Author Archives: Tyler Anne Isaman

Challah & Zechus

“There is a tradition that when a woman is having trouble getting pregnant, that if she or other people in her name make challah in her name then it’s a zechus for her and in her name, so she will then get pregnant.”

A zechus is a merit in someone’s name. The superstition of baking challah bread in someone’s name and then them being able to be pregnant could have to do with the community coming together to support that woman in her efforts to conceive. Accordingly, if the woman in question is able to conceive, sometimes the people who helped make the challah bread feel a special connection to that child, and the community protects her or him. This superstition is one I have never heard of before, but the mixture of community support and religious faith is endearing.

Jewish Evil Eye

“There is something called the “evil eye,” which is when you do not want to attract attention to yourself because you might get the “evil eye.” Other people cannot give the evil eye, but it’s a spiritual thing. I once had a family friend who when she visited would say “oh your so ugly” and “oh such ugly children,” because she did not want to give us the evil eye. Saying “oh such beautiful children” would give the children the evil eye. It is kind of like bad luck. Another example would be that people don’t buy things for their baby when they are pregnant.”

There are many variations of the ‘evil eye’ and it is used across the world to express a certain “look” that is bad luck for the person receiving it. Hamsa, for example, means five and is a symbol of a hand often used in Jewish jewelry or in talisman. Each of the five fingers of the hand represents one of the books of the Torah, Michal explains. An evil eye is in the center of the hand, because the eye is said to cause bad luck to anyone who gets the “look.” This look can come from a person unintentionally, so people need to be careful how they act around other people.

Michal, who calls her family very Jewish, claims that if you wish not to receive the evil eye then you should not boast about yourself, and you should avoid talking about your belongings, any good luck you might be having, and especially you should not talk about your children.

Therefore, when Michal’s aunt calls her nieces and nephews “so ugly” she is trying to protect them from other’s jealousy, because that jealousy could give the children and the family the “evil eye.”

Virgin Mary Statue at Weddings

“My family says that if you put a statue of Mary out when its raining on your wedding day, then it will stop raining and the sun will come out. My great-grandmother told my mother that. It worked for my mother and my cousin on their wedding days.”

Similar to a previously posted story about burying Saint Joseph statues to sell a house, Emily tells the story of displaying Virgin Mary statues on one’s wedding day.

Having it rain on one’s wedding day is notoriously bad luck, with some saying it can represent the tears in the future to come. The Virgin Mary is the protector of domestic bliss, and is often see as a woman with a child.  As such, bringing out her statue at a raining wedding would correct the weather and allow the bride and her husband a joyous day. This instance of sympathetic magic, using a statue of the Virgin Mary to compel good luck for a wedding ceremony, is somewhat less well known as the ritual of burying Saint Joseph to sell a house, but Emily swears it works the same way.

Ha’pennies in Shoes at Weddings

“When you get married put ha’pennies in your shoes. My great grandmother told my mother that, and my mother told me. My mother is only around .02% Irish, but my great grandmother was “off the boat” Irish and immigrated here illegally. She even had to change her name.”

Ha’pennies are British halfpennies worth 1/480th of a pound sterling, and was discontinued by the British government in 1969, so Emily’s grandmother’s story must originate before then. Perhaps Emily’s grandmother got it from the Victorian rhyme, “something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue, and a silver sixpence in your shoe,” and simply changed penny to ha’penny (1). There also exists an Irish version of this rhyme (which stays mostly the same) wherein the Irish penny in your shoe would guarantee the good fortune of the newly married couple.




Knock the Knots Out of Wood

“Some people knock on wood, but in my family I was told that someone needs to knock on wood upward, because otherwise you knock the knots out, and if that happens the luck is also knocked out. ”

Caitlin says she has no idea where that came from, but says it might have something to do with Ireland because anything having to do with trees has to do with the fairies of Ireland. Caitlin is of Irish heritage, and says that many of the stories her parents tell her have to do with mystical or magical qualities surrounding everyday objects—including wood. As she understands it, her family was from southern Ireland, where many fairies were associated with the forest, and so the saying her family uses probably has to do with knocking the luck right out of the fairy forests.