BY SHAINDLE SCHMUCKLER / SPECIAL FOR THE AJT //
Every night, for my whole entire life, I deliberately look the moon right in the face.
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This little ritual of mine started the very night Mama, my grandma (z”l), caught me looking at the moon. Mama made it quite clear that to stare at the moon was to insure Shvereh Yoren.
Let me just say, when you are given an order in Yiddish by your Grandma, you stand up straight and respond in the positive, even knowing there was no way you believed such bubeh meises (old wives tales).
When I was younger, and felt invincible, I would secretly address that smirking-faced moon and say to myself: “Go ahead, I dare you!”
I still, to this very night, check out the moon. I do not however, dare it any longer. Oh no, I am not taking any chances. I no longer feel so invincible. Now I smile at the moon. So happy to see it’s smirking face once again. Things change!
The moon took a back seat to a host of other “truths” with which I was indoctrinated. Given that our entire immediate family lived in the same six story apartment building, I had many sincere, well-meaning teachers. The preponderance of these wonderful educators were born and bred in Poland, where they too were carefully indoctrinated.
They believed this tradition, of what I thought were bubeh myses, must be passed along from generation to generation. If not, G-d Forbid, who knew what consequences, would befall them. May we only live and be well ‘biz hundert un tvantsick (to 120 years of age). And now, dear reader, indulge me- for a blessing on your head.
Let’s start with a classic: do not open an umbrella in the house (or it will rain at your wedding). Oh for goodness sakes!
You will love this other one: If my sisters, or anybody else for that matter, just happens to be lying on the floor, and you dare the gods by stepping over them, you must walk back over these poor people, or they won’t grow.
Let me just say my mom, who just about cleared 5 feet and her baby sister who did not clear 4’ 11”, had plenty of reasons to believe this to be true. She was a diligent enforcer of this one. She was right by the way – my sisters and I grew beyond the 5 foot mark. (poo, poo, poo.)
I had a bit of a creative streak. After all, I actually wanted to be an actress; took all kinds of classes towards that dream. Can you just imagine what my father thought of that one; and the interesting names he created for actors in general?
I also sewed and knitted. This is when I learned another great rule: never sew clothes while someone is wearing them; however if it cannot be avoided, the person you are putting in harm’s way must chew on a string!
Seriously, are you kidding me? My sisters chewed enough string – oh you get my point!
Wait, there’s more, much more! We could never put our shoes on the dresser or a table for fear of bad luck coming our way. Who in their right mind would do this? And yet there it is just in case.
Have you heard this one? Don’t put a hat on a bed. you could cause a death. Where, oh where did these come from?
I love green olives. I admit it. I love them in my egg white omelet along with mushrooms, red onions, a little mustard and spinach. Did you know if you eat one olive, actually never eat one lone olive. Eat two, or three or more. A single olive is only consumed during the meal after a funeral. Trust me; I never eat only one olive.
Here are a few I learned before and after I got married:
Marry on a Monday or a Thursday for good luck; if it is raining on your wedding day, even better (oh really for whom? Certainly not the bride who bought a new dress and shoes and had her hair and makeup done).
What happened to don’t open an umbrella? I, on the other hand, married on a Saturday night. So far, so good!
When you move into a new apartment or home you must have a broom, some salt, some sugar and a loaf of bread. If you can’t get bread, buy some flour. Move on a Monday or a Thursday or right before Shabbat. The best luck will come if it is raining on the day you move. Oh please not rain!
Last, but not least, you must have a Mezuzah with a kosher klaff on every door except the bathroom. I suggest you also have lots of string in case of an emergency – for instance if your hem comes down while hanging the Mezuzah.
Keep the following signs ready for use at the drop of a hat. At least this is just a figure of speech, not to be taken literally:
l). Please keep your hat in your hand, do not place on beds
2). Please keep your shoes on your feet not on the dresser or table.
3). Please do not step over anyone who happens to be napping on the floor.
When I became pregnant, I was informed not to tell anyone, so as to avoid an eyen harah (evil eye). When I did reveal my good news, I was stunned when my mom and mother-in-law did not say Mazel Tov.
They invoked something I had never heard before, given I had never been pregnant before. B’sha’ah Tovah. (in good time).
My father was a Kohen, so obviously my sisters and I were Kohenettes. This was the perfect excuse for covering up the fact that I was afraid to step onto cemetery soil. Well, can you guess the next one? pregnant woman is not to even go to a cemetery.
One day, at the very beginning of my pregnancy, I received in the mail a box from my mom. First I had to cut the triple string that was around the box, then I tore off the brown wrapping paper, finally I opened the “gift” my mommy sent me for my new baby (B’Sha’ah Tovah)
I was so confused. What were these papers framed in what surely was 100-year-old frames? I called my mom that evening, after 8 p.m. so as not to spend too much money on the phone call, and was just a bit dumfounded to learn these were prayers, prayers to ward off the evil eye from my future child. She insisted I hang them above the crib.
Oh I forgot to mention, no showers for the mom to be. This is too presumptuous. It is a kin to tickling the monster, waking it, and finding bad luck strewn across the nursery floor. It goes without saying; you absolutely do not set up a nursery until the baby is born; you absolutely do not give the baby a name for the evil gods to hear. There is plenty of time until the baby is born.
Mama had a baby boy who died shortly after birth. The baby had been given a name. When she became pregnant again, the decision was made to call the baby Alte (old one) if it is a girl and Zaide (grandpa) it if is a boy. Hence my uncle z”l was called Zaidel all his life.
Yes, of course he had an American name as well. He served in the army, and they surely were not going to call him Private Zaidel. But back to the prayers my mom sent.
One prayer was trimmed in red, while the other prayer was trimmed in blue. “How sweet,” I thought to myself, assuming they were two different prayers.
My first baby girl, Raina was born in August, and she sleeps peacefully under the prayers which I hung above her crib, as instructed.
Then, come December of that same year, my in-laws come to visit during winter break. My mother-in-law gives one look at the prayers and starts to laugh.
“What are these?” she asks between giggles.
“Prayers to ward off evil from the baby,” I say, and continue with pride, “My mother sent them to me and instructed me to hang them both above the crib.”
“What narishkeit (nonsense)!” she exclaims.
All I can say is thank goodness she adored me. I can’t imagine what she would have said if she hadn’t.
“The essence of each is the same” she says smiling, “however, blue is for a boy, the red one is for a girl. You don’t hang them both. It will confuse the angles who watch over new born babies.”
Shaindle adored her mother in law Sheva. They shared so much. Sheva was born before her time. She was very bright and very creative. Sheva was a women’s libber before we had this term in our vocabulary. Once again Shaindle thanks Raina for her editorial expertise.