Kaddish for Jastrow

It was about a month ago that our dog Jastrow died. He was 3. He escaped from the yard and got hit by a car. Our kids were devastated. So were we.

Jastrow’s name was the proof of my rabbi-nerdiness. (Only other rabbis realized that he was named for the Marcus Jastrow Dictionary of the Talmud.) But beyond the name, he was never my dog – he belonged squarely to the kids. Jastrow would play with them, sleep in their beds, lick their faces, and sit right on top of them. We called him our therapy dog because he was always good for providing our  son who has Aspergers with the “deep pressure” he needed on rough days! Jastrow was the young, fun dog while April (our 10-year-old lab mix) was the old, boring dog.

So the kids were hit really hard when he died. This was, thankfully, their first real experience with death. (When their great-grandmother died nearly four years ago, they were too young to really be aware of it.) Their reaction was both heartbreaking and fascinating. You could see Kubler-Ross at work as they shuffled wildly between angry shouting, hopeful bargaining, tearful storytelling, and asking the same questions over and over again….  In the end, what they wanted was to “do something” for Jastrow. Maybe we could say a prayer for him, they suggested. Or maybe draw pictures and tell our favourite stories, and find a place in the woods to “visit” him. Without knowing the words Shiva, or Kaddish, or Funeral, our 3, 6, and 7 year old boys were asking instinctively for some ritual to help them through the mourning process.

Even our older dog was mourning. April’s sleeping and eating patterns changed, and she kept trying to run out the front door, apparently in an effort to go find her friend. It was as though she also needed something to happen – some kind of closure to let her move on.

Our need for ritual is deeply ingrained in our psyche. Judaism offers us ceremonies to help mark the emotional moments of our lives – the Brit Milah/Brit Bat, the wedding ceremony, the funeral and mourning rituals. This is part of the particular genius of our way of life – that it is able to provide us with guidance during these universal moments in which we all need it. And if you leaf through the Reform movement’s On the Doorposts of Your House, or search the works of Marcia Falk or the pages of ritualwell.org, you’ll find hundreds of new ceremonies and blessings for moments of life that were never before ritualized: retirement, miscarriage, menopause, sending a child to college, quitting a job, ending a relationship. Some of these are hokey and contrived, but they speak to a need that is very real and very powerful.

I never saw that as clearly as I did while watching my kids mourn their dog. May his memory be a blessing.

8 thoughts on “Kaddish for Jastrow

  1. First of all, may comfort come soon to the sorrow-laden. It is hard to say goodbye to a loving companion. Your boys will be better off for having been given the sacred space to mourn.

    We have been considering a dog for our son, who also has Asperger’s. In fact, he has been asking for one for quite some time. So I especially connected with that one piece of this post.

    And finally, I LOVE the name of the dog.Maybe if we get a dog, and I get to name him or her, I will choose it. What a great way to honour the author of one of my fave books.

    1. @Frume – I say go for it. Every kid is different, of course, but our Aspie is really good with animals. Often better than he is with people….. I wouldn’t be surprised if he grew up to be a vet. And it is definitely great therapy!

  2. Wonderful post, Micah! Children and dogs can teach us so much. They are much less concerned with impressions. I hope you and your family (and April too!) are comforted in each other’s love.


  3. Rabbi
    A very moving post which I was able to relate to on many levels..
    Dogs and cats of all shapes, size, breed and name have been part of my familiy’s lives for longer than I care to remember.
    We have experienced the pain of tragic death as well as the passing of a dear pet simply through “old age”
    Our current wonderful friend, “Purrcy” the cat is approaching 21 years (Human) and we are preparing to say goodbye.
    It will be made easier after having read your story and I thank you for that..
    Just as a postscript, my kids have always said that in their next lives, they want to come back as a pet in Dad’s home. Not sure how I should take that 🙂
    Take care and look forward to the next friend in your home.

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