My Matriarchal Mezuzah
Inhaling the sweet scents of Nachalat Binyamin in Tel Aviv, I searched for the perfect new mezuzah. Following closely behind me were my mother and my grandmother, who were growing steadily wearier with how long it was taking for me to choose one.
I was thirteen and I’d just become a Bat Mitzvah two weeks prior. To celebrate, my mom brought me on our family’s customary Bat Mitzvah trip to Israel. With us came my maternal grandmother. We spent the first week in Haifa where most of our family lives (and stayed in the cutest Airbnb on the planet), and the second week in Tel Aviv (in a slightly less nice Airbnb).
Before my first trip to Israel when I was five, I craved a visit to this place where I knew there lived so much of my heritage. At thirteen, I could understand how Israel connects to my heritage on a much deeper level, so my eagerness to return was off the charts. I’m glad I’ve now gone with two women I greatly look up to. They’ve taught me a great deal, not only on that trip, but for as long as I can remember.
I have pictures in my mind from my childhood of my mother on the bimah giving her sermon. I could usually bear to sit still and listen to them, which was really saying something. At Sunday School, Mama would tell a story to everyone in the sanctuary. I didn’t even have to try to pay attention to those. I always loved her stories, and they were my favorite part of religious school. Seeing my mom up there in front of all my friends and teachers, teaching them, showed me how important she was in all of our lives as a congregation. What she did every day impacted people on a spiritual level, which was, and is, awe-inspiring.
My grandmother is also iconic in my eyes. Since I was little, she has made up fun recipes with me and allowed me to take home whatever stuffed animals I found in her guest room closet. She taught me how to play jacks, solitaire, and online mahjong tile matching games. She also encouraged me to read Harry Potter. She is always kind and caring, and when I get sick in her care, she doesn’t hesitate to wait on me hand and foot. Plus, she makes the very best challah french toast on the planet. (I’d tell you her secret ingredient, but…it’s kind of a secret.)
For my whole life, feminism and Judaism have been interwoven because of my Jewish female role models. In addition to my mom and my grandma, the music director at my synagogue has always been a powerful woman. My mom’s colleagues are diverse, but they are mostly female-identifying and successful, kind, and competent. As a rabbi, the people in her primary circles are Jewish. Almost all of my “go-to grownups” have been Jewish women who I held in high regard.
It follows that growing up to be a remarkable Jewish woman has always been an aspiration of mine, even before I knew how to express it. “Jewish Woman” is the most empowering title in the world to me. When my Bat Mitzvah came around, I took it seriously, as it marked the moment when I could finally become who I wanted to be and take on the responsibilities that I knew were up to me to keep sacred.
When picking out my Bat Mitzvah mezuzah with Mama and Grandma, all I wanted was something that represented my own Jewish womanhood. They had inspired me, and now it was time for me to be the Jewish woman I was always destined to become; it was time for me to use my power to inspire those to follow. My first mezuzah as a Bat Mitzvah needed to kick off this new chapter in my life with pride and individuality, and I would pick it out with my loving inspirations by my side.
After much too long waiting for “the one,” my eyes finally lit up at the sight of a light blue wooden mezuzah with white painted pomegranates on it. Pomegranates are symbolic in Judaism because of their 613 seeds corresponding to the 613 commandments. They also are a sign of femininity and fertility. To me, this means passing on our Jewish and feminist ideas to the next generations.
My grandma smiled, and my mom sighed with relief. When we got home, we nailed it in my doorway. To this day, it makes me feel connected to my Jewish heritage and my womanhood. My mezuzah, bought in the Holy Land with women I look up to, reminds me daily of the wonder they instilled within me and the power I have to pass that spirit on.
This piece was written as part of JWA’s Rising Voices Fellowship.
How to cite this page
Harris, Eleanor. "My Matriarchal Mezuzah." 11 November 2019. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on August 7, 2020) <https://jwa.org/blog/risingvoices/my-matriachal-mezuzah>.