It was the second day of Rosh Hashanah, a day that the congregants of Temple Tiferet Shalom hold two different services in two different places. One is a traditional service at the West Peabody temple; the other, a combination service that includes study or a commune-with-nature walk at Willowdale in Topsfield.
It was at the Topsfield formal part of the service that Rabbi David Kudan, who manages to officiate at both services, solved a long-held mystery. In speaking of Creation, according to the Torah the rabbi explained, when God was creating the world, He did something different each day of the week. The finale was the seventh day, the Sabbath, a day of rest. At the end of the first day, God reflected on what He had done and said, “It was good.” At the end of the second day, though he seemed pleased with His creation, He didn’t comment that it was good.
On the third day, however, God seemed twice as pleased. At the end of that day God said, “Ki Tov, it was good” in two different places. Therefore because of the duplication, a tradition began; Tuesday was deemed a lucky day.
And that’s when I had my aha moment. All my life I recall my mother saying if you were doing anything important like passing papers on a house, signing a lease, moving, or even starting a new job, you should do it on a Tuesday. When I asked her why, she would answer it had something to do with the Torah, but she wasn’t exactly sure what.
After that creation revelation I started to think of all the times my mother passed on long-held words of wisdom, whether tradition or superstition. Call them what you like – I just know that they are so ingrained in my mind that I automatically do and say the same things she did. And sometimes I discover that we Jews are not alone.
Quite a few years ago, I was asked to model at the annual luncheon fashion show at the elegant Glen Magna Farms in Danvers. The beautiful outfits came from our very swanky ladies’ shop “Lorraine Roy.” As we models were changing in one of the bedrooms, someone put a hat on the bed. Store owner Jeanne Hennessey immediately took it off, saying it was bad luck.
I was shocked. Jeannie, who grew up with an Albanian mother and Irish father, shared the same belief, superstition or whatever you want to call it, as I did. And here I thought only Jews felt that way.
Then I discovered that she, too, could never open an umbrella in the house. I still am not sure if it’s OK to open it in the garage, but when you are trying to get into a car on a rainy day, an open umbrella comes in handy.
My mother never bragged about anything, and certainly not her children. One time I was walking with her when she bumped into an old friend. When the woman started praising her niece, saying how well the niece had done at the Community School of Religion’s confirmation at Temple Israel in Boston, my mother enthusiastically congratulated the proud aunt. And we moved on. That’s when I questioned mother as to why she hadn’t mentioned that I, too, had graduated. She didn’t even have to say it was at the top of the class. Not only was I puzzled, I was also a little hurt, especially since I was standing right there. Mom looked at me and said, “Let other people praise my children.”
I thought that was so strange until I discovered the real reason: She was afraid that the Evil Eye was going to hear about it and somehow harm me. That’s when spitting three times accompanied by a “pooh, pooh, pooh” each time would make things right again. In fact, I really identified with the Greeks. In “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” everyone spits and pooh poohs at the bride’s gown as she walks down the aisle.
If any of us sneezed when my mother was around, the sneezer had to pull his or her right ear though I’m not sure whether I tugged it up or down but to be on the safe side, I used to do both. I wasn’t going to fool around with that Evil Eye.
If you were suddenly sick to your stomach, it meant the Evil Eye was at work. I don’t recall any special prayer at that time, although I’m sure my mother had one, but just in case, tea with lemon or flat ginger ale was also part of the cure.
Heaven forbid that you talk about your good health or boast about your wealth, lest you be stricken with an illness or see your investments take a nose dive. On the other hand, if you sneezed after making a profound comment, that meant you spoke the truth.
Admittedly, more frequently, I recall something my mother did or said that was supposed to ward off those Evil Spirits and I find myself doing and saying the same things. Though the logical part of me says it’s just superstition, who am I to tempt fate?
Myrna Fearer writes from Danvers.