Every mezuzah has a story to tell

Different ways families embrace mezuzot

Community Mezuah  image

Mezuzot are found in virtually every Jewish home: they contain a handwritten copy of the Jewish Shema  prayer, attesting to G-d's unity, and confer protection on the home.  

While the inside of mezuzot are pretty similar, the outer cases are often beautiful works of art. Here is an assortment of several Chicago-area mezuzot and the stories behind them.

Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School 

When Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School completed an addition in 2019, it held a school-wide competition to create beautiful mezuzah cases. Art teachers Gili Sherman and Shana Ryback taught students how to design cases out of clay.  

"We talked about what the mezuzah is and that there's a prayer in it, to protect the people inside a building," explained Lower School art instructor Shana Ryback. One mezuzah design won in each class, resulting in 27 magnificent, unique mezuzot which now hang throughout the school.

Julie Marder, Northbrook

Soon after Julie Marder's daughter Hailey was born in 2023, Julie's beloved father, Stewart, passed away. "It was a really big blow," Marder reflected. 

She decided to incorporate her father's memory into Hailey's nursery. "We wanted to decorate her nursery in a way that would help her feel his presence and love." Her grandfather called Hailey his "little rosebud," so Marder decided to use rosebuds as a theme.  

After Hamas' deadly October 7attack on Israel, Marder decided to source items in Israel, and found a rose-themed mezuzah case through a Facebook page showcasing Israeli art. "I'm glad to have little pieces that make me feel like my dad is still loving my baby," Marder said. "His main loves were his family, Israel, and Judaism."

Andrea Weiss, Skokie

After noticing distinctive artwork at a friend's house, Skokie mom Andrea Weiss inquired about the artist and gave him a call. They eventually struck up a friendship that still survives today.

The artist, Martin Lowenberg, a Detroit-based Holocaust survivor, learned about metalworking as a child in Germany. While most of his family was murdered during the Holocaust, Lowenberg survived several concentration camps. After being liberated, he moved to the U.S., and today volunteers at the Zekelman Holocaust Center in Farmington Hills, Mich.. He uses wood from cattle cars that once transported Jews to concentration camps to make mezuzot and other Judaica items.

Weiss bought one of Lowenberg's mezuzot ; and today, it hangs in her family's living room doorway. "People ask me about it all the time," she said. "He took something so terrible and turned it into a mitzvah and that makes me feel resilient. Especially now, with everything happening in Israel and Gaza, when I walk into the main room of my house, it gives me strength."

Suzy Nussbaum, Chicago

This plastic mezuzah hangs on the kitchen doorway in the Chicago home of Suzy Nussbaum, Director of Admissions at Ida Crown Jewish Academy. A colleague made it for her one-year work anniversary to thank her for a job well done- and used one of the school's 3D printers to create the Western Wall-themed mezuzah case.

Jill Nutkis, Skokie

Skokie mom Jill Nutkis' grandfather Aryeh Cohen was born and grew up in present-day Israel. Before the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, he fought with the underground group, the Haganah . After Israel's founding, he fought in the Armed Forces during the War of Independence.  

Afterwards, he moved to the U.S., and brought his Israeli mezuzot with him. "I'm the third generation to use them," Nutkis notes. "It's the history behind them that's significant for me and my family."

Dr. Yvette Alt Miller lives with her family in suburban Chicago. Her latest book, Portraits of Valor: Heroic Jewish Women You Should Know , describes the lives of 40 remarkable women who inhabited different eras and lands, giving a sense of the vast diversity of Jewish experience.      

 


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