My first home came with mezuzot in every doorway. As a young Jewish couple beginning our life together, Don and I mounted our own mezuza next to the front door and left the others in place. We knew nothing about the former owners save that the father was a rabbi with four children and that the family had lived there for many years.
Jews traditionally mount a small parchment scroll, known as a mezuza, encased in a decorative case on the door posts of their homes. The scroll contains specified verses from the Torah.
I was on our front lawn one morning when a car pulled up and a young woman holding a baby stepped out. She approached and said: “I grew up in this house. Would it be OK if I came in?” I told her that of course it was OK. What I did not tell her — and tried to camouflage — was that her request filled me with feelings. For the next several minutes as we walked through the house, I was always careful to remain a few steps behind her to hide my tears.
Why all the emotion? What was it about this woman and her unexpected visit that so overwhelmed me? At the time, I saw it as tied to where I was in my own life. I was 26, married for five years, and just beginning to think about motherhood. She was in her early 30s and a new mom. As I followed her around the house, I remember thinking: I hope that one day I have a daughter like her. I hope one day I will have a daughter like her who will return to this house carrying a baby.
Nearly 40 years have passed, and I have often thought back to that morning. In many ways, I still hold to my original sentiments. Don and I welcomed two daughters of our own into the house, and now one of them is a mom. And in many ways, my goals have been fulfilled. But there is more, and the more gets back to the mezuzot. The rabbi’s daughter’s visit was a moving and entirely unexpected living history of the house; the mezuzot were the steadfast keepers of history.
My friend Judy sold her home last year. It was in that beautiful space that she and her husband raised their twins, a son and a daughter. My younger daughter, Mollie, a close friend of the twins, spent countless hours there. It was in that warm and welcoming home that Mollie and her friends celebrated before their junior and senior proms and on graduation day.
Shortly after Judy’s home was sold, we all learned that the new buyer was tearing down the gracious English-country-style house. Although I understand why old homes are being leveled to make way for new, this makes me sad. I want to say to the builders: “Please acknowledge that this home has a history. Please remember that the walls you are tearing down are the repositories of memories. Please be respectful of this space and, if you can, save something of what came before.”
Thirteen years after moving into our first home, we moved to another just a short walk away, where I have remained for nearly three decades. During that time, I’ve kept a fond eye on the old home, watching as new owners have come and gone. Thankfully, the home seems neither to be the target of a teardown nor a candidate for a large, unwieldy expansion. The multileveled deck we built is gone, but the bones of the house seem to remain strong and intact. I do not know whether the mezuzot remain, but hope that if they are gone, they were removed with some recognition of their role as the keepers of memories.