“Mom, are we Jewish?” asked the little Brooklyn girl.
“Only on Jewish holidays when we go to Grandma’s house.”
I clearly remember that conversation with my mom when I was seven years old. My best friend, Kathy, asked me if I wanted to go to Sunday School with her at the Dutch Reformed Church in Canarsie, but I wasn’t sure I was allowed in case I was Jewish. Mom said I could go!
It was so much fun; I went every Sunday. I got to sing in the youth choir, and I memorized verses to recite onstage at Easter and Christmas after which we got cardboard boxes of chocolates with string handles similar to the boxes of Animal Crackers. I earned points for attendance that got me the coveted “Attendance Pin”. The base pin was an ornate solid circle. With every additional year, a bar on chain links was added.
When I had three bars hanging from my pin I earned a necklace; a plain gold cross on a delicate chain. I was proud of it and wore it every day. Except on Jewish holidays when we went to Grandma’s; I would switch it for the Jewish Star Grandma had given me for my birthday.
It was Rosh Hashanah, and we took the subway to Williamsburg to celebrate the New Year. As soon as we walked through the door of the fourth floor walk-up apartment, Uncle Irving, wearing his yarmulke, came out of his room to greet us. As he approached me with a wide-eyed crazed look on his face, I realized I had forgotten to change my necklace. I stood frozen in fear as his large hand snatched the pendant off my neck breaking the chain.
“Vat is dis?!” he yelled sounding like a wounded animal. Panic rendered me speechless. I ran out of the apartment, flew down the four flights of stairs, and blindly ran into the street sobbing. My cousin Dennis, the only one fast enough to catch me, grabbed me two blocks away, held me tight and said: It’s okay to come back. Your mom explained the cross wasn’t yours. She told them it belonged to your friend, Kathy, and you were holding it for her when she went swimming. You just forgot to return it to her.”
Years later, as Grandma aged, she gave me the Mezuzah necklace she had worn on her neck for forty years. She said: : “Tateleh, take it now before I should fall down on the street, and they take it off my neck while I’m lying in the gutter. Better you should have it now. Take it. Take it.”
Grandma lived for at least ten more years during which time that mezuzah never left my neck. I wore it most of the time after she passed away. It was a heavy, ornate pendant with the distinction of having a dent in the middle. I have no idea how it got there, but I came to love it because it was uniquely Grandma Gussie’s. Sadly, somebody took it from me. It disappeared from its perch in my jewelry armoire in 2009 while I was on a trip to Costa Rica. It broke my heart to lose it. The other jewelry, the tennis bracelet, the diamond earrings, the emerald pendant that also went missing, didn’t hurt nearly as much as losing Grandma’s mezuzah.
I put a mezuzah on my door. Rules dictate that when you move, you should leave the mezuzah for the next family unless they are not Jewish in which case it would, most likely, be removed and destroyed. I have moved this door mezuzah at least eight times in five years. Yes, I’ve moved that many times. And No, none of the people that moved in after me were Jewish; so I’m O.K. Whew!
When I asked my husband to put the mezuzah on the door of out present home, he did so cheerfully, then called me over to see it. I knitted my eyebrows together and said: “Huh? It’s so low!”
He smiled seeming quite pleased with himself. “Yeah, well you’re not very tall, so I put it where you could see it better.”
It was at MY eye level which was about halfway up the door frame. I had to laugh! If you haven’t grown up seeing mezuzahs in doorways, you wouldn’t know there are rules to this sort of thing. He kindly unscrewed it and, under my direction placed it at the bottom of the top third of the doorway angled with the top pointing into the home; as every good little Jewish girl knows.
And guess what? My hubby got me a new mezuzah for Valentine’s Day. I will wear it proudly in honor of Grandma Gussie Bloom, whose real name was Gladys or Basha Golda, we’re not sure .
My door mezuzah is just the right height, and my necklace is in place.
It is surprising how many perfectly placed mezuzahs you see in Costa Rica once you know where to look. I am, but then I’m always surprised. And easily amused. Mazel tov!