When Jewish families in the Wine Country need a mezuzah and someone to hang it properly, they now have a place to turn. For nearly a year, Chabad of Napa Valley has been supplying, installing and inspecting mezuzahs as part of its basic services.
“There was a 10-point campaign that was initiated by the Lubavitcher rebbe [Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson], and a mezuzah campaign was one of the mandates,” said Rabbi Elchonon Tenenbaum, who helped open Napa’s first Chabad house in 2006.
However, the Napa Valley Chabad mezuzah campaign didn’t really get cooking until John Noonan’s bar mitzvah last year. In preparing for the big day, John read about teshuvah — repentance by returning to God — in his Torah portion, Ha’Azinu.
“We can do teshuvah by reminding ourselves about the Torah,” he said in a recent interview.
And because the words of the Torah are written inside the mezuzah, John decided to get the mezuzah campaign up and running — not only as his bar mitzvah project, but also as a way to keep the words of the Torah in people’s lives. He raised money for the program, which offers mezuzahs free of charge (although donations toward the mezuzah fund are accepted), and did what he could to popularize it.
Mezuzahs, which contain scrolls with the V’ahavta prayer written on them, are hung on doorposts as a way of fulfilling the commandment of loving God. But they’re not simply scrolls with words written on them, Tenenbaum said.
“The mezuzah provides spiritual protection,” he said, “and even physical protection.”
While mezuzahs are abundantly available at Judaica stores and online, what draws people to the Napa Chabad program is one of two things: getting personal assistance in properly installing a mezuzah, or ensuring that an older mezuzah already in their home is still kosher.
In order to be kosher, a mezuzah has to be mistake-free and have no imperfections. Chabad of Napa Valley helps people make appointments with a scribe to examine the mezuzahs — a process that has gone high-tech.
“These days, besides physically looking it over, they also use computer programs” to find errors, Tenenbaum said.
Chabad of Napa Valley isn’t alone in helping people obtain, place and inspect mezuzahs, as many if not all Chabads perform this task to some extent. In some locations — mostly in New York and Los Angeles — the local Chabad chapters have scribes on site to help; in other areas, the Chabads use the services of a traveling scribe.
Mezuzah campaigns are active at many of the Bay Area’s 23 Chabad centers; Chabad of the East Bay in Berkeley, for example, has given out 10 mezuzahs since it began offering that service. Other local Chabads, such as the Redwood City Jewish Center, offer formalized mezuzah services, but basically anyone can go to a Chabad at anytime and request a mezuzah or mezuzah help.
In Napa, the program — which assists roughly two or three households per month — is a bit more in the public eye.
John Noonan promotes the campaign through word of mouth and through the Chabad of Napa Valley website.
And in his bar mitzvah speech, he summarized his hope for the mezuzah campaign by saying, “I think that since God tells us that the tool of teshuva is His word in Torah, then the mitzvah of having a proper mezuzah can help remind us as we go in and out.”