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My Mezuzah

 

A mezuzah is a totem, a sort of anti-goblin device slash symbol of Jewish identity that Jewish people are supposed to place on our doorways. The mezuzah itself is a rolled up parchment inside of a decorative case and the parchment comes from the bible and basically reminds us to love God, and believe in God, and keep the commandments, and pass it all on to our children.

It's pink!

It’s pink!

You’re supposed to kiss the mezuzah – or kiss your fingers and then touch the mezuzah – every time you enter or leave the room, but I don’t have the patience for that. I have my one mezuzah at the front door, and I notice it when I walk in, and it gives me a feeling of familiarity. I happen to think my mezuzah is pretty.

The only other thing we have in front of the apartment door is a red welcome mat that almost always has a few pieces of kibble on it. So, welcome, dogs live here. We also have a table out in the hall with plants on it, and there are plants outside the front door of our building, and a turtle made of painted rocks. So we have a few things that announce who we are – Jewish dog people with lots of plants and an interest in turtles.

Turtle guards the garden.

Turtle guards the garden.

When my brother’s family came to visit, my niece Lilah, the black lab, who had only been here once before, raced up the stairs and went straight to our door without anyone reminding her where to go. She knew which apartment smelled right. Eau de kibble sends the message.

Lilah!

Lilah!

Lilah in the snow.

Lilah chasing Cricket in the snow.

But a mezuzah shouldn’t just be a sign to other Jews, as if only Jews should feel welcome in my home. I feel more like the mezuzah announces who I am, so that you will feel more comfortable telling me who you are.

I like symbols. An idea is elusive, but a physical symbol is visceral and concrete, and makes things easier to remember. I’ve considered dog related symbols for our front door too. The shelter where we adopted Butterfly gives out huge paw magnets that you can put on your fridge, and car stickers, and sweatshirts, and blankets, and on and on. But, by the time you get close enough to my door to see a sticker, you will have heard Cricket barking at you from inside, so the sticker would be kind of irrelevant.

I’m not comfortable wearing a star of David necklace. I had one, but I kept yanking at the chain until the chain broke, two or three times. Maybe the necklace felt too reminiscent of the yellow stars Jews had to wear during the holocaust, or maybe it’s just that the necklace I had came from my father’s mother, and she grossed me out.

I wear my Koru instead. It’s a New Zealand/Maori symbol of new birth – an unfurling fern – and I wear it to try to remind myself that I can start again every day. I don’t have to be stuck in the past, even if the past is the bad day I had yesterday. It’s not a religious or spiritual symbol for me, it’s a reminder, like a rubber band on your wrist (I tried the rubber band idea first, but it hurt too much).

Koru and hair.

My Koru, and hair.

I’m afraid to post this now, given the current situation in Israel. I feel vulnerable when I watch the news. When I heard about mass protests against Israel in Europe, and anti-Semitic slurs on college campuses, I couldn’t help but feel frightened.

To me, having a mezuzah on my door means that I feel safe telling people that I am Jewish and I don’t live in a place where being Jewish makes me a target. Putting a mezuzah on my door, or writing about being Jewish in a blog that is largely about dogs, is my way of saying that I know I’m safe and I don’t have to hide who I am in order to reach out to new people.

My girls, and Ducky too.

My girls, and Ducky too.

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About rachelmankowitz

I am a fiction writer, a writing coach, and an obsessive chronicler of my dogs' lives.

97 responses »

  1. When we bought the house we have lived in for the past 20 years, it was bought from friends and they had mezuzah’s on every doorway in the house. I was fascinated by them. Growing up in NJ, all my neighbors, and my best friend, were Jewish. I was fascinated by their customs but had never heard mention of a mezuzah. It means the same to me, a Catholic, as it does to you. It keeps us all safe. Great post, Rachel.

    Reply
    • Thank you! When we first moved into our apartment, the previous owners had left behind a little Hindu statue in the closet. I didn’t know which God was being honored, but I knew the statue was there to keep the place safe.The kitchen also smelled faintly of Indian spices, as if the little statue man had been making himself a snack or two before we got there. I knew I was in the right place.

      Reply
  2. I am sick over the attitudes against both Jews and Christians in this world. Thank God the IDF is fighting those terrorists, not only for Israel but for the whole world. I think your symbols and puppies are beautiful.

    Reply
    • What I love about puppies is that they don’t care what religion or color or nationality we are. Some of them care what sex we are, though, or what we ate for breakfast. But mostly they just care if we love them.

      Reply
  3. We’re not Jewish but our doorway tells everyone about us. It says, “These peeps are NUTZ”. Why do I say that? (In my best Jewish accent with a Scottish burr) “Oy kveldt, don’t ask”.

    Reply
    • Cricket loved our old front door, because it was glass and she could see everything going on in the neighborhood and tell it to go away. We didn’t need anything else on that door to tell people who we were. No one would have believed a welcome mat, with her face staring out at them.

      Reply
  4. Well I like your Koru (and your hair and neckline too). I also like your dogs and their ducky. You are good by me regardless of whether you are Jewish (which I am not), Catholic (which I am) or any other religion or ethnicity. You are a gentle sensitive soul and that should be enough.

    Reply
  5. I absolutely loved this post Rachel. My mezuzah is beside my back door coming in from the garage because that is where I enter. I like your koru too and its symbolism.

    Reply
  6. Dear Rachel… admired you 4 talking about the war… but it’ s not more than every conflict before but I emphathise same to poor gaza people… result is unbalanced… But it’s idle 2 talk about in some mins… have a good sunday… 😉

    Reply
  7. Wonderful post, Rachel. I’m so glad you feel safe where you live. I can understand you prefer the Koru to the star of David necklace that would remind you of the holocaust. Dogs are wonderful creatures, they love you irrespective of your religion and ethnicity.

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  8. While I consider myself to be something along the lines of Lutheran/Buddhist/Heathen, my husband is Jewish, albeit non-practicing. I have been eyeing some of the beautiful mezuzahs in the “All Things Jewish” catalog we receive. I like the idea of blessing everyone who lives in or visits our home. I like your Koru. I have seen them, but didn’t realize the symbolism behind them. Very nice.

    Reply
    • I like the idea that we can choose the symbols that have meaning for us, that we don’t have to just stick with the ones we were born into. My Koru has come to be very meaningful to me, to the point where I’d feel less myself without it.

      Reply
  9. One day a man approached the Rabbi Hillel the Elder and asked if he could tell him the whole of the law whilst he stood on one foot. Others had dismissed the man as a lunatic but not Hillel. He accepted the challenge. The man stood on one foot whilst the Great Rabbi recited the law “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your strength and with all your mind – and Love your neighbour as yourself” This, said the Rabbi is the whole of the law, everything else is just commentary.
    I love your posts and the dogs. Long may they continue.

    Reply
    • Thank you! I love Rabbi Hillel quotes! I remember learning that one in high school and thinking, wait, so can we skip all of that commentary? Unfortunately, my teachers said no. Party poopers.

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  10. I like that Koru. It is very nice. Just because there is shit happening in Israel, it does not mean all Jews should run for cover.
    I once read a very nice book on Jewish wisdom. Sadly, that was many years ago.

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  11. I really need to think about placing a mezzuzah at our front door. This might be a bit awkward, considering that we live in the parsonage of a church, but my pastor mother-in-law does have an Israeli flag in her office, so it could be doable. Wonderful post!

    Reply
    • Thank you! The mezuzah on the parsonage door would be a very interesting talking point, at the very least. I wonder why we have nothing to put in or on the car? Does the car not need protection too?

      Reply
  12. If we treat them okay, dogs love us for what we are. 🙂

    Reply
  13. I am glad you are proud of all that you are, I came to your blog because I love your writing and am enjoying getting to know you all. I love the Koru and the idea of a fresh start.

    Reply
    • Thank you! I’ve learned so much from Butterfly about fresh starts, because she sees each day as a new opportunity to beg for chicken treats. She still has symptoms from her past, but each new day is a chance for good things to happen and she embraces that.

      Reply
  14. That was so interesting, I love to read about cultures and their customs. Many thanks. In our area what’s catholic it is common to write cmb (Christus mansionem benedicat) on the doors when we have Three Kings Day, to make sure that your house will be blessed for one year :o)

    Reply
  15. I also enjoy reading about cultures and customs. Thank you for sharing! I’m now looking into getting a koru.

    Reply
    • I think I first read about the Koru in an Aunt Dimity mystery set in New Zealand and it just sounded so wonderful to me. My Mom found it for me one year for my birthday and I almost never take it off.

      Reply
  16. Momwithoutpaws has a mezuzah, a friend gave it to her as a gift there is a paper in side with the 10 commandments on it. She put a magnet on the back and it is on her refridgerator. She says she is reminded that she and her family has never gone hungery because of Gods blessings.

    Reply
  17. I love the idea of the Koru, and yours is very pretty. I hang angels up in doorways to keep the goblins out, but now and again one will slip through the net!

    Reply
  18. II like the thoughtful consideration of symbols here! The unfurling fern is lovely.

    I really like the stone turtle, too–I am inspired!

    Reply
  19. I’m so glad you decided to post this. You should be proud of who you are. Your symbols are beautiful and inspiring. Bravo, Rachel! Bravo!

    Reply
  20. I like your symbols very much – my friend had a beautiful mezuzah on her front door and I liked hers, too. Since she was in her 80s when we became good friends, it was hard for her to reach up and touch it when she entered her apartment, but she gave it a try. I hadn’t thought of one since she died many years ago. I loved that woman.
    She was very liberal, of course. One of my favorite memories of her was when I told her I was going to be marching in the SC Pride Parade in Columbia where we lived.
    “It’s ok for you to march, but just try not to be the one on TV.” I just died laughing!

    Reply
    • My rabbi is very proud of being one of the first to officiate at a Jewish wedding for a lesbian couple, way back. He probably would have told you to angle yourself so you can get on TV, and bring the dogs, and maybe jump up and down and wave at the camera. I figure, don’t just be you, be joyful about who you are.

      I wonder if I should put a second mezuzah lower down on the door, for the dogs to reach. Though it wouldn’t last long.

      Reply
  21. I never judge against a group,race etc… If you really think about it there is bad and good in everything. Just because of a believe like Religion doesn’t make all the people good or bad there is a mix of both. I think the hate comes more from how the people who are spreading that hate feel about themselves. Instead of working on themselves they take that feeling about themselves and try to make other people feel like them. When is just way more easier and more productive if they learned how to deal with how they feel about themselves.

    Reply
  22. Ran Farm Zen Goats

    I grew up in Santa Cruz CA and now raise goats in Oregon. Needless to say my life has not interacted with many Jews. My Great Grandmother was from Poland and our entire family(on her side) besides herself were killed in WWII. I know almost nothing about that side of our family. Ok so when I saw you begin to follow my blog I felt honored. Besides your writings are clear, to the point and hold my interest. Thank you for sharing your buddies and all Jewish about you. Most sincerely, a possible lost Jewish California beach born goat raising lady, with a Russian last name……talk about feeling vulnerable.

    p.s. never be afraid to express yourself, we are who we are and should feel free to cry out to the world…..besides when it comes from the heart with no harm intended your voice rings true. I’m proud of you Rachel.

    Reply
    • Thank you so much! I have oddly warm feelings about goats, despite only having met them at petting zoos once or twice. My Mom tells a story about how her father was looking for a way to mow the grass at their summer house, down a very steep hill, and decided to hire a goat for the summer. The goat was a very good eater, and also liked to stand on a rock and look wise and philosophical. It sounded like the kind of summer job I could relate to.

      Reply
  23. Thank you for a beautiful post. I myself (a lapsed Episcopalian) am a Pastafarian as is my partner (who is also a lapsed Jew). We wear colanders on our heads and celebrate the Flying Spaghetti Monster, may his noodly appendage bless you. I don’t know, it makes as much sense as anything else in this crazy world. I wish we could just get along together without making judgements about people based on religion or skin color or hair color or whatever it is we fear about them.

    Reply
    • For a second there I was trying to figure out a polite way to ask what a Pastafarian might be. I mean, you never know! Cricket and Butterfly would love to be Pastafarians, especially if there are frequent holidays with appearances by the flying spaghetti monster himself.

      Reply
  24. Great post. Thanks for sharing part of your everyday life. As John Lennon said ‘imagine all the people, living life in peace’. I live in a state of bewilderment at this world sometimes, it seems easier for some to hate rather than love. (I really must be a bit of a hippy.) I love your koru, I am New Zealand born and it’s a beautiful symbol to wear.

    Reply
    • My mom brought me a few priceless gifts from her trip to New Zealand (and in the aftermath): the picture of the piggy from the bed and breakfast she stayed at, a little stuffed lambie, Manuka honey, thousands of pictures of green Kea birds, and my Koru. She fell in love with the country and wanted to bring some of it back for me. Isn’t that a wonderful thing? When you can invest love into objects and share them and the love actually radiates from the object forever after?

      Reply
  25. What a heartfelt yet humorous post. It resonated with me in so many levels. I laughed out loud when you mentioned your father’s mother. People look at me askance when I say I didn’t like my mother’s mother – but it’s true! She didn’t like me either so I don’t feel bad.
    Also – K O R U. I wrote the word down. I have to get one.
    Thank you on so many levels, and never be afraid to write what you feel. It’s your blog, and you’re among friends!

    Reply
    • Thank you! I’m so glad the Koru has hit a nerve with more than just me. The first time I saw a picture of one I just felt so happy. I especially like the one my mom got for me, the dark green of it is very satisfying. My father’s mother was really, really icky, even so long after her death I still feel a little sick when I think of her.

      Reply
  26. Thank you for your wonderful story post. I can relate from a racial standpoint. I am as you can see very Caucasian. I am also a Navy veteran. My grandfathers served in the military as did other family members. One was killed in the banana wars and one was on the ground crew when the Hindenburg went down. I feel we all served to preserve ALL freedoms and that my rights end at your nose so to speak. I would expect you to honor my rights too but here there are many who think they have to force their anti-social views on everyone. I belong to a different religious path than most people reading this (ECKANKAR) and every faith has some of Eckankar in it so I can relate to everyone. When I was working in Ohio I spent some time editing the Cincinnati NAACP newsletter. When I was moving to Texas some of my Black friends warned me not to be as vocal in Texas as I was in Ohio. This was way back in the 80’s and I soon found out why they told me that. There were several stories of cross burnings on lawns of blacks who moved into predominately ‘Caucasian’ neighborhoods the first year I was here. I feel we have more pressing problems to solve that would benefit ALL of us. Like how to earn a second income so we can retire early. That is workings for me.

    Reply
    • There are so many interesting people and interesting stories out there; the differences are part of what makes the conversations so exciting for me. It’s hard to understand when people would prefer for everyone to be exactly the same. How boring!

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  27. I am not Jewish, and though my wife has Jewish ancestry, she is not a ‘practicing’ Jew, whatever that means (maybe it means she got it right already?). I have always believed intelligence enables us to see past the superficial issues of religion and race to the people within, and though I may have issues with Israel’s political direction I also see the difficulties that arise from being the infidel in a Muslim world. I think you worry unnecessarily: I know the evidence of history is not good, but the focus of attention in Europe is much more upon Islamic fundamentalism, a contagion which spreads rapidly and remains largely unchecked.

    I, too, have a blog I am afraid to post, simply because I find my liberal beliefs are being challenged. Many of us, I believe, are faced with re-thinking our open stance to the world, but it is on grounds of containment, of defence, rather than aggression. I don’t believe where Europe is concerned that there are too many people who think (strangely) of Israel as an exemplar of Judaism, unless they be already violently opposed on grounds of faith.

    No, the holocaust is still very near to us in history and in our thoughts, and I believe especially in Britain there is a lot of pride to be derived from the privilege of being Jewish.

    Reply
    • Thank you for such a thoughtful response. I’ve been so grateful for the comments I’ve been getting to this post. A lot of times the news focuses on the rage and the panic and doesn’t let us think through things and hear a wider, calmer range of opinion. I feel so lucky to have found this blogging community where things are so different, and so much better.

      Reply
      • It is not so much the mezuzah on your door as the mezuzah in your heart, and Rachel, no-one could entertain malign thoughts about a person who loves dogs as you love them. By-the-by, I also have warm feelings about goats – something my wife finds mildly disturbing…

  28. Thank you for posting about your heritage and symbolism that is meaningful to you. I have a crucifix hanging above the front door of my home and every time I move into a new place it is the first thing that goes up before any box in unpacked or anything goes on the wall. I am not Catholic but for me, it reminds me of a Loving and Protective God who keeps me safe. I also smudge all the rooms of my new home with sage to get rid of any lingering negativity. I believe that as a spiritual being whatever brings me closer to the God I serve is what is best for me. Kudos for doing what is best for your soul. p.s. love your blonde babies. Makes me want dogs even though I am a ‘cat person’!

    Reply
  29. Such tenderness, thank you. You have a lovely voice. And your Koru inspires.

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  30. I have a question about your Mezuzah, if I may. I’m not Jewish, but my great-grandparents were (or however that works out, I’m so confused. This is something my cousin has learned in researching family history), but I’ve been searching for ways to respectfully honor their beliefs with my own (which are Pagan) and this seems like it could be a good way to do so.

    But. What are your thoughts? Could this be seen as offensive? I wouldn’t want to inadvertantly offend anyone.

    Reply
    • I think it’s a wonderful idea to incorporate these lost family members into your new life. There are so many different mezuzah covers that I’m sure you could find one that really speaks to you. I don’t think it would be offensive. If you’re worried, you can always put the mezuzah on a doorway inside the house rather than on the front door, so that only the people you invite into your life can see it and then you can tell them the story.

      Reply
      • Thank you so much. I worry so much about doing it … wrong? And not knowing any better. There is just so much we just don’t know.

      • You’ll do fine. There are tons of great websites that can tell you exactly how to put up a mezuzah and even give you the blessings to say. But do what’s meaningful to you, that’s what really matters.

  31. A wealthy Jewish man buys a fabulous home in Beverly Hills, California. He brings in a local designer to decorate the place.

    When the job is finished, the homeowner is delighted but realizes that he’s forgotten to put mezuzahs on the doors. He goes out and buys 50 mezuzahs and asks the decorator, who is non-Jewish, to place them on the right hand side of each door except bathrooms and kitchens.

    He’s really worried that the decorator will chip the paint work or won’t put them up correctly. However, when he comes back a few hours later, he sees that the job has been carried out to his entire satisfaction. He’s so pleased that he gives the decorator a bonus.

    As the decorator is walking out of the door he says, “Glad you’re happy with the job…” “By the way, I took out the warranties in each one and left them on the table for you.”

    Sorry about that. Couldn’t resist.

    Reply
  32. Great post. I learned something new from this. And I totally agree with you, it shouldn’t matter what religion or color or nationality we are.

    Reply
  33. What a wonderful post, Rachel. I wish you feelings of safety and security always!

    Reply
  34. Excellent job. My parents put an ichthys on their door for much the same reason.

    The winter I moved into a new house, I put a wreath on the door. A coworker came over for the first time and, as she entered, announced, “I can tell you have a bird.” Why was that? The wreath had a little yellow crest feather from one of my cockatiels stuck to a flower.

    Reply
  35. Rachel, I think we all are feeling a little edgy about the news these days. Life is crazy everywhere, so it’s especially good to have a symbol that provides you with a secure feeling. Regardless of religious persuasion, we all have them, be it a mezuzah, a wreath or whatever, it’s like what you said…announcing details about you so that others might share about themselves. It’s just lovely. 🙂

    Reply
  36. We all, from different cultures, religions and backgrounds, borrow from one another the things that make us feel good and safe and it’s a beautiful thing. It tells us we are human first and all connected one way or another. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    Reply
  37. Sweet Rachel I am so happy that I am back to blogging and came to visit your blog this evening. What a wonderful and beautiful post. I so enjoyed reading it. Love and hugs to you and hugs and nose kisses for those little sweeties, Cricket and Butterfly.

    Reply
  38. Rachel, I’ve nominated you for the One Lovely Blog Award (see today’s post)!

    Reply
  39. Very honest and straightforward post…

    Reply
  40. I love that you leave Kibbles on the mat for dogs; Jack would be so happy at the grand welcome. 😀

    Reply
  41. I love your writing. Your gentle humor is uplifting.

    Reply
  42. What a wonderful post; I am so glad you feel you can write about Israel and put the mezuzah on your front door…I loved reading this post.

    Reply

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