U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris and her husband, Doug Emhoff, have followed the fashion of first lady Melania Trump and a few other White House visitors who have added their names to a government website that collects signatures of support for measures and reforms being considered by their government.
The story of the mezuzah includes the trivia that Harris used to live just a stone’s throw from the home of the late philanthropist and d’Hondt Community Association board president Albert R. Whitaker, a major supporter of the group and namesake of its annual gala.
On Wednesday, two days after incoming U.S. Sen. Harris (D-Calif.) filed legislation to improve protections for children under the statute of limitations on criminal charges of molestation, the note to her piece of legislation at presidential.gov went up. A note on the site lists that Mrs. Trump had listed a photo of her signing her right hand into the White House visitors room a day after Christmas.
Across the country, about 1,300 people, a small percentage of the 5 million active U.S. voters, have added a mezuzah on their federal officehouses — a personal symbol of Judaism that keeps a symbol of promise to a deceased loved one.
Facing considerable criticism after a series of mishaps last year such as its inability to identify White House visitors, the White House posted the mezuzah policy last spring. It asks officials to call the “resident of the home” if they notice a sign with the traditional Hebrew notation for a mezuzah or if the home has more than one sign.
The policy instructs officials to contact the homeowner when someone complains, and to provide them with a “memorable testimony” about the meaning of a mezuzah, preferably used by a person familiar with the history of the home.
Gov. Jerry Brown used a photograph of an accented man looking directly into the camera, saying in a letter: “Mr. Whitaker would never have allowed anyone to violate him or his home and remain untouched.”
That apparently left out the sign identifying Whitaker, and “Mr. Whitaker” is not a person.
Also, an eastern Pennsylvania chapter of Emunah, a Jewish clergy group, filed a Freedom of Information Act request to determine why the property was missing the ancient mark.
In fact, the letter includes the apartment address of Whitaker’s apartment. The display-case, along with the sign it bore, survives from Whitaker’s time as head of the Scranton philanthropy, where a mezuzah is placed next to his desk for visitors and an ultra-Orthodox rabbi.
Globally, only one other home had a mezuzah installed after Mrs. Trump’s installation. The president of Fiji replaced the sign with one he found in his own home before he became commander in chief. But Fijian custom does not involve ceremony, and he used a video link to local religious leaders to help him make the addition, The Associated Press reported.
Trump aides told The Washington Post last year that White House visitors had also made calls to inform their bosses that they were putting a symbol on their home. But they said it was not meant to be a public figure or a political statement.
“We believe that the use of a symbol that was considered appropriate in this case would be extremely disruptive,” an aide said.
It was not immediately clear if Mrs. Trump’s move was political — whether she used the word “Melania” in her question to the officials about how to properly place the Jewish symbol on the home she will occupy with her husband and their 8-year-old son.
A White House spokesman did not respond to a request for comment. The Trump administration has drawn criticism in recent days for the new situation in Central America where thousands of asylum seekers entering the United States illegally have been taken to other U.S. cities.