The Polar Bear and the Mezuzah

We step over cables, pieces of sheetrock, and the old torn down doorframe in my sister’s new home in Norway, which is undergoing a total renovation before they will move in at the end of June. Taking me on a tour of the project in process, she tells me of her vision for their dream nest, with one brilliant and thoughtful concept after another. Washer and dryer at hip level so no bending is needed; a small wall-hung fireplace in the open solution kitchen/dining/living room space; lots of windows, glass and light, and mellow, soothing color-tones of grey, white and wheat. I know they will be happy and comfortable here, in a space just “enough bigger” than their smaller, old house, two doors down, and perfectly customized to their family’s needs and beautiful Scandinavian esthetics.

As a housewarming gift I brought her something quirky from Italy: a hand crafted sterling silver and cream colored enamel polar bear from one of the traditional jewelers on the Ponte Vecchio in Firenze, so small it fits in the palm of my hand. The tiny Ursus Maritimus called out to me from a bright window display, surrounded by brilliant, precious objects I usually would not notice. It was perfect: easy to carry to Norway, unobtrusive to my sister who is not into nicknacks, and meaningful—our late dad was a lifelong member of a men’s club, the Polar Society, whose logo was this great nordic icon. Symbolic and evocative, perhaps she will keep it on a ledge in her work-room, where it can bring a smile to her face on winter days when the darkness and the laundry piles become oppressive.

At the end of the tour and as we stand by the old doorframe while musing at the tiny bear, my sister, who is not Jewish and did not buy the house from someone Jewish, bends down and picks up a small, dusty, brass mezuzah from the rubble. “The couple who lived here travelled to Israel a lot throughout their lives,” she says, “the workers must not have known what it is.” She brushes it off and closes her hand around it. “I’d like to put it back up on our new door when it is installed.” The mezuzah is in traditional 1970s style—flat, matte, with a red Hebrew letter “shin” on its face. Inside it, behind a piece of thin metal backing, we find the handwritten parchment with the Hebrew prayer, blessing those who enter.

Later, near midnight as I fall asleep while the sky is still blue and pink, I think about how after 30 years of me living in the US and being Jewish, our culturally blended family has morphed into a unique symbiosis of traditions and appreciations; a kind of attentiveness to what is meaningful for us. But best of all, I tell myself, is the emotional connection in our small clan, which despite much time and distance apart, remains the pulse affirming our shared expereinces.

 

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