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Rabbis offer symbol of faith, reassurance after threats to Jewish community



LUMBERTON — A Jewish blessing handwritten on a tiny scroll protects township resident Debbie Mackow and her family every time they walk through their front door.

The sacred scroll, called a mezuzah, is a symbol of God’s protection and love in the Jewish faith. In times when Jewish centers and organizations have been threatened nationwide, it's also become a symbol of reassurance.

As a response to the recent threats and acts of hatred, rabbis in South Jersey have begun handing out free mezuzahs to families to remind them that God will keep them safe. 


“We felt that people wanted to respond. They want to do something,” said Rabbi Yitzchok Kahan, of the Chabad-Lubavitch in Medford. “And this we felt was an opportunity that people can really embark on a positive mission.”

The rabbis also check existing mezuzahs to make sure they are kosher or have not worn over time, offering replacements as needed.

Mezuzahs include a handwritten blessing by a scribe on one side. It is traditionally hung in as many entrances of a home as possible.

“It reminds me of my Judaism and connection to my family, who are spread out all over the states now,” Mackow said. “It just makes me feel better.”

The Torah says the mezuzah protects one from harm and hate, and prolongs one’s life, according to organizers of the project.

Jewish institutions nationwide became targets of violence and intimidation last month. A bomb threat was reported at the Katz Jewish Community Center in Cherry Hill, and over 100 headstones were vandalized at Mount Carmel Cemetery, a Jewish cemetery in Philadelphia.

The Mackow family was one of dozens to receive a mezuzah from Kahan and his partners, Rabbis Mendel Mangel, of the Chabad of Camden and Burlington Counties in Cherry Hill, and Menachem Kaminker, of the Israeli Chabad Center in Voorhees.

“We’re trying to do something to be a positive force against a negative force,” Kahan said.

Kahan discovered that the mezuzah that used to hang in the Mackows’ front entrance was not authentic because the blessing was not written on parchment paper.

It’s common for families to accidentally purchase a mezuzah that isn’t kosher, particularly if they get it online, the rabbi said. Sometimes they mistakenly buy the case without the blessing inside.

Mackow had no idea her mezuzah was inauthentic for over two decades until Kahan visited her home last week to inspect it. 

“I never thought to look that it wasn’t the right thing,” she said. “Now that I know it is, I feel better.”

Southampton resident Roslyn Leonard called Kahan to check both of her 50-year-old mezuzahs at the front and back entrances of her home.

They found both had been weathered as a result of being outside for so long, and one had not been kosher to begin with.

Kahan is now helping Leonard find scrolls to fit mezuzah cases she bought many years ago in Israel. She hopes to hang one on every doorway of her home.

Leonard praised the rabbis’ campaign to spread tolerance and help Jewish people show pride in their heritage.

“It’s just time to stand up and say, ‘We are Jews. We are people. And we are peaceful,’ ” she said. “We are part of the community. And this type of hatred is baseless and wrong.”

The mezuzah is tilted toward the entrance of the doorway, often to the right, to ensure that people go into the home “with God’s support,” Kahan said.

“We want to recognize that everything that we do is in the assistance and guidance and the support of God,” he said. “So when we enter our home and when we leave our home, we see the mezuzah and it reminds us that God is there for us in everything that we do.”

The rabbis will be accepting requests for mezuzahs and authenticity checks over the next several weeks. For more information, call the Chabad of Camden and Burlington Counties at 856-874-1500.