a gay black woman's discovery of her jewish self

Jewish Stuff

Posted on: March 16, 2011

There are a lot of ritual objects in Judaism.  One of the things that I was drawn to was the focus on the home, spirituality of the home, and making the home a sacred place.  When you’re pagan there are a lot of ritual objects and rituals that happen in the home as well.  I never moved into a new place without doing a sage burning to “cleanse” the space.  I still do that now but when I move to my new apartment I will be putting a mezuzah on the door as well.  Not to “protect” my home, but to fulfil the commandment to do so.

Inside a Jewish home you may see artwork, Hamsas, mezuzah, a kiddish cup, a menorah, a shofar, a seder plate.  It’s not the “stuff” that makes the home Jewish, but the meaning behind the “stuff”.  You don’t need a hamsa but it’s beautiful, it has spiritual meaning, and strong identity in Jewish and middle eastern homes.  You don’t need a kiddish cup, any old cup of wine will do but, having a beautiful cup to pour wine into as you say kiddish on Shabbat can make the blessing more meaningful.  There is a fine line between using objects to help carve out meaning in spiritual life and worshipping objects. 

I love visiting cathedrals, the more gothic the better.  NYC is home of some of the east coast’s most beautiful cathedrals, including the oldest gothic Episcipol cathedral, St. John the Divine.  Inside cathedrals, especially Catholic ones there are beautiful statues of saints, the Virgin Mother, and usually stations of the cross.  You will find blessings to different saints along with candles to light and donation boxes to fill.  Usually in front of these icons you will find prayer benches for kneeling and praying.  That part, the kneeling and praying part, was always troublesome for me growing up.  We are taught that you should love only God and have no other Gods than him.  We are taught to not worship false gods or idols.  The idea is that the statue, icon, etc. should be an object that reminds you of…that saint or of God?

While there are important aspects of Jewish culture that are focused in a shul, a lot of Jewish culture and tradition is focused on the home.  Many of the Jewish holidays, Hanukkah, Sukkkot and Pesach (33 days and counting) are largely focused on home ritual, home spirituality, home prayer.  Which is why, I suppose, there is so much ritual “stuff” in a Jewish home.  And so much stuff that I want.

On my list

A tallit

A Kiddish Cup

And a Seder Plate

The list, of course, goes on and on.  I still am trying to figure out my feelings about head coverings.  With my upcoming move and many doors and rooms, I’ll have to get more mezuzah, I only have one hamsa hanging on my wall and I think they’re beautiful so I anticipate getting more.  I love my menorah but there are always more to get, etc., etc., etc.

Even making this list I’m a little disturbed that I want a list of’ Jewish stuff.  You’ll have the people that will say, “It isn’t Shabbat without a challah cover!”  or “You can’t say kiddish without a proper kiddish cup!”  or “There’s no Miriam’s cup on the Seder table!”  just for the sake of saying it or because it’s “supposed” to be.  If you buy the stuff because you’re supposed to and it has no meaning then it is just stuff.  But if you have the stuff because it helps bring meaning to the spiritual is it more than stuff?

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