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‘Where are you, oh my hamsa?’

The hamsa, refurbished after an arduous absence from home.THANKSGIVING WAS a cold, snowy affair this past November. I cleaned off my car several times that afternoon in order to see my way clearly to Chris and Lisa Leppek’s house. From there, they would transport me to our host’s residence in the Highlands.

As people made final preparations to depart, I was sitting on the couch when I felt something slip from my neck. It was the chain that held my hamsa — and the hamsa was gone.

I searched the floor and retraced my footsteps through the living room. Then I went to my car. Heavy snow covered the ground. If my hamsa was buried beneath those rising white mounds, I would never find it.

After checking the interior of my car and the crevices that often surrender hidden items, my hope sank furiously. “Where are you?” I begged the stars.

This was my favorite hamsa — dark green, beaded, bejeweled and hand-crafted in Israel. I wore it every day, awake and asleep. My fingers instinctively reached for it in moments of stress and serenity.

Unity and comfort nestled in those touches. Now I felt inexpressibly sad. Did I really lose it forever? Then we left to celebrate Thanksgiving.

The snow intensified as I met faces old and new. I enjoyed the conversations, the food, the warmth. Hours passed. Right before we left, someone said, “I’m sorry you lost your hamsa but I have faith you’ll find it.” I collapsed briefly on his shoulder.

I couldn’t wait to get home. Perhaps I broke the chain while changing clothes, a distinct possibility. I turned on all the lights and commenced searching in the bedroom: first the carpet, then the bedspread.

Surely my hamsa fell in a safe place.

Two hours later, it looked like a meticulous thief had ransacked my small abode. “Where are you?” I called. And then I heard a whisper: “I’m here, waiting for you.” I woke up several times that uncomfortable night.

The following morning I carried a shovel to the spot where I parked my car the previous afternoon. I was in such a rush. Maybe that’s when the clasp broke and my hamsa vanished. But I walked inside empty hearted.

I ENCOUNTERED my first hamsa in 1994 in Jerusalem. Although the amulets were everywhere, their significance eluded me. Shopkeepers mentioned the Evil Eye, warding off evil, and other arcane concepts.

The empiricist in me proved a hard sell, but the jewelry’s enchanting beauty won out. I chose one by Adaya — deep blue with colorful beading. I still have it.

But my green hamsa, only one year old, reached for me the instant I saw it. I can’t explain the reason, only testify to its effect. My Jewish friends noticed it, commented on it. “So beautiful,” they would say.

About sixth months ago, non-Jewish female workers at Safeway wanted to know where they could find a hamsa. “Buy it for me and I’ll pay you back.” As various illnesses struck them or their families, their insistence grew desperate.

I told them a hamsa would not guarantee good luck or positive outcomes. According to my understanding, the hamsa wards off evil spirits but does not attract luck.

“Fine,” they said. “Please help me.”

Gradually I started bringing them hamsas attached to key chains and from some of my necklaces. I don’t why, but these temporary gifts brought them good fortune.

“It’s not cancer!”

“My daughter is going to be fine.”

When they started greeting me as “the hamsa lady,” I decided to research the amulet’s history.

The charm appears in the Muslim, Christian and Jewish faiths. Muslims call it the Hand of Fatima (Mohammed’s daughter) and Jews refer to it as the Hand of Miriam (Moses’ sister).

In the Muslim world, the word draws upon the Arabic “Khamsa,” which means five, a number identified with fighting the Evil Eye.

The emergence of hamsas in Jewish culture is hard to pinpoint, but the amulet clearly has Sephardic origins and is associated with Kabbalah, or Jewish mysticism.

The design is said to create a bridge between the worshipper and G-d.

In retrospect, whispered pleas to locate the source have always beckoned inside me. Then suddenly, inevitably, I found myself on that bridge — and it felt broken beyond repair.

DURING THAT restless, melancholy Thanksgiving weekend, when the streets were subdued and my heart was heavy, I realized I didn’t merely lose a cherished possession. I too was lost.

My inner world was lacking, haunted. I cried and kept calling out. I heard (or invented) a response. “I’m here. Find me.” Yet my hamsa was dying somewhere — under the snow, boot-crushed, swallowed in oblivion.

Late Saturday, the phone rang. It was Lisa Leppek.

“I found something that will make you very happy,” she said.

I immediately grasped what she meant, but could not immediately believe it.

“Yes, it’s your hamsa,” she said. “I was shoveling the snow this morning when I saw something glisten. I picked it up. It looked like someone’s earring, so I set it on our front ledge just in case.

“Then Chris told me about your hamsa.”

I don’t remember hanging up, just grabbing my coat and driving 10 surreal minutes to their house. By the time I arrived, disbelief had magically shifted to joy.

Lisa led me inside, walked over to a table and placed the unmistakable beaded green amulet in my hand. I was breathless, overwhelmed. How was it possible? Infinite obstacles should have prevented this reunion.

Back home, upon examining the hamsa closely, my smile collapsed.

The hamsa suffered under the snow for days in 20-degree weather, and it showed. Beads were gone; the eye was loose. Damage vanquished her brilliance, and dignity.

A few weeks later, I took the shuttle to the jewelers. I told the staff I did not entertain miracles but felt compelled to restore my hamsa to her best self. (To me, hamsas are feminine in nature).

I shared my strange story with the staff, and my devotion apparently touched them. A tall female jeweler promised she would do everything within her power. “And I’ll be very gentle,” she promised.

Avi, a Jewish jeweler wearing a kipah, took a closer look at the hamsa. He had overheard my tale.

“It came back to you,” Avi said.

“I know.”

The next week I returned to the store. The jeweler carefully brought out a tray fit for a diamond, and I gasped. “It has a new chain, a new clasp, and I cleaned it very, very gently,” she said.

While this hamsa can never be the same, human hands managed to resurrect her beauty.

My hamsa has aged — yet her ancient tinge feels more like a cherished inheritance than an impediment.

Were the kabbalists right? Does inexplicable love, even for an object, arouse neglected spirituality? Can a hamsa be a bridge to G-d?

I am aware of reciprocal whispers that did not exist until that Thanksgiving night.

For now, that is enough.

Andrea Jacobs may be reached at andrea@ijn.com.

Copyright © 2016 by the Intermountain Jewish News



Andrea Jacobs

IJN Senior Writer | andrea@ijn.com


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