The klaf (scroll) is the mezuzah. I make mezuzah cases but the mezuzah is actually the scroll inside the case. It has beautiful prayers that are central to Judaism.
Many Jews believe that the mezuzah should not be used by Gentiles. After all it contains our most important prayer, the Shema. Furthermore, it is used in a ritualistic way. Hanging a mezuzah on your doorpost is one of the ten commandments. It is written by hand and cannot have a single mistake. It is certainly not a secular object. Can something so central and sacred to Jews be used by non-Jews? Is this cultural appropriation?
Recently I found this review on my Etsy store:
“I worried a lot about cultural appropriation before this but I realized that it’s what’s inside that’s important. I replaced the included scroll with a prayer/blessing of my own.”–Kaela
A friend of mine named Marion bought one of my mezuzah cases and asked me if it was ok to replace the scroll with a poem she loves by Mary Oliver. Here was another sensitive person who was grappling with the issue of cultural appropriation, and other issues related to anti-Semitism. She didn’t want to disrespect the Jewish traditions but wanted the mezuzah to have meaning for her as a non-Jew. I thanked her for asking and told her it was ok. Without the question, though, I might have felt differently. Privilege in all its forms and variants operates on assumption and unawareness but Marion didn’t make an assumption and demonstrated her awareness, so I felt good about how she wanted to use the mezuzah.
I asked her to write something about her process and this is what she wrote:
“After talking with friends who practice Judaism about whether hanging a mezuzah would be appropriate, we decided that this was a gesture of connection we wanted to make part of our home, though that we should replace the scroll with something of similar but secular meaning. We made sure we understood how to respectfully do this, and selected a beloved poem about finding home and your place in the world, that I hand wrote on special paper to tuck inside our mezuzah. It’s become a nice part of my routine coming home, and I hope that it is a gesture of solidarity with Jewish communities and others who seek belonging. And of course we wanted to support you, as an artist and our friend!”
I have other Gentile friends who have chosen to hang my mezuzah cases on their doorposts and keep the Hebrew scroll inside. When I visit one of these friends, I am grateful to see the mezuzah there. It feels like they have taken a stand against anti-Semitism.
Many Jews believe that the mezuzah is only for Jews. Perhaps this way of thinking stems from our history of ghettoization, expulsion, being scapegoated and genocided, and forced to practice our religion in secret.
If we had not guarded our culture, we would have lost our identity as a people.
Assimilation has been another option we have chosen in order to survive.
But today we have a third choice: to share our culture with others. I think this is the option that will most ensure our safety.
Even so, in parts of the world where there are few Jews, many are too frightened to hang a mezuzah on their doorpost, and who could blame them?
But every time a non-Jew marks their home with a mezuzah, the Jewish people have gained an ally.
And with the current rise in anti-Semitic attacks worldwide we are in need of strong allies.
So, I thank Kaela and Marion and all my friends who have hung my mezuzahs on their doorposts.
The spirit of the mezuzah is oneness. The human community is one People, and we are all deeply interconnected. May we take the time to learn about each other and find ways to have each other’s back.