Wherever I Live, I’ll Always Have This Mezuzah

Beyond being a commandment or source of spiritual protection, the beauty of the mezuzah is that it makes any house an instant home.

The living room was littered with paint cans, the hardwood floors covered with tarps. The whole apartment was empty, save for a single rug still rolled up and wrapped in plastic, which the painters had dragged to the middle of the room.

It was the first afternoon I spent in my then-new apartment without the accompaniment of a realtor, and it felt a little like breaking and entering, a little unbelievable that this place was mine. It was thrilling. I brought my friend Molly with me to inspect the fresh paint job. We sat on the rolled up rug, admiring the exposed brick (typical of Boston brownstones), the height of the ceilings (less typical), the way the spring light streamed through the windows.

Molly scanned the space, adding decorating suggestions here and there with her keen eye for design. Before she left, she offered a benediction that I’ve never forgotten: “I hope you have the best years of your life here.”

Later that night, my brother, Scott, came by. We put our grandfather, Sonny, on speakerphone, and he talked us through how to hang my mezuzah on the doorway. Scott and I argued over which direction it should be slanted, and after we finally consulted Google for the correct answer, Scott hammered it to the doorframe, repeating the prayer for the ritual after our grandfather recited it to him from memory.

Since then, that same mezuzah has followed me through my adult years, first at my home in that Boston brownstone, and next to my rental apartment in a mid-rise in Dallas. Soon, I’ll be taking it down from the doorway of that rental and bringing it with me to be hung in one of the doorways of the first house I’ve ever bought, a charming little bungalow in a historic neighborhood not far from where I live now.

My decorative tastes have evolved, and my furniture has changed from IKEA collections to slightly more sophisticated pieces, but that mezuzah has been the through-line between every where I’ve lived during the most formative moments of my life. And this is no standard-issue mezuzah. Made from multi-colored, handblown glass, it is designed to stand out, something I happen to like about it.

Of all of the Jewish rituals and traditions I know anything about, the hanging of the mezuzah has become my personal favorite. Its origins begin with the story of Passover, when Jewish slaves in Egypt were instructed to paint their doorposts with blood to protect their firstborns from the Angel of Death. Later in the Torah, we are commanded to “write the words of God on the gates and doorposts of your house,” and instructed to do so within 30 days of moving into a new home.

According to a sociological study, 75% of adults in Israel believe the mezuzah literally guards their homes from evil. I happen to believe in the mezuzah’s mystical power, a different kind of protection than the kind that I might feel from a Ring camera or an alarm system, and a different kind of spiritual energy than what I might divine from crystals or sage smudge sticks (though I have amassed quite the collection of those, too).

It’s true the scroll, rolled up inside my little glass mezuzah-that-could and inscribed with the words of the Shema, provide a feeling that something larger is watching over me. To me, though, the mezuzah is not just a commandment, a form of spiritual protection, or a holdover from the story of Passover. I believe the mezuzah makes a house an insta-home. It has become a way for me to truly arrive, to lay down roots, to settle in and nest. And it announces with pride who I am to the people who walk through my door.

But even more than that, mezuzahs are the first witnesses to the comings and goings of our lives. They hover above us as we fumble in our purses for our keys after a wine-drunk night out, chaperone kisses in the hallway outside our apartment doors, anticipate when our neighbors will angrily knock to complain about the noise from our parties. They see all the players, who enters and who exits, and who is allowed to come back in again. They log these comings and goings without judgment, make quiet note of their hellos and goodbyes. They are at the literal threshold to everything that happens to us, for us, with us, at home.

Molly’s wish for me came true. My mezuzah saw a lot of action within the five years and 700-square feet of that Boston apartment. I had two wonderful roommates throughout my time there, Brooke and Ilana, who would call to me from the doorway if I beat them home from work, throwing their winter boots just outside in the hallway and lamenting the weather or traffic or their bosses. Our upstairs neighbors had a toddler, Jacob, who loved to knock on the door every afternoon, reach for the knob and slam it shut, then beg to do it over again, giggling all the while. And we had so many gatherings — brunches with girlfriends, potluck Shabbat dinners, and raucous parties (oh, the parties this mezuzah has seen). Most of my memories of the space include the constant opening and closing of the front door throughout any given day or night, the apartment filled to the gills with friends while music played over the speakers and pizza boxes piled ever-higher in the galley kitchen.

When I moved back home to Dallas from Boston, taking the mezuzah down from the doorway made everything about my move feel so final. But when I was finally able to unbox my mezuzah and hang it up at my new apartment in Dallas, I felt a renewed sense of excitement for all of the things I would surely experience here. I invited my grandfather over to hang the mezuzah himself that time, and he offered me his own benediction in his gravelly voice: “May your home be filled with laughter, with happiness, with good health and joy.” And though it was a quieter, slower, sometimes lonelier period of my life than my 20s in Boston, Sonny’s wish for me came true, too.

Standing at the doorway of my new home, I feel the possibility of that place rush forward. It feels as if I am on the precipice of something new, of entrances and exits I can’t even begin to fathom. Yet somehow, the wishes I have for myself and the memories I hope will form inside the house already feel like they are being drawn out of me, like eager moths to a flame. They are dreams for the years ahead that are simple and grand all at once, and imagining what could happen there gives me the same thrill I had seven years ago sitting on the rug in the middle of my Boston living room with Molly, the same feeling that it is only the opening to a whole new stage for my life.

Just hours before I submitted this story, I opened a housewarming present from Scott, his fiancee Vivien, and her sister Hannah. They sent me a beautiful mezuzah, a mosaic made from pearlescent shards of green, brown, white, and gold pottery. It was divine timing — they didn’t know I was writing this piece — and to hold it in my hand while in the middle of writing this felt like a little wink from a larger spiritual force.

I decided right then that it would be the mezuzah I will ask Sonny to hang on my front door, a new mezuzah befitting a new start and blessed by my brother and sisters-in-law-to-be, while my other mezuzah — tried and true — will guard the door leading out to my new backyard. Regardless of where it hangs, it comforts me to know that these disparate locations will have this connective tissue, separated by miles and milestones, by moments of mundanity and magnitude. It moves me beyond measure to think that this small but mighty symbol will be the witness to everything that has come before, and everything that will be after.

Julie Judson

Julie Judson (she/her) is a professional fundraiser and a freelance writer in Dallas, TX. She is a lover of art museums, breakfast tacos, dinner parties, red wine, and color-coding her books. Julie usually covers topics that Carrie Bradshaw would like writing about.

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