Andrew Kotov has lived in his Squirrel Hill home for about 20 years, but will soon be affixing the first mezuzahs to its doorposts, thanks to a Chabad-Lubavitch of Pittsburgh initiative in memory of the 11 people murdered in the anti-Semitic attack at the Tree of Life synagogue building on Oct. 27.
“We are not very religious, but I think it will be good for the kids to grow up with mezuzahs,” said Kotov, who immigrated to the United States from Russia in 1993. He plans to affix about 10 mezuzahs throughout his home, with Rabbi Yisroel Altein coming by to assist.
Kotov’s son and daughter are currently preparing for their bar and bat mitzvahs, he said, and he hopes the mezuzahs will help “push them in the right direction.”
“The mezuzahs are a positive sign,” Kotov said, “especially with the events at Tree of Life.”
On Oct. 28, the day after the Tree of Life murders, Pittsburgh’s Chabad rabbis convened to “see what we should do,” said Altein, spiritual leader of Chabad of Squirrel Hill. “Everyone said we should do some sort of mitzvah campaign in memory of the victims.”
The rabbis agreed an appropriate response would be to affix 1,100 mezuzahs on doorposts, 100 for each of the 11 victims.
Mezuzahs, Altein explained, denote “protection of the Jewish people.” Because of the “nature of the event” at Tree of Life, attaching mezuzahs to Jewish homes seemed the right thing to do.
Affixing mezuzahs to Jewish homes was the way that “the Rebbe, [Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson,] responded in Israel to terrorist attacks,” Altein added.
The Chabad rabbis in Pittsburgh connected with Chabad rabbis globally to expand the mezuzah campaign.
“Within no time, 1,100 mezuzahs were reached,” said Altein. “By the end of shiva, Chabad had hit triple the number for mezuzahs. Jews all over the world wanted to participate.”
By the end of the 30-day shloshim period following burial of the 11 victims, almost 5,500 people around the world had joined in the initiative, either by placing a mezuzah at their door, having a scribe check their current mezuzahs, or “doing another good deed,” according to Chabad.org.
Locally, Chabad rabbis will be continuing the campaign in an effort to affix a total of at least 1,100 mezuzahs in the Greater Pittsburgh area, Altein added. While he did not have an official count, he estimated that several hundred mezuzahs already had been affixed in Pittsburgh as a result of the campaign.
About eight of those were distributed in the South Hills, according to Rabbi Mendy Rosenblum, spiritual leader of Chabad of the South Hills.
“For the most part, they went to people who did not already have a mezuzah,” Rosenblum said.
“On one level, a mezuzah is like spiritual security for the house,” Rosenblum explained. “We’re all feeling vulnerable right now, and just as we need to shore up our physical security, we also need to shore up our spiritual security.”
While some people are paying for their own mezuzahs at a cost of $36 each, other people are donating funds to purchase mezuzahs for those for whom the cost is a barrier. A former Pittsburgher who now lives in Florida, for example, paid for 10 mezuzahs for himself, and 70 for other people who live in Pittsburgh, Altein said.
While most of the mezuzah scrolls distributed by Chabad are contained in clear plastic cases with double-sided tape, some locals will be treated to cases with more panache. Altein recently received a donation from fifth-graders at the Moriah School in Englewood, N.J., of 100 colorful, hand-decorated mezuzah cases. PJC
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at