USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Israel’
Folk Beliefs
general
Protection

Red String Bracelets

“If you go to the western wall in Israel there’s always people who are there—like around there and basically, like, they give you, um, like you’ll give them money, like, if they’re like begging and then they give you a red string and then they make a blessing on it and then you can’t take the red string, like you can’t remove it until it falls off. And that’s to keep the evil eye away. Like Jews are super into that, about keeping the evil eye away.”

 

The informant was a 22-year-old USC student who majors in English and minors in genocide studies. Although she grew up in Santa Monica, she comes from a large Jewish family and travels to Israel twice a year to visit her older brother and other extended family there. The interview occurred when we were sitting in the new Annenberg building and started talking about superstition and related practices within her family. When I asked the informant to further explain this practice, she said, “Lot of times there’s this thing—have you ever seen, like, the hand? Like the image? So it’s called a ‘hamsa’ in Hebrew and like it’s the same thing, it’s to keep the evil eye away.”

 

The informant had seen this practice occur a lot during her travels to Israel and says she first learned about it from her grandmother who “would [do that] right before she died, she was super into that.” However, at the end of the interview she told me, “I don’t do that, I don’t do evil eyes and I don’t do the hamsa . . . I don’t like it because I feel like it’s idolatry, and I don’t . . . I’m not into that. But I would do the red string ‘cause it’s kind of a cultural thing.”

 

I found this practice to be fascinating because it seems like the greater religious/spiritual meaning of it has become somewhat divorced from the physical act. Something that started as a way to “keep the evil eye away” is still done for that purpose, but also because it has become a cultural thing that someone just does. This is revealed in the fact that an informant who is quick to assure me that she does not believe in the hamsa or the evil eye on the basis of her seeing them as idolatry would still willingly participate in this practice. In addition to it being performed for the previously stated spiritual purpose, I also think there is something to the fact that someone is given these red strings by people who are begging. Because it is now considered a normal cultural practice, it has become an expected social interaction between two people of differing class status in this part of Israel. Essentially, while giving a red string and a blessing might have been an organic way of thanking someone before, it is now almost a required act of gratitude by beggars near the western wall.

Customs
Holidays

Passover

About the Interviewed: Charly Cohen is a student at the University of Southern California majoring in Theatre. Her background is nomadic, having been born in Kentucky, moved to Washington, then to Israel, then to Vancouver, and back to Washington again! Her ethnic backdrop is Jewish. She’s a fellow classmate.

Charly and I had gotten onto the subject of Jewish holidays. I asked her about Passover and her experiences in celebrating it.

Charly: “Passover revolves around a meal called the “Seder”, which means “order”. It refers to a number of things you’re expected to do around the celebration of the meal. You go through a retelling of the story of Exodus, when Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, from slavery. You go through the templates, drink four traditional glasses of wine, and sing songs.”

I asked her about any differences she might have experienced celebrating Passover in Israel versus the United States.

Charly: “Passover in Israel is very different from Passover in the United States. It varies based on levels of Judaism. Many people like to think of Jews as sort of one conglomerate – ‘thing’, but there are a ton of denominations. My particular Judaism is based on my experiences at summer camp.”

“People from all sorts of different walks came to the camp –  So you get a different sort of people who celebrate these holidays in different ways.”

“In Israel, I’ve found that the Seders tend to be shorter. It cuts right to the chase, but the after celebration tends to be longer. The last Seder I went to here [in America], the story was told before the meal, but that was it, there wasn’t much afterwards.”

I asked if she felt that way her family celebrated Passover was any different than the way other families celebrated it.

Charly: “Sort of-  there are general guidelines that the observers have to follow, as laid out in the ‘Haggadah’ [Passover Texts], but many families celebrate it in their own ways.”

Summary:

Passover is a holiday with important historical and religious significance. Those who celebrate it typically follow a strict custom, though traditions vary upon where/who are celebrating it.

Though not Jewish myself, I grew up in a community of pretty active members of the faith. Hearing a summary of Passover and the traditions that come with it was very enriching. Traditions can be rigid, but they also exemplify the celebration and make events like Passover special.

 

[geolocation]