To the casual observer, the June 13 “bark mitzvah” at Clintonville’s Whetstone Park may have looked like a simple play date for pups.

But for those in attendance – especially those of Jewish faith – the get-together served a broader and more important purpose.

Becca Sigal, outreach director for the Jewish Community Center of Greater Columbus, organized the event for the JCC, and said it was brought back after a few years on hiatus.

The goal, she said, was to move beyond “a play time for dogs and their families” and provide a celebration of faith, pets and family.

The event began with a “pup-tail hour” that included snacks such as “pupcorn” and pretzels (dubbed “fetching sticks”), along with blue Hawaiian Punch called “toilet water.”

After a bit of meeting and greeting, Sigal said guests stood in a circle to read Scripture related to “how Judaism views our relationships with animals and their relationships with us.”

Those in attendance sang songs, said why they were grateful for their pets and danced with their dogs before the event ended with a commemoration for pets who have died.

“It was a nice way to end the ceremony, just kind of remembering and having your current dog or dogs there and kind of bring it full circle,” Sigal said.

For those in attendance, including Amanda Cohen, the event hit its target.

“It was a really great program,” Cohen said. “It’s really fun to have these community events where we kind of get out and celebrate Judaism in a little bit of a different way with something that doesn’t feel as traditional and is maybe more accessible to people who maybe feel more culturally Jewish rather than growing up going to temple or synagogue.”

Cohen, who works in marketing for Temple Beth Shalom in New Albany, likely will be remembered by those in attendance for her dog, Hallie, who was dressed in a head covering and prayer shawl and “barked the whole time.”

“She was very excited to be there,” Cohen said with a laugh.

Sigal said past events have been smaller and more focused on specific areas. She said this event, and those that will follow it, show the JCC’s willingness to branch further out.

Even with the threat of rain, the 25 people and 10 dogs in attendance signaled a positive outcome for Sigal.

“It was just meant to be a fun, not-too-intense program where dog lovers, whether they own a dog or not, could come and learn a little bit and enjoy each other’s company and each others’ pets’ company,” she said. “I’m thrilled.”

For more information on the JCC’s events and bark mitzvahs, email Sigal at bsigal@columbusjcc.org.

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