Peninsula mezzuzah-thon affixes tradition onto congregants lives

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As Rabbi Marvin Goodman of Foster City's Peninsula Sinai Congregation made the rounds, visiting congregants, he noticed how many temple members' homes lacked mezzuzot.

This gave the rabbi an idea that reached fruition one recent Sunday as some 60 people, mainly children, gathered at the temple and busied themselves affixing mezzuzot to every doorway, including those of the classrooms and Goodman's office.

"When I was growing up, my assumption was that every Jew had a mezzuzah. But [these days] I don't know," Goodman said.

If a family doesn't have one, then "maybe they don't know the [mezzuzah's] significance," he added. "Maybe it seemed more significant 30 or 40 years ago. But…maybe if we show the impact of the mezzuzah," he mused, congregants will want to incorporate this tradition into their lives.

So Goodman launched the "Mezzuzah-thon" with a service in which he cited the passage in Deuteronomy that calls for mezzuzot. After the service he urged congregants to walk through the temple hallways, putting up mezzuzot. While adults performed most of the actual labor, children watched closely.

A special ceremony attends the affixing of mezzuzot. Tradition demands that the mezzuzah must be placed on the upper third of the right side of the doorpost, slanting inward. A blessing is said after installing it.

It is traditional to enjoy a special meal called a seudat mitzvah after affixing mezzuzot, and participants did, feasting on Noah's bagels, cream cheese and lox.

Participants also had a chance to buy mezzuzot for their own homes. The selection on hand included mezzuzot with sports designs, with rocketship motifs, in various colors — even an $85 replica of Noah's ark.

For an extra $30, they could buy a hand-lettered and certified kosher scroll of the "Sh'ma" to slip inside the mezzuzah.

"You really need the parchment for the mezzuzah to have its effect," saleswoman Susan Zneimer advised a customer, though she added that other places sell printed, nonkosher scrolls for only a dollar.

The temple board's education committee, of which Zneimer is a member, sponsored the Mezzuzah-thon.

"Every year I talk about holiness during various holidays," Goodman reflected. "But people can be conscious of holiness in daily life." A person's home, he said, "can be sort of a holy place — in essence a sanctuary. You can say, `I don't have to worry about the rest of the world. I'm home.'"

Goodman carried this idea into a group discussion during the Mezzuzah-thon with several congregants.

"God can be as close as that mezzuzah there," he said, gesturing toward the doorway. "God could be as close as the next person."

After the temple service, discussion and a video, Goodman found himself talking to some schoolchildren about mezzuzot.

"What does a mezzuzah indicate about a house?" he asked them.

One child considered a while and replied, "That Jewish things are happening inside."