Mema Is Coming Home With Us - February 24, 2023

This week’s Marc’s Remarks is longer than usual.


In October 2007, my mother suddenly passed away. It was heartbreaking for us all, especially my father. One week following her death, my father went to an animal shelter and found a little shih tzu puppy (we always had a dog while growing up). My father said the dog looked at him as my mother would, so he brought the dog, Clinton, home.

Once at home, he heard Clinton snore loudly -- just like my mom (true). My dad was immediately convinced Clinton was a reincarnation of my mother and would share that idea with my very young children at the time (learn more about the idea of reincarnation in Judaism here).


Wherever my dad was in the house, Clinton would be by his side. Any time he left the house, Clinton would go with him. He was at every family gathering in Orlando (where my father lived) and my relatives all loved him. He was his true companion.


The first time my family ever met Clinton was when my dad came to visit us in Atlanta a month after my mother passed away. Clinton sure was cute, but he immediately “marked his territory” all over my house. It was not a good beginning.


The next time I met Clinton, I was attending a Jewish Federation conference in Orlando. I decided instead of staying at the conference hotel near Disney, I would stay with my dad and drive the 25 miles each way. The time with him was far more important than the extra time in the car.


The one thing I forgot is that my father lived in a small two-bedroom condo – one was his bedroom and the other was an office. There was this small side room that had a hide-a-bed, but it was overflowing with my mother’s belongings he needed to deal with. So here I was, a 40 year-old executive at a Jewish Federation sleeping on a couch like some college kid bumming a night at a friend’s house.


While there, in the middle of the night, I woke up to a crackling noise. It was Clinton chewing on my only pair of eyeglasses. (Strike two for the dog!) They were literally destroyed. Five hours later, when my father woke up, I angrily told him what happened and he said, “Well, you should not have left them where the dog could get them.” I learned real fast where I stood compared to the dog.


In March 2013, more than five years after my mother passed, my father died of a heart attack. When my cousin found him, it was apparent my dad was making breakfast in the kitchen with the eggs on the counter, veggies cut, and the sink running. And there was Clinton laying next to him, comforting him.


Following my father’s funeral, the most pressing question seemed to be, “What do we do with Clinton?” My sister had zero interest. Each of my relatives in Orlando, who saw Clinton all the time, offered to take him. But my then 12-year old daughter emphatically yelled, “Mema is coming home with us!” (Mema is what they called their grandmother.)


Now, we already had a dog at home. Going from one dog to two can be a lot of work. And, because my father died over spring break here in Portland, getting flights to/from were quite a challenge. In fact, for our return, Southwest Airlines flew us from Orlando to Houston to Albuquerque to San Jose to Portland. And Clinton was flying with us. I quickly became familiar with the “pet area” at each airport and the need to race back to catch the next flight.


We got to our home very late in the evening after a long day of travel and introduced Clinton to our other dog, Sigmund. Sigmund is well known in our neighborhood for wanting "love" from every person, yet barks at every dog. Amazingly, no barking. They were immediate friends. Maybe, he, too, knew Clinton was more than just another dog?


Two things we quickly learned about Clinton:


  • We all know how much it rains here in Portland. His first morning at his new home, I took Clinton for a walk in the rain. He hated it – he was seemingly scared of the water falling on him. I thought for a moment and then realized -- he probably had never been walked in the rain. In Florida, it typically rains each afternoon for about 30 minutes. Understanding that, why would my father ever take him out when it was raining – he could just wait it out. Clinton was now not so lucky.


  • Clinton was very overweight – 31 pounds for a dog that should weigh around 22 pounds. My father fed him well – obviously too well. The dog had to go on a diet and over time we got him down to a healthy weight.


Sadly, earlier this week, at the age of 16, we made the difficult decision to “visit” the vet. After almost ten beautiful years as a part of our family, Clinton was gone. I know that most of us have lost a pet in our lifetime. In some ways we think of it being different than losing a human loved one. Is it really? Whether a dog or cat, or another animal, it still hurts -- they are a part of our family! And in my case, I feel I lost my last connection to both my parents.


In Jewish tradition, there is no roadmap for how to properly mourn pets; no universal law or tradition for how to close the circle of a pet’s life.


According to Rabbi Ari Enkin, traditional Judaism says equating the loss of an animal with the loss of a human is inappropriate. This is why we traditionally do not say Kaddish for a pet. (BTW -- I did anyways.)


I did find a website with several articles about Jewish traditions and rituals regarding pets. I appreciated their advice for grieving the loss of a pet, including: Lighting a candle, displaying a photo, singing songs, giving tzedakah to an animal-related organization, sharing memories and stories of the good companionship that the animal offered. In reality, nothing different than what we would do with the loss of a family member or friend.


Most of all, I appreciated this prayer, written by Rabbi Naomi Levy, for when a beloved pet dies:


You were my good friend. We never had a single conversation, but we understood each other. I still think you’ll be there waiting for me when I open the door. The house is empty without you. I miss you more than others could ever understand. I thank you for being my companion in times of joy, and my comfort in times of pain. I was fortunate to have you in my life and I know your life with me was a happy one. I will remember you with joy and a smile. May God bless you. Amen.


Clinton was family! I have no doubt that my mom lived within him – the snoring alone was a giveaway. I also know his companionship kept my dad alive for the five-plus years after my mother’s passing. Moreover, he was a blessing to my entire family for the past ten.


Regardless if a person or a pet, we cannot erase the pain that comes with death. We can, however, affirm the relationship we shared and carry those fond memories with us. Clinton (z”l) will always remain in my family’s hearts and his memory will only be for a blessing.



Some additional things to mention from this week:


Hard to believe that today marks the one-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. In recognition of this occasion, Jewish Federations from across the country are joining with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) for a “Shabbat for Ukrainian Jews.” As we celebrate Shabbat collectively tonight and tomorrow, we encourage you to incorporate these Shabbat blessings and reflections on the difficulties still facing the Jews in Ukraine.


Click here to learn the role and impact Jewish Federations across North America, including ours in Portland, have made on the lives of so many in Ukraine and those who fled.


On Tuesday morning, the Israeli government’s controversial judicial reform plan cleared a major hurdle as the Knesset voted to advance a key piece of the plan. The plan would give the Israeli governing coalition full control over the appointment of judges and would bar the Supreme Court from striking down basic laws, which are Israel’s closest parallel to a constitution.


The bill now returns to discussion in parliamentary committees ahead of two more votes in the Knesset, which would pass the bill into law. The vote happened in the face of a series of mass protests against the reform in Israel, and despite the warnings of a chorus of world leaders, legal scholars, and public intellectuals that it would harm Israel’s standing as a democracy. Israeli President Isaac Herzog called for compromise over the reform plan last week and said in a pained speech that he feared the battle over the legislation would lead to “constitutional and social collapse.”


Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) sent a letter to Prime Minister Netanyahu and Opposition Leader Lapid urging them to embrace President Herzog’s proposal for the resolution of these issues and enter immediate negotiations to find a compromise.


The Los Angeles Jewish Journal and the Tikvah Fund’s Israel Law and Liberty Forum project held a lively debate about the issue. Member of Knesset Simcha Rothman, chair of the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee and a driving force behind the reforms; and constitutional expert, Professor Yaniv Roznai of Reichman University, an outspoken critic of the reforms debated the issue with Jewish Journal columnist Shmuel Rosner serving as moderator. You can watch the debate here.


Here is an interesting article by Rabbi Yitz Greenberg from the Jerusalem Post with his thoughts on judicial reform.


We will be following this closely.


Shabbat shalom, stay safe with the snow still here, and I appreciate the opportunity to share.


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