. Naturally I panicked — the dog was sick, I’d have to call the vet, what other symptoms had I missed while being a lousy owner?
Since it was a holiday on which many schools and businesses closed, I wasn’t sure the vet would be open. That would make it necessary to take Maude to the emergency vet. I hated the emergency vet because I only went there if I thought my pet was dying, and I did not want to think that Maude was dying. It was, after all, only one meal she had skipped. No cause for alarm. Right?
So to put off the medical decision, I decided to stow her bowl of food in the refrigerator and give it to Maude a little later. Maybe she had eaten something outside, had an upset stomach, and would get over it and become the ravenous pooch I was used to having. Yes, that’s just what I planned to do.
Try as I might, she wouldn’t eat anything for the rest of Yom Kippur until the sun set, when the holiday was officially over. Then she gobbled up her food and smiled at me. Darn dog was showing me up. I don’t know how she knew this was the most important Jewish holiday of the year — the time when observants reviewed their sins and washed them clean from their souls for the New Year — but it seemed to me she did. And she was pretty smug about it. She practically wished me a Happy Holiday with her toothy canine grin and bad breath.
Actually I considered the whole incident to be a coincidence exacerbated by the fact that I always felt a little guilty about not observing the Jewish holidays. After all I was brought up to go to temple, not eat pork or seafood like shrimp or lobster, and never combine dairy with meat. Now that I was an adult, however, I did not follow any of these traditions. I was what you might call a reformed Jew to the nth degree.
Still, Maude’s reaction to Yom Kippur bewildered and stunned me. I began to think that perhaps it was a sign from God. That was it! Maude was trying to tell me to return to my Jewish roots. Oy vey, I thought. Was it possible that a little salt and pepper schnauzer with eyebrows that needed trimming and a penchant for squeaky toys was praying for me to return to my religious roots?
Then, not surprisingly, I began to notice Maude’s Jewishy personality traits and behavior. For one thing, she was clearly a JAP, which in Jewish lingo was short for Jewish American Princess. She demanded to sleep on our king-size bed on her special sky-blue pillow. She had a wardrobe for each season: jackets for winter, different-colored spring collars with a variety of decorative sequins and turquoise inlays, a raincoat for fall showers, and special summer cool-suits for those daily walks around the block.
Even without the enormous wardrobe, Maude definitely had a list of idiosyncrasies and preferences. She always insisted on cornflakes and milk for breakfast and became upset if we forgot it or gave her 1 percent instead of regular. Her canned dog food was not top drawer,, but she had sampled a whole slew of them until she deigned to eat her current brand, Mighty Dog. Yup, Mighty Maude was the Jewish equivalent of a DAR blue blood.
But it was her personality quirks that most favored her Jewishness: She was neurotic as the day was long. Summer thunderstorms unnerved her as did other loud noises such as fire crackers, sirens, and revved-up cars. She would hide in the bathroom under the fluffy area rug there and whimper until the noises lessened or disappeared entirely. I sympathized with her because I remembered being frightened of lightning storms as a child.
What really convinced me, though, of her Jewishness was that she understood Yiddish expressions, especially ones of endearment. When my parents visited, my father was in the habit of seasoning his conversation with Yiddish and Maude would sit there with her ears cocked and her mouth curled up in the famous canine grin. You could tell that she was processing this Eastern European vocabulary with keen interest.
Unfortunately, however, she knew her ethnicity was German, and she was extremely apologetic about this, hanging her head during WWII movies like Schindler’s List and The Pianist. She somehow realized that her relatives might have been descended from the fierce breeds the Nazis used to track down their human prey — German Shepherds and pinchers.
And looking back on her obedience training and housebreaking, I started seeing a pattern I had never noticed before. She got along with all types of dogs and their persons. It didn’t matter if they were mutts with working class mechanics or French bull dogs with rich lawyers. You could take her to an outside crafts fair and she turned into a regular Seinfeld-George Burns-Howie Mandel schmoozer. She was gregarious to a fault, rushing up to people and kissing them effusively. It was almost as if she was joking, “Did you hear the one about the three Yeshiva boys who went into a Greenwich Village bar and couldn’t remember the prayer for alcohol so they left and went to Starbucks?”
More and more Jewish connections came to mind. Born six years ago on Passover, Maude always remained near the Seder table during the Three Questions section of the service. The questions were traditionally asked by the youngest person in attendance, and my nephew usually did the honors. But every year Maude gave him long, lingering looks as if to say, I can sing too.
Of course she sprang to life when Seinfeld was on TV, begging me for treats during commercials — that’s how happy she became. Her favorite movie actor? Jesse Eisenberg of The Social Network — another Jewish prodigy like Adam Sandler, who appeared in a slew of funny films. And every weekend I had to play the score from Fiddler on the Roof or she would whine pathetically. Then we’d get into a circle and do the hora while Maude yodeled to the beat. Why hadn’t I noticed these strange behaviors before?
Probably because I too liked to watch WWII movies like Sophie’s Choice and the Nuremberg Trials. It was cathartic for me, and for Maude, an act of contrition. Her eyes would water when we streamed these films, and I had to take short breaks so that Maude could go to her water bowl and calm herself with a few gulps followed by one or two puppy bones.
Then there was the fact that she kvetched from time to time, especially when she swiped the chicken livers off the kitchen counter and developed pancreatitis. Oh, did she have a mega belly ache! Oddly enough, though, when I brought her to the vet to find out why her tummy was so sore, she nuzzled his chest as if to say, “You could be my son, the doctor.”
But I had missed the biggest clue a Jewish dog, cat, or person could display: Guilt. She guilted me — on vacations, when I was studying, or when we just went out for the evening to eat and see a movie. She wanted to nestle on the couch with me and click the TV remote. That seemed to be a neurotic habit she favored.
When I was gone, I worried about her constantly, and she seemed to love it because when I returned home after my departures, she’d woo-hoo and woo-hoo until I pulled her into my arms and gave her tons of kisses. Then she’d walk off as if to say, Don’t do it again. We joked that she was spoiled. It was one of those affectionate remarks that a Jewish parent would say about their child.
Yes, I said to myself. I have a Jewish dog, and I may be the only person in the world who recognizes that. She evolved from Maude of the Mitzvahs to the Dog Who Wouldn’t Nosh Meatballs with Milk.
It was inevitable that she converted to Judaism from German Lutheran given the huge number of kosher hotdogs she scarfed. I was so excited about my discovery that I had to tell someone. But who would believe me?
My parents thought I was nuts, and my friends thought I was an atheist. I had no one with whom to share my secret. Then inspiration struck. I called the first rabbi I found on Yelp. To my astonishment he answered the phone immediately, and I told him my secret to which he replied in a critical tone, “What? You thought you were the only one with a Jewish dog?”