Autumn, with its bittersweet sadness, is understandably the season for remembering departed souls, beginning with Yom Kippur and ending with All Hallow’s Eve and Samhain on October 31 and Day of the Dead on November 1. Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Hebrew year, begins this Friday night on the heels of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. In contrast with that period of eating, drinking and hope, it’s a somber day of atonement and abstention from just about everything, including wearing leather shoes.
I was born and raised in the Jewish faith but have been nonobservant ever since I began bringing science fiction paperbacks to the synagogue and reading them inside the pages of the siddur. But the autumnal solemnity of Yom Kippur pulls my soulstrings, and I become spiritual for a couple of hours. During this time, three of the elements of Yom Kippur permeate my being. They are the remembrance of and mourning for the beloved departed souls; acts of charity and kindness, called gemulit chasadim; and donations called tzedakah (think “Neil” to approximate the pronunciation) in their honor and memory. These traditions merit observance all year long, but the feeling that this holy day evokes underscores them for me.
I remember my parents and my big brother with all my heart, but my most poignant memories are those of the pets I’ve lived with—countless cats, a couple of turtles and a parakeet named Tweetsaplane. Yizkor, the observance and prayer for the bereaved that’s held in the synagogue, is said specifically for humans, although separate prayers are suggested for pets. I can’t buy that. I’ve lit yahrzeit candles for several of my cats along with several others, and I’ll continue to do so. If humans have souls, so do they—a lot of us have sensed them, Jewish or not.
And however you worship, or don’t, two ceremonies are coming up to remember and honor pets, and they’re open to all faiths from Ahmadiyya to Zoroastrianism (thank you, ReligionFacts.com, for the alphabetical list) and to anyone who chooses no faith. The ceremonies are centered on what we have in common: love of, and advocacy and activism for, animals.
Photo courtesy of Helen Sanders CatPAWS
The first, Remember Me Thursday, is an international day of remembrance created to shine a light on the plight of shelter animals. The local observance takes place this Thursday, September 28, at 6:30PM at First Street and Ocean Avenue, near River’s End Café in Seal Beach. It’s free and open to anyone who supports shelter adoption. Bring a candle, a beach chair or towel, and photos of your adopted pets. More information is available here.
Photo courtesy of Haute Dogs
The second comes a couple of weeks later, on Sunday, October 15 at 5:45PM, on the boat launch ramp at 1 Granada Avenue in Belmont Shore in Long Beach. You may be familiar with this one—organizer Justin Rudd has been gracing the beach with this ceremony for years. Ministers from a number of faiths come to bless every animal in attendance either physically or in a photo. There aren’t as many faiths as there are on that list, but the number of species is likely more than equal—dogs, cats, rabbits, parrots, cockatoos, ducks (one ate one of my earrings once), bearded dragons, pigs, snakes, horses, llamas, chickens and a few I can’t identify. And Rudd furthermore blesses the ones that live in the sand and the ocean. Of course, we humans need the blessing more—animals already come that way—but a space filled with beloved and loving animals and their people is enough to send the least spiritual among us to the realm of Rapture. More information is available here.
During this season of remembrance, think of your own, but remember the ones who didn’t have much of a chance unless the right people came along:
- The battered and starving victims of cruelty, abuse and neglect
- Those felled by hunters for sport
- The ones whose habitats are despoiled
- The ones who die in laboratories to test the staying power of mascara and other lab tests
- The ones kicked to the curb, literally, and die of starvation, illness, moving vehicles or human cruelty
- The ones who die suffering from terminal illness
- The mothers bred to death in backyards and puppy mills, with their often-sick babies sold at outrageous prices in pet stores and online
- The ones who die in shelters because they were dumped there or brought in as they were wandering the streets, with no room to keep them any longer
Photo by Kate Karp.
“No heaven will not ever Heaven be, unless my cats are there to welcome me.”