My mother was superstitious. Her superstitions ran the gamut, from pulling her ear when she sneezed to believing that a sneeze, during a conversation, proved that whatever was said was actually true or would soon be true. Did these superstitions save our family from harm? My mother thought so.
Go in and out the same door
My friends were used to my mother’s same-door rule, which my family scrupulously observed, and which my friends considered, for lack of a better word, “quaint.” Relatives, repairmen, boyfriends and girlfriends knew that whichever door they entered was going to be the door through which they exited. For my 14th birthday party in our “finished” basement, my friends arrived through the front, back and basement doors. As kids started to leave, Mom appeared, just in time. She had to make sure they left the house through the door they had entered, and she lovingly escorted each group to its appropriate door.
See a pin, pick it up
My mother taught us, “See a pin, pick it up, a safety pin will bring good luck!” We became a family of safety-pin scouts. I walked everywhere vigilantly, and I found a lot of pins. I attached them to a garment I wore, in the least obvious place possible. In my youth, girls dressed in skirts and dresses for school; therefore, I usually had several safety pins attached to my slip. When one of my friends needed a quick no-sew fix, I was there! One day, as my favorite teacher Mrs. Gottlieb returned our homework, she revealed a hole under the arm of her blouse.
We were simultaneously embarrassed and doing our best to stifle laughter. I reached down, removed a safety pin and placed it on my desk. When Mrs. Gottlieb reached me, I slid her a pin and a terse note, “hole under left arm.” Mrs. Gottlieb took the pin and left the room, quickly made the repair and returned. After class, she thanked me. I told Mom the story; she was happy, but not surprised.
Beware the ‘evil eye’
The website My Jewish Learning states, “The evil eye, ayin ha’ra in Hebrew, is the idea that a person or supernatural being can bewitch or harm an individual merely by looking at them.” To my mother, the evil eye was her greatest fear. To prevent unimaginable doom, my siblings and I scrupulously obeyed the mandate that with other people, even some of our extended family, no boasting or bragging was allowed, lest the evil eye ruin anything good we experienced. When my little sister received a double-promotion, when my brother won a merit scholarship, when my story was published in a teen magazine, none of these accomplishments was announced. If others complimented us, my mother was quick with kinehora (Yiddish for “let it be without the evil eye”) and changed the subject. My parents were very proud of us and praised us privately, but Mom was determined to protect us from other people’s assumed jealously, where a mere evil eye look or silent curse could harm us.
For a school trip, Mom suggested, “Bring the sweater set that looks good with your hair, kinehora. Would anyone really wish me harm because I looked good in green? Better not take a chance. After I moved away, my mother wrote letters full of the cautionary ayin ha-rah/kinehora incantation. When our daughter, Rachel, passed her driving test, Mom mixed pleasure, love and concern, “Wonderful that Rachel will have more independence, kinehora, and also be a big help to you, kinehora, you should all be well.”
Did your family hold their breath when they passed a cemetery? Did they believe that stepping over a person’s outstretched legs could stunt their growth? How about never picking up a face-down coin? Did your family chew a thread when someone was sewing on a garment they were wearing? Did they believe that putting a hat on the bed would cause a headache? Well, welcome to my family, we should all be well, ptui, ptui, ptui (I just spit three times.)