According to Rabbi Peter Berg of the Hebrew Benevolent Congregation (The Temple) in Atlanta, the moment the sacred object was affixed to the wooden entrance to the Naval Observatory marked the first time an executive house had worn the permanent sign of the holiness of a Jewish house. the mezuzah. Berg led the private ceremony at the Naval Observatory in October.
Emhoff is the first Jewish wife of a president or vice president, and Harris is the first woman and the first woman of color to hold her title.
“This is an extraordinary moment in the history of the United States,” Berg told CNN in an interview. “And it was one of the great honors of my life to be able to stand there with the Second Family as they placed this mezuzah on their house for the very first time.”
A mezuzah houses a small parchment that includes the text of the Shema prayer and fulfills the biblical command to affix the object to the door jamb of the house, a White House official told CNN. It means protecting the home, marking it as a sacred and holy space, and a reminder to those within “to devote themselves to a life of meaning, worth, kindness and love for all beings” .
Emhoff’s parents, who had not seen their son or Harris in person since before the inauguration due to the Covid-19 pandemic, were in attendance.
“The second man and the vice president both spoke out of the blue about what it meant for them to be here. Remember, this was not a public event. There were no cameras or staff there. There were no elected Jews. It was just a private family time. And to me that’s what made him so beautiful, ”said Berg.
“When I first started talking we all cried because of the importance and the story,” Berg said.
Berg said the October ceremony, which he wrote, included two traditional blessings: one to sanctify the space and another to hang the mezuzah. A Shehecheyanu prayer was also recited, a ritual blessing believed to sanctify “something precious and new,” according to the official. The second family also participated in the reading to make the ceremony more personal.
Emhoff finally publicly shared those personal moments before the Thanksgiving holiday, posting photos of him on Twitter hammering the holy tube against the wall. A White House official said he was about a third of the way up.
“One of my favorite memories was visiting our family and together we hung a mezuzah at the front door of the vice president’s residence,” Emhoff wrote.
“He obviously recognizes the importance of being the first in this space and I think he is very honored to have the opportunity to help lead some of these really important and meaningful traditions,” said an official at the White House to CNN in March.
The Temple has specific significance for social justice, with long-standing ties to the civil rights movement and the fight against anti-Semitism.
Former Rabbi Jacob Rothschild’s relationship with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. led Rothschild to honor the leader of civil rights in Atlanta after winning the Nobel Peace Prize. The temple was also home to Leo Frank, a Jewish man who was lynched in 1915. In more modern times, the temple now strives to reduce homelessness in the community with several shelters established by former Rabbi Sugarman.
This work is what led the second family to choose a Temple mezuzah, Berg said, as they wanted to remember the virtues of the Temple when they returned home.
The process began months ago when he received a call from an unknown number, the caller telling him he was looking for a religious object for a “high profile couple” who recently moved to Washington, DC. .
Berg initially thought it was a hoax, before realizing the appellant was referring to the vice president. After taking photos of the mezuzah and summarizing the temple’s long history, Berg said he didn’t receive a response until months later – in June, when he was invited to attend the launch of a vaccination tour with Harris in Atlanta. Berg then spoke to Harris backstage.
“They started taking me because my 15 minutes were up and I said, ‘By the way, don’t forget the mezuzah.’ She looked up and said, ‘If I told my husband once, I told him 100 times, we have to choose the mezuzah,’ ”Berg said, recalling a moment of levity.
He was told months later that the Temple had been chosen and was invited to DC for the ceremony.
“The world is so filled with divisive politics, and it was just a beautiful, ritualistic moment. Without anything political, just pure beauty,” Berg said.
‘Family is the most important’
The second family will affix a second mezuzah in the residence, from the Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life at the University of California at Berkeley, according to the official.
It is a sterling silver mezuzah, made from a drawing by American Jewish sculptor Ludwig Yehuda Wolpert.
“This mezuzah affair inscribed the Hebrew phrase:” Blessed will you be in your comings and blessed will you be in your departures “(Deuteronomy 28: 6), a traditional blessing for visitors and travelers,” noted the responsible.
Joel Goldstein, a vice-presidential historian, summed up the significance of this historic moment for CNN as “in keeping with the ideal of pluralism and inclusiveness that has been hallmark of the Biden administration, as initially evidenced by the selection. of then Senator Harris to be his running mate and now in his service as Vice President. “
Tradition has it that residents kiss the mezuzah upon entering the house. During the ceremony, the question arose whether to tie the cylinder vertically or horizontally. Berg informed the family that he was supposed to be tied up diagonally.
“The reason is because it reminds us of the compromise and peace that should exist at home. I explained this tradition to the Second Family and they felt it was just very deeply meaningful,” Berg said. “And I remember the vice president even saying, ‘Family means everything. “”