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Our grandparents and relatives taught us about the snarling dogs of Eastern Europe, the Nazi-trained German shepherds that ripped the flesh off innocent Jews and hunted our ancestors like they were prey. Over the years, the fear became lodged in the communal psyche.
The last heroic stand of dogs in Jewish history occurred during the Exodus from Egypt. Dogs did not call attention to the escaping Jews, and they are praised for their silence in the Torah: “And against the children of Israel, no dog wagged its tongue.” The dogs that followed after were never silent; like demons of Kabbalah, they barked and howled, sinking their teeth, like knives, into long-lost brethren and martyrs. Now children are taught to repeat the words from the Torah when they pass dogs on the street, to guard themselves against harm.
“And against the children of Israel, no dog wagged its tongue. And against the children of Israel, no dog wagged its tongue….”
No dog would dare hurt a Jew who was saying the words from the holy Torah.
A pious Jew fears dogs. If he doesn’t, well, he must try harder. A good Jew passes on the fear to his children, lest they shall be led astray. As if, becoming unafraid, they might turn into the people who set the hounds on the Jews in the first place.
So not being afraid of dogs was a problem, and this bothered me a lot. Because I knew that if anyone found out, I’d be in big trouble. My friends would think I was strange, somehow unclean, like a gentile.
When I saw Sammy, I tried my best to see the evil that was there, the impurity of his paws and tail. The problem was, Sammy was uncooperative. He was just the wrong kind of dog, much too slow and gentle. One time I peered deep into his eyes, trying to locate the demon in the dark around his pupils, but he just wagged his tail and licked my nose. Another time I tried to tease him by pulling his ears, but he did the same thing.