The Mezuzah & The Magnolia

photoThe door to my apartment is pretty distinct: It just might be the only one in this city that welcomes visitors by displaying a cheerful magnolia flower, and a modest little bronze mezuzah.

About a year ago, my husband got a new job, and we moved from Jackson, Mississippi, to Chicago. It was a big transition. Excited as we were to embrace the new city and new opportunities, and to connect with friends and family up North, we were also sentimental about leaving our lives, friends, and family in the South.

There’s something very Southern about feeling proudly tied to a particular place, and about wanting to hold on to deep connections, and about wanting to share and display the art and flavors of your culture. There’s also something really Jewish about doing those exact same things. We tell our stories and introduce our identities in a number of ways, and quite often, small symbols with big meaning help convey who we are, where we come from, and what matters to us.

As individuals and as a people (whether the “people” in question are Southerners, Jews, Southern Jews, or others!), our lives are intricately layered and inter-connected stories. Each chapter is informed and infused by the previous chapters. We are not just the citizens of the time and place in which we currently reside; we are the culmination of everywhere else we have been.

The magnolia and the mezuzah at the door are symbols of Southern and Jewish pride, and they’re a preview of what you’ll find inside the apartment. Our home in Chicago is full of Southern touches — the vintage map of Mississippi, the “one-Mississippi-two-Mississippi”- second-counting wall clock, artwork by our talented friends from the South; it is full of Jewish artifacts — the tzedakah box, the Kiddush cup, the beautiful candlesticks made from the tree that formed our chuppah; and there are even a few special pieces that blend the two, like our Shalom Y’all coffee table book and  our beautiful ketubah, a gift from my ISJL co-workers, designed by an artist friend who moved recently from Mississippi to Texas.

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After only a year here, this city too is winding itself into our narrative. The artwork made by friends in Mississippi now hangs alongside creations from our new Chicago friends, as do photographs of time spent here as well as there. All of it will come with us, physically and figuratively, wherever next we go– whether it’s back to Mississippi, to another home here, or to an adventure in another place entirely. All of our artifacts will be in tow, helping us tell our story.

The two small symbols at our door set the tone. They are clues, and reminders, and ties that bind. They greet every visitor to our home, and they are also a reminder for us, each time we cross our own threshold: As I slip my key into the lock, the magnolia and the mezuzah both remind me that I’m home.

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