Maimonides and the Mezuzah

Author: Neil Goldstein Glick
Published: March 3, 2016

There’s no such thing as coincidence: Two years after blogger Neil Goldstein Glick was accidentally given an extra Mezuzah in Egypt – he needed it as stamp of a Jewish home of a gay couple in Washington

NeilGoldsteinGlick180x200Twenty minutes after the clock struck twelve, and 2016 started, my friend Yishai, pulled me aside. “Do you know where I can get a mezuzah?”

Yishai and his partner just moved to Washington DC. They needed this one article to make their house a Jewish home.

Coincidentally, I had a spare mezuzah case and klaf. The klaf is the handwritten scroll on parchment that contains the Shema and paragraph explaining how Jews are commanded to remember the words of the Shema and inscribe them upon our forehead, heart, and doorposts.

The mezuzah case that immediately came to mind was procured on my recent travels to Egypt. I accidentally received it at the historic Ben Ezra Synagogue, in Fustat, or Old Cairo. I gave it to Yishai for his home. No better way to start 2016 than doing a mitzvah.

In late December 1988, I visited Israel for the first time. The trip was with a group of Los Angeles based university students. It was a trip to learn about the minorities in Israel, including the Druze, Bedouins, Israeli Arabs, Settlers, and Palestinian Arabs.

For whatever reason, I joined the group a few days late, and only arrived on December 25th. All alone, at the age of 18, I caught an Egged bus from Ben Gurion Airport to Nazareth, then changed buses to get to Tiberias to meet up with the group. There was much trepidation on that lonely bus ride, yet my heart was filled with excitement.

Every organized tour of Israel has a very knowledgeable guide. We had a mid-to-late 20’s man named David. He spoke perfect English and knew everything there was to know about every historic site in Israel.

Our final night in Tiberias was on December 28th. We went down to a small area with café’s and a McDavid’s on the waterfront of the Sea of Galilee.

Everyone in the group visited Israel before except me, and I wanted to see as many tourist and historic sites as possible. I shared this with David our guide. He then asked if I wanted to see the tomb of Maimonides, which was a short walk away. Rabbi Moses ben Maimon, the RaMbaM, was the greatest Rabbi ever. We made our way to the tomb.

In the middle of the walk, David mentioned that he thought that very evening was Maimonides’ Yahrzeit (anniversary of the death).

We arrive at the tomb, and at that time, for 784 years, it has been a place of pilgrimage. At the tomb, there was a lone Chasidic man with a pushke, a box to collect money for tzedaka/charity. I put in some coins for tzedaka. When I gave that money, I did not know that it was Rambam who codified the Eight Degrees of Charity.

It was powerful to be at the tomb of Maimonides, coincidentally on his Yahrzeit. Maybe Israel really is a home of miracles and mystery?

In 2014, my husband and I visited Egypt. Part of our tour of Old Cairo was a visit to the Ben Ezra Synagogue, one of the oldest synagogues in the world. Legend says, the synagogue was built where baby Moses was found by Pharaoh’s daughter.

Jewish history in Egypt is rich. Sadly, in our modern times the Egyptian Jewish community numbers only 11 elderly women.

Ben Ezra Synagogue was founded in 882 CE. In the twelfth century, the head of the Cairo Jewish community was Maimonides. In the synagogue, in the late 19th century, the famous Cairo Geniza was discovered. A Geniza is a repository of damaged sacred documents (Torah scrolls, prayer books, etc.) because they are not to be destroyed. The Cairo Geniza is a treasure trove or over 100,000 written documents dating back 1000 years.

The Geniza held not only the sacred, but also thousands of items relating to daily ancient Jewish life. In the collection there were many notes and letters written by Maimonides.

On my visit to the Synagogue, I wanted a souvenir of this historic synagogue. I wanted a piece of our rich history with Egypt. I bought a Ben Ezra Synagogue souvenir mezuzah case. It cost $10. One velvet box was put on the counter, and I put it in my bag. I walked around the interior again to take in this historic Jewish site. I returned to the counter, and there was another velvet box with another mezuzah. I paid the caretaker, and put the second velvet box in my bag without a thought.

After I left Egypt, I realized that I had two mezuzot. Immediately, I emailed the Synagogue and offered to pay (or give the cost to tzedaka) for the second one but never received a response. Both mezuzot sat in my home unused because I did not feel that one was rightfully mine.

At a DC Gay and Lesbian Engagement and Outreach (GLOE) Chanukah celebration in 2015, I met Yishai and his partner. At the celebration, I invited them to join us for New Years Eve.

New Years Eve comes, and they were there to celebrate. At midnight, we filled up the champagne flutes, and toasted in 2016. A little later, Yishai pulls me aside with his request for a mezuzah.

Immediately, I remembered about the Ben Ezra mezuzah cases. Though I never heard back from the Cairo synagogue, I felt by giving one away for someone to perform a mitzvah would make up for accidentally taking it.

My partner and I explained the importance of the Ben Ezra Synagogue to them, how Maimonides was the head of the community there, and how his writings were found in the Ben Ezra Geniza.

In the early hours of 2016, they left with their new mezuzah.

At breakfast on January 1, 2016, I checked Facebook and read this post from Chabad:
“Today in Jewish History: Maimonides, Rabbi Moses ben Maimon, passes away in Egypt on the 20th of Tevet in 1204. Known in the Jewish world by the acronym “Rambam” he was a Talmudist, Halachist, physician, philosopher and communal leader.”
The 20th of Tevet: the day Yishai received the mezuzah from where Maimonides himself walked; the 812th anniversary of the passing of this giant among scholars; and the 28th anniversary of the day I unexpectedly visited the tomb of this Master.
It all came together, and the extra mezuzah found its home.