Here’s a new use for an empty glue stick tube: a mezuzah case. If you collect a bunch, you have a cost-free craft for a whole class.
Glue Sticks don’t last very long. Manufacturers seem to keep shrinking the volume of glue without shrinking the actual container, and the glue has a fairly short shelf life (about two years). Thus, empty glue stick containers multiply, especially at a school.
A mezuzah is really the scroll inside of a mezuzah case: a klaf, or piece of kosher parchment upon which a sofer—scribe—has written (special ink, special quill) the first two passages of the Shema, Judaism’s central prayer.* The Shema is comprised of key verses from Deuteronomy (6:9 and 11:13-21), and begins, “Hear, Oh Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.”
Mezuzah literally means “doorpost,” and it is on our doorposts that Jews are obliged to mount a mezuzah. Doing so is a mitzvah—a commandment—and, what a coincidence, it is a biblical commandment found in the Shema itself: “you shall inscribe them [these words] on the doorposts of your home.”
So, every Jewish home, or to be more inclusive, every home in which someone identifies as Jewish, needs a mezuzah on the doorposts. Home in Hebew is bayit, and the home of a mezuzah—the case—is called a beit mezuzah, or mezuzah home. A beit mezuzah can be made out of just about any material that protects the scroll, and in every price range. This one comes in sticky plastic and is free.
Making a mezuzah case as pretty as you are able can actually bag yet another commandment: hiddur mitzvah, which means beautifying the mitzvah. The beauty of a cruddy old glue stick tube with minimal decoration is in the eye of the beholder, and this one is gorgeous to me.
PIctured are the grubby hands of my three year-old with his abridged version of the Shema: just the one word in block Hebrew. He wrote the Shin on the case by himself, and deemed the project done.
A real klaf is kosher, and his isn’t, but our doors are already set with the kosher kind, and this one is just fine as an exercise in Jewish crafty-ness and the repurposing of trash. (Maybe we can add Bal Tascheet to our list of mitzvot: the traditional mitzvah invoked when we recycle or reuse or save something from being needlessly destroyed.)
How to make a Mezuzah from an old glue stick:
1. Twist until the end of the inner tube is as far out as it will go. Pull it straight out. It’s either got a teensy bit of glue left down in it, or it’s dried up from getting forgotten in the back of a drawer. Either way, it should pop right out. You are left with a hollow tube and a handy spindle.
(Challenge: If you can find a way to reuse that little cup bit that popped out, holler. I save the tiny blue cylinder bead at the center, but I have yet to dream up a use for the cup part.)
2. Prepare your scroll. If you find an image of a real scroll online, scoot it to a word document and print it, fine, but know that you are taking the work of a professional scribe, that the scroll will not be kosher, and that the scroll still contains the four-letter name of God (tetragrammaton, aka a yud–hey–vav and hey) and should thus be treated with respect. Look up the word geniza, if this is news to you. If, however, you photocopy or scan a klaf you already own, I look on this as similar to recording a cassette tape of a CD you already own, just so you can play it in your really old car. It might technically be a copyright infringement, but it is for your own personal use and you did buy the first version. Besides, all this is in the service of education: a pursuit so supremely worthy that many lesser rules are forfeit. (Still, the ethical and legal questions raised by such things are in themselves educational. But I digress.)
Show a real scroll for reference, if you have one. The scrolls are fascinating in themselves: little works of art and faith and tradition. On the outside of the scroll should be the letters that spell Shaddai (Almighty) with a lovely crowned Shin, and then, upside down are a string of letters that are actually a kabbalistic cryptogram. The scroll is always rolled from left to right, so that when it is unrolled, the first word seen is Shema.
Other ways of making a scroll:
• Block print or rubber stamp the three letters of the word Shema.
• Photocopy or scan stickers of the three letters onto a small piece paper. Using more of those same stickers, the child can match a sticker to a letter and cover the image, spelling out Shema with a Shin, Mem and Ayin.
3. Insert scroll: roll it up as described above, left to right, and it fits perfectly around the spindle.
4. Decorate the outside. Whatever method you choose, it needs a big letter Shin on the outside, or the three letters Shin, Dalet, Yud which spell Shaddai and which are also an acronym for Shomer daltot Yisroel, or Guardian of the doors of Israel. (Think of the Passover story and those doorposts….)
Benny’s Educational Toys sells a sheet of marvelous gold, shiny, crowned shins for less than 3 bucks.
Simple decoration: Cut paper to fit, decorate, glue it on, done.
Or, knock yourself out with creativity. Just keep in mind:
• The back of the tube needs to be flat and smooth to stick to a doorpost.
• You may want to keep the lid free to open. I guarantee your child will want to open it and close it just because they can. Plus, you can teach the rule about how everyone is supposed to check a kosher klaf twice every seven years, to be sure all the letters are still visible.
5. Mount it. We used double-sided foam tape. For rules about placement, see this brief and printable pdf from USCJ (from the Conservative movement). Technically, it goes on the right-hand side of a door as you enter it, and in the lower part of the top third. But this is glue-stick mezuzah made by a kid, so put it where your kid can actually see it and, more importantly, reach it. Tradition says we either touch it and kiss our finger, or vice-versa.
6. As you’ll see in the booklet mentioned above, there is a traditional blessing when mounting a mezuzah. Depending on your version of Jewishness, you might find this too kosher for a nonkosher mezuzah, or you might go with it in the interest of education, and in the interest of demonstrating how real and important a contribution your kid just made to your Jewish home.
Barukh Attah Adonai Eloheinu Melekh ha-olam, asher kiddeshanu bemitzvotav vetzivanu lik’boa mezuzah — Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Ruler of the universe, Who sanctifies us with commandments and commands us to affix the mezuzah.
For excellent, non-denominational background info on the Shema prayer and the Mezuzah, see entries at MyJewishLearning.com.
To supplement your lesson on mezuzah-making, read the picture book A Mezuzah on the Door,
by Amy Meltzer, a PJ Library selection. Amy Meltzer is the balabusta behind the Jewish parenting blog: Homeshuling.