Saturday, November 16, 2013

Making a Jewish Home

Early in the year during one of my meetings with the rabbi to study for my conversion, I asked her if there is any Jewish tradition around blessing the home. I told her that my multi-cultured coworkers told me that their traditions and cultures all have something like that, and that it is the first thing you do when you move in, so I was curious, and also we had a mezuzah we'd gotten as a wedding gift that we still hadn't put up because we didn't really know how. She hesitated and then said, "We could do something like that if you wanted. Kind of a Jewish housewarming, you could have some friends and family over and make an event of it." I said I'd love that, but inside I worried that her response meant there WASN'T really anything like that and she just didn't want to embarrass me so she was kind of trying to create something. Which in turn embarrassed me. So I didn't plan to bring it up again.

At my conversion in April, I received several more mezuzahs as gifts. Then I went by Rabbi's office in August to say goodbye after Nicole arrived to pick me up from some event, and I was talking to her about our garden and she said, "Did you ever get those mezuzahs up?" I said, "No, we still haven't!" And she said, "Do you still want me to come over and help?" And I said, "Yes, I would LOVE that!" I was so excited that she had brought it up several months later. It made me feel like she hadn't just been pacifying me in the moment earlier in the year, or trying to keep from hurting my feelings, but actually thought it'd be something nice to do. So we said we would aim for October or November after the High Holy Days were over. I also told her to bring her husband and daughter and we would have a nice, intimate gathering with some snacks, nothing fancy or elaborate.

So it happened today, and it was just the perfect day. We had my in-laws over, so my carpenter father-in-law did the actual hammering. We also had my friend Allyson and her husband Josh over. We had also invited A&A (our fellow queer couple from temple) and their two little boys, but they canceled the night before because one of the parents had pinkeye.

Nicole and I have spent over a week scrubbing and cleaning and re-organizing the house and even finalizing some much-procrastinated decorating, like putting up our wedding photo canvas. I took such pleasure in preparing for this little event. We went shopping for a TON of healthy and wholesome snack foods Thursday night, and today after Torah study we zipped home to get everything together before Rabbi came over at 2:00. So while she was busy doing Tot Shabbat and a Hanukkah workshop for preschoolers, we were cutting up cheese and fruit, baking brownies, changing out our placemats, chopping up veggies and making dip, and wrapping the little Hanukkah gift we had bought Rabbi's 7-year-old daughter.

I'm pretty sure I was already getting misty-eyed as soon as we opened the door for our rabbi and she gave me a hug. There was something so beautiful and emotional to me about welcoming her family into our home and hosting them. There was also a little bit of the feeling of a second-grader whose teacher comes over - "and look, this is my room and these are my toys and this is my cat!" It was such an unusual way to interact with her, to have her in OUR space instead of at temple, and I just loved it. Everyone stood around the kitchen and then around the living room chatting cozily as if we were all family. My heart was so happy and full.

After almost two hours of talking, I started to worry that we were keeping Rabbi and that she was just too polite to rush us to the mezuzah-hanging. I didn't want to assume that she planned to spend her entire afternoon here when she just offered to come over and help! So when she took her daughter to the bathroom, I got out the mezuzahs and started arranging them on the dining room table. I figured when they came back out, she could take my cue and approach me about them and get things started. But she walked right past me with her daughter who wanted to go spin the dreidels on our coffee table. That was my first major indicator that Rabbi was having a good time too. That we weren't imposing ourselves on her, or putting her out of her way, or squeezing ourselves into her schedule. She truly enjoyed spending time with us in our home.

I actually had to bring it up when Allyson and Josh said they had to get going. I asked if we could put up the one on our front door all together before they left, and that got us started. Rabbi explained to everyone what the mezuzah is and said some nice words about our new home and the people in it and taught us the blessing for affixing the mezuzah. We recited it together and then my father-in-law affixed it. Rabbi said, "Is this a moment for a Shehechiyanu?" That's the blessing for new things and special moments that basically thanks God for bringing you to this place. It's a wonderful way to freeze a moment, fully immerse yourself in it, and appreciate what is happening. I said, "Since I'm already crying, I'm pretty sure it's appropriate to say it!" and we all sang it together.

We moved to the next one, which is shaped like a Torah scroll and was given to us by Nicole's grandmother. We chose that doorway because the sunporch is used as our "study" and has all our Jewish books and our Torah. Rabbi asked us to read the words on it, and I said out of insecure panic, "We can't read Hebrew! We're working on it, though." Then after I paused for a second, I recognized the first few letters and said excitedly, "Wait, SH'MA, that says Sh'ma!" I was so proud of myself reading those three Hebrew letters. So then we said the "Sh'ma" prayer all together.

The next mezuzah is shaped like a tree of life, and we put that in our living room because that will be the center of our family life at home. So then Rabbi sang a song about the tree of life that none of the rest of us could sing but was really fun!

The next one was made out of copper and had been given to us as a wedding gift by Allyson over two years ago. After that we hung up two more outdoor ones, the rainbow one given to us by A&A for my conversion which we affixed in the doorway to a storage room in our basement, the one our friend Jen gave us as a housewarming gift a year ago which we affixed in the doorway from the kitchen to the basement, and then finally the one with the pretty pink flowers which we put in the doorway of our bedroom. Because it was the last one, Rabbi gave everyone a chance to say out loud good wishes for us and our home.

Rabbi also gave us a housewarming gift of the book On the Doorposts of Your House which has guides to different family and home rituals, and her husband included bread, salt, and a broom which he said is a tradition of many European cultures.

The whole day was so awesome. I loved having Rabbi and her family in our home, and I loved the specialness and meaning she helped infuse in the ritual of affixing our mezuzahs. It would not have been nearly so special if we had just gone around nailing them up on our own!

Edited 11/17/13 to add that I just realized yesterday was the one year anniversary of our closing on our house. On 11/16/12, a Friday last year, we giddily grabbed the keys to OUR new house, which burned a hole in our pockets during that evening's Shabbat service. How incredibly touching to realize that, without planning it or even realizing it, exactly one year later we gathered with people we love and sanctified our home by affixing mezuzahs and saying blessings together and celebrating.

1 comment:

  1. What a fun day! You should take a picture of at least your favorite one so I can see what they look like. Um yeah, the year anniversary made me sentimental to read!

    When we bought our house, we decided we wanted to have the priest come bless it, but then just totally forgot. Now the countdown is on because we don't want to bring Penny home without it being blessed, so we have to invite him for dinner and a blessing asap! I love religious clergy who extend their roles into the home!