When Rabbi Peter Berg of The Temple received the initial telephone call, he thought it was a prank and nearly hung up.
The person on the other end said they were calling on behalf of a high-profile couple who recently had moved to Washington, D.C.
Berg was assured that the inquiry was legitimate, and that the couple were seeking a mezuzah for their new home. “They want it to be meaningful. They want it to have historical significance,” the caller told Berg, who related the story to the AJT.
He guessed, correctly, that the couple was Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband, the “Second Gentleman,” Douglas Emhoff, who is Jewish.
After hearing nothing for a while, Berg was invited to speak with Harris during her June 18 visit to Atlanta to promote COVID-19 vaccinations. At the close of the conversation, which included discussion of Israel and anti-Semitism, the rabbi asked, “What about the mezuzah?”
Berg quoted Harris as replying: “If I’ve told my husband once, I’ve told him a hundred times, we have to pick the mezuzah already.”
The Temple has loaned the vice president and her husband a mezuzah. “I was told that The Temple had been selected because of our history. Because Leo Frank was a member. Because The Temple was bombed by white supremacists. Because of our commitment to social justice. Because of our support for Israel. Because of the work we do combatting anti-Semitism,” Berg said.
On Oct. 7, The Temple’s senior rabbi officiated as the mezuzah was affixed to a front doorpost of the Naval Observatory House, the vice president’s official residence.
“It was a small private ceremony, a really personal moment,” Berg said, including just Harris, Emhoff, and Emhoff’s parents, Barbara and Michael Emhoff, who had not seen their son throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
Berg led the blessing for the mezuzah and the Shehecheyanu prayer, which recognizes the importance of the moment. Emhoff nailed the mezuzah to the doorpost on a diagonal, in keeping with a thousand-year-old rabbinic determination.
This is the first time that a mezuzah — which contains a tiny scroll with texts from the Book of Deuteronomy, denoting the house as a sacred space — has hung at an American executive residence. The injunction to post a mezuzah — “inscribe them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” — is found in Deuteronomy 6:9.
“It was great to do something in Washington that was not political. It was just a beautiful private, religious ceremony. It was an honor to be able to do it,” Berg said.
- Year in Review
- Dave Schechter
- The Temple Atlanta
- Rabbi Peter Berg
- Washington D.C.
- Douglas Emhoff
- COVID-19 vaccinations
- Vice President
- white supremacists
- Vice President Kamala Harris
- Second Gentleman
- Temple Bombing
- Leo Frank
- Social Justice
- Naval Observatory House
- Barbara and Michael Emhoff
- Shehecheyanu prayer
- Book of Deuteronomy