Rabbi Jonathan Kendall: Removing the Mezuzah from My Door

"Ein Hod" by Yaniv Ben-Arie on Flickr, used under a Creative Commons 2.0 license.

There is a little enclave of quaint early 20th century houses and buildings that improbably sits above the coastal road in the hills between Caesarea and Haifa. Once an Arab village abandoned in ’48, it became the address of ex-patriot artists, most of them from Russia and Eastern Europe. It is a kind of artists’ moshav, an almost-collective where the gift shop sells the extraordinary works of the residents and the restaurant used to serve a pretty decent lunch.

Ein Hod is a place for serious artisans. If you should stumble across it, you can wander from studio to studio. The dividends from high end sales have allowed for some magnificent residences scattered amongst the original dwellings. Ein Hod is not as darkly schlocky as Tzefat and is wonderfully secular. If you close your eyes and listen carefully, amidst the birdsong you swear the Internationale is playing somewhere in the background.

It was in Ein Hod in the 80’s that I met Chaya Magal (who was also in her late 80’s at the time – she died at the ripe and generous age of 102 in 2010). Born in Kishinev, she and her husband arrived in Haifa in 1933 and in 1948 they became one of the original set of Ein Hod artists. A ceramicist of international renown, I never made a trip to Israel without visiting her and her studio and buying something, anything. Her works are explosions of astonishing, vivid color – in large part populated by flocks of vibrant birds and riotous flowers. Among my collected works is a mezuzah. I stood before it last week, cautiously and delicately removing the screws that held it in place for 19+ years and in some ways, I was removing the things that held me in place.

Rabbi Jonathan P. Kendall, D.D.
Rabbi Jonathan P. Kendall, D.D.

Just as Chaya Magal left us, I was leaving, too – not as permanent a move as Chaya’s (not yet, anyway), but a move nonetheless. When you leave your long time home one of the most stressful and disjunctive of events descends on you very much as a swarm of noisome insects. They come at you from every direction and they give no quarter. A repositioning at my age is troubling, unsettling and disconcerting. Moving from the sub-tropics to the Snow Belt was described, floridly, by one of my friends in terms of “What in God’s Name are you thinking?”

I found that my most important pre-move activity was getting rid of stuff. But this was the stuff of which memories were made – some good, some not-so-good. Here was a box of get well cards meticulously crafted by kids from the religious school sent after heart surgery. They buoyed my recovery in ways that I can’t explain. Alas, they were summarily dispatched.

Over there were plaques given to my Dad – from B’nai Brith, the AMA, the hospital – would they have any meaning to my children (who barely knew him)? These, for sentimental value, I kept. In the final analysis – and after all was said and done – I was totally, completely, irrevocably irrational in my choices. I reasoned that I would leave it to MY children to decide what was worth keeping after I was gone. Besides, it was just the flotsam and jetsam of being touched by something once and hanging on to it, if for no other reason than to recreate the sensation yet again. Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn’t.

The really difficult and irresolvable piece was leaving behind good friends and the familiarity of living in one place for almost twenty years. Instead of a somnolent small town I was about to embark into city life. And I make no bones about it: I suffered – not with the wisdom of the move – but over the intangible losses of familiarity and intimacy, not to even mention traffic and attitude. Now I understand why there are those who suggest that such a change-of-place is emotionally equivalent to a personal loss, equal in some mystical way to a death in the family.

Empty nesters of a certain age are moving closer to their children (we older boomers are of that certain age). Don’t get me wrong: friends are nice and very good friends, even nicer – but is there anything better than a grandchild in your lap? Can anything top being covered with stickers or playing a video game you really don’t understand or having your six year old grandson explain the features on your I-Phone you didn’t know you had? For some, locale, climate and other people trump family. I am not one of them. I have gone from weather to die for to weather you can die from; from Florida to Pennsylvania and I have not looked back. The blinding flash of the obvious – for me, certainly not for all – is that little arms around your neck surpass almost everything in both importance and sanctity.

Life IS a journey! The new chapter begins.


  1. This article is so moving to me. As a resident of southeast PA and having endured this past winter in particular, I can appreciate your reluctance to move north. However, 18 years ago my sister’s and I persuaded my parents to move closer to us as they were always here babysitting the grandkids anyway. They did so and while difficult for them, they have had a life rich with grand-kid time. My father died 13 years ago now but my Mom, soon to be 88, has seen them all grow, graduate, and now the eldest has given her a great grandson – in VABeach! She is on her way there as I write, with my sister, the new Nanna in our family – perhaps never to come back to PA again! “Great Nanna” as she is now known may be in transition again…..we are so fortunate to have gone round this circle of life and our children are enriched for it…..hats off to all grandparents who move to be near their grandchildren. We love you for it, and will keep you warm in all sorts of winters ahead…..

    A devout fan of your wisdom and writings.

    .Jeanne Marie Welsko

  2. As an old friend from So. Florida, who has also moved to “cold country”, I totally understand everything you just wrote about. I, too, went through the same trepidations, losses, etc. when I made my move here to be near family four years ago. Please believe me, you will find it the best decision you could ever make and will be so happy! I hope you received my recent email and am looking forward to reconnecting. Love, Nancy (and Art) Young.

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