Brass Bronze Batman Welcome to mezuzah-land

We need a mezuzah, I’ve been thinking lately, ever since I wrote about what makes a Jewish home and realized ours was mezuzah-less. I mention it to a friend. She’s confused. “Isn’t that the barrier thing that separates the men and the women in a temple?”

“No, that’s a mehitzah,” I explain, surprising myself that I even know the term.

“I’m thinking we should get a mezuzah,” I tell my husband. “OK,” he says. “What is it again?”

“We need a mezuzah,” I inform my mother and father. “Matzah?” my father asks.

You can see why we don’t have one.

“Hey, do you know what a mezuzah is?” I ask my daughter. She’s been in Hebrew school for three and a half years now, so she knows a thing or two. “It goes slightly tilted on the door,” she explains.

Bingo. Or close enough. The Jewish thingie that goes on the doorframe.

A mezuzah is nailed at the entrance of a Jewish home, usually a beautifully decorated case. Protected inside, where you can’t see it, is a small scroll of parchment hand inscribed with verses from the Torah.

It designates the home as being a Jewish home. In Hebrew, the word literally means “doorpost.” But it’s confusing. According to my research, the word mezuzah can also mean the parchment with the inscriptions and/or the case that covers it. A mezuzah is not valid without the scroll inside.

So why don’t we have one? It’s not because one didn’t adorn the doorframe of my childhood home. I don’t ever remember the mezuzah being pointed out, being kissed by anyone entering the door in my presence. On a recent visit to my parents’ house in Santa Rosa, I play “find-the-mezuzah” with my daughter. It takes her a while to locate — it’s placed up high. She throws her head back to look up. It’s tiny and parts are splashed with paint from many coats of doorframe touchups since it was placed there almost 45 years ago.

According to Jewish tradition, having a mezuzah affixed to one’s doorpost brings long life and protection for the members of the home. My parents, who have the combined age of, oh, let’s just say somewhere around 166, own a mezuzah, so I see the point.

I suppose it doesn’t truly matter how observant one is in order to fulfill the mitzvah (it’s one of the 613) of having a mezuzah. I’ve seen them by the doors of interfaith friends, homes where Christmas trees abide, purchased by Jewish parents who don’t want their intermarried children to forget that they are members of the tribe.

But since we neglected to put “mezuzah” on our wedding gift registry 12 years ago, and didn’t shop for one when we moved into our house, where do I begin to look for one? Temple gift shops and my local East Bay store of all things Judaica, perhaps.

I’m told that observant Jews affix mezuzahs on every door of their home except for bathrooms, closets and small spaces. Even garages can sport one. I could, I realize, potentially go mezuzah-crazy.

And when I see the selection of cases on the Web, and find myself oohing and ahhing at the fine art, I think maybe we should be more observant — especially if it means I won’t have to narrow down my choices to just one design. Pewter, bronze or glass? Brass or enamel? Tree of Life or elegant swirls? Stained glass? Ten Commandments? The great synagogue of Florence? There are mezuzahs for children too, ones with toys, Noah’s Ark-themed cases, even a Fiddler on the Roof. Batman? Can’t really see that on our front door.

Since we’ve waited this long to get one, I want it to be special, something meaningful or representative of us. Maybe even one we can make ourselves. I find ceramic bisqueware for glazing, available in eight styles, but I can’t see the appeal of racecars, bears or balloons. Musical notes might work. My daughter and I play piano, my husband strums the guitar and my father’s a cellist.

That just might be a mezuzah I can live with.

Joanne Catz Hartman lives and writes in Oakland. She can be reached at [email protected].