Malibu resident Shari Cohen said she wrote her new book, “Alfie’s Bark Mitzvah,” with the main character as a dog to introduce the Jewish coming-of-age ceremony to children in a humorous manner. Local cantor Marcelo Gindlin contributed songs he wrote and performed in an accompanying CD.
By Jonathan Friedman / Assistant Editor
Judaism’s coming-of-age ceremony is not just for people anymore in Malibu resident Shari Cohen’s new children’s book “Alfie’s Bark Mitzvah.” The story’s main character, a young beagle named Alfie, transitions into adulthood as he reads from the Torah with his canine companions and family members in the congregation. Alfie is also shown to be a charitable dog that is helpful in the community.
The Bar Mitzvah for boys and the Bat Mitzvah for girls is a major religious and social event for Jewish children. Occurring sometime around the person’s 13th birthday, it is a celebration of the individual’s entrance into adulthood. A ceremony takes place in which the young adult reads from religious texts, including the Torah, and it is followed by a big party.
“With this book, I hope to open up, especially for the young readers, discussions of what to expect for their Bar or Bat Mitzvah; traditions, the prayers and songs,” Cohen said. “And I just wanted to do it in a humorous manner.”
Cohen, who has authored several books for children and young adults, got the idea for her new book from her cousin. She wanted to do a story about a dog after co-writing a book called “My Dog is Jewish,” in which the main canine character goes through the year celebrating the various Jewish holidays. Her cousin suggested, “How about a Bark Mitzvah?”
“I don’t know where he got it from [although she suspects it’s from a new trend of some Jewish people conducting ceremonies for their 13-year-old dogs, that are, of course, far into adulthood], but it just clicked at that time,” Cohen said.
Cohen decided she wanted her book to include a CD with music. Coincidentally, Marcelo Gindlin, who is the cantor at the Malibu Jewish Center & Synagogue, moved in next door.
“It wasn’t long before I heard his magnificent voice coming through his window as he practiced for the High Holiday services,” Cohen wrote on the “Alfie” Web site. “Over the following months, we became friends and talked often of our work and our desire to create material for children. We decided why not work together on a new book for Jewish families with songs to accompany the story?”
Gindlin, who moved to Malibu from Argentina in 2000, has written and recorded Jewish music before, but this was the first time he was asked to do so for a book. Gindlin sings the songs on the CD, but it also includes performances by adult and children’s choirs. The music ranges from the festive “Celebrate” about the joyous event of the Bark Mitzvah to “From Generation to Generation,” a dramatic tune about tradition.
“I wrote the music for this story, but I also wanted to transcend, so it could be used outside of the book,” Gindlin said. “I thought this could be used in synagogues, weddings, Bar Mitzvahs.”
Gindlin said he is pleased with the book.
“I think that it is a good way to introduce the idea of a Bar Mitzvah,” Gindlin said. “Of course, it’s a funny way and it’s a fantasy. But that’s what you do with kids. You present things out of the box.”
Nadia Komorova, a Czechoslovakian-born painter, drew the illustrations for “Alfie.” Cohen said she did not have an idea for what Alfie would look like when writing the book, but when she saw Komorova’s drawings, she knew it was the perfect thing.
“”I think she captured Alfie. We had a number of dogs to choose from. When she sent one of a beagle with these eyes you could just look into, I knew it was him,” Cohen said. “I could envision the Alfie she drew doing good deeds in the community.”
Cohen has already begun working on her next project, a book about a child with self-esteem issues who is uplifted by seeing the world through his grandfather’s eyes. She is also planning to write another book including the character Alfie.
More information on “Alfie’s Bark Mitzvah” can be obtained at the Web site www.alfiesbarkmitzvah.com.