Congregation B’Nai Tikvah Beth Israel Synagogue in Washington Township, Gloucester County, held a Blessing of the Animals Sunday to help celebrate the end of Passover.
Rabbi Rachel Dvash Schoenfeld led the blessing for approximately two dozen dogs and one cat.
“Animals are incredibly important to Judaism,” said Schoenfeld. “There is a mitzvah, a commandment to be nice to animals, and actually we’re supposed to feed animals before we feed ourselves. We’re supposed to take care of animals.”
Two years ago, the congregation had planned an in-person Blessing of the Animals, but then the COVID-19 pandemic hit. So instead of canceling the event altogether, it was held virtually via Zoom.
“We had more than 60 screens and well over 100 people on the call,” said congregation member Eric Goldstein. “(The rabbi) said a few prayers for all of the animals, including dogs, cats, lizards, snakes, bunnies, birds, and hamsters. And then she called on certain students and members of the congregation to talk about their pets.”
This year’s blessing was the first in-person event held to include the entire membership as well as the community since the pandemic hit. It was held at the conclusion of the day’s Hebrew School to include children and families in recognition of how important animals were to people during the pandemic.
Those in attendance were asked to bring items to donate to the Animal Welfare Association.
The blessing, written by Schoenfeld’s colleague Rabbi Josh Snyder, conveyed the message that “as God created the world, the creation of the animals was important and beautiful, and may they be blessed to always reflect the love of people and love of God,” said Schoenfeld.
But perhaps the highlight of the day for Rabbi Rachel Dvash Schoenfeld: “I got to pet all the dogs.”
Click on the Animal Blessing photo gallery above for more photos.
Freelance photographer Joe Warner contributed to this story.
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Lori M. Nichols may be reached at email@example.com. Follow Lori on Instagram at @photog_lori.