Mort Laitner


Selection of traditional Moroccan amulets, khamsa, providing defense against the evil eye, on a market in Fes (Selection of traditional Moroccan amulets, khamsa, providing defense against the evil eye, on a market in Fes, ASCII, 109 components, 109 by

I met the tour guide/mini-van driver at the entrance of the King David Hotel.

He was a lean, late 30-something man—with a face worn by the sun and the rigors of Israeli life.

“Hi, I’m Mordechai. I’ll be driving you to Safed.”

“Nice to meet you Mordechai. I’m Mort from Miami.”

“Nice to meet you Mort from Miami. Jump in and we are on our way.”

Entering the SUV, I heard the Fab Four singing, I Want To Hold Your Hand.

I joined Paul and John:

And when I touch you
I feel happy inside
It’s such a feelin’ that my love
I can’t hide
I can’t hide
I can’t hide

A smiling Mordechai said, “Don’t give up your day job.”

I laughed.

With his hands on the wheel, Mordechai slowly drove out of Jerusalem.

“Mort, have you ever been to Safed?”

“Nope,” I replied.

“What do you know about Safed?” he asked.

“Next to nothing,” I answered.

“Well it is known as Israel’s art capital! Artists have been going there since the Fifties. You’ll love walking the streets of Safed. Bright yellows, blues and greens adorn the gallery windows and shiny silver, gold and copper jewelry reflect their colors onto the street. It will cause your eyes to smile. Primary colors bounce off of pastels. It’s a mystical town.”

“Wow! The way you describe it, I can’t wait to get there.”

“Mort, I’ve got a story for you. A year ago, in Safed, I bought my daughter a gold hamsa charm for her bat mitzvah. She wears it all the time.”

“What’s a hamsa?” I interrupted.

“It’s an image of an opened right hand. Muslims, Jews and Christians believe it’s protection against the evil eye. It’s the hand of providence. It’s the hand of Fatima, Mary and Miriam. Some say it represents the strong hand of G-d leading the Jews out of Egypt.”

“I’ve seen that image all over Israel—hanging on walls, on rear view mirrors, on key chains and on people’s necks,” I replied.

“You will even see some young Israelis with hamsa tattoos.” he added.

“What a shonda!” I exclaimed. “I’m not a big fan of spiritual relics or amulets or superstitions or tattoos. I believe you make your good luck and you can not buy it.”

Mordechai fell silent. He now stared out the SUV window and continued driving.

I wondered, “Why did these amulet makers decide on the hand as their mystical symbol?”

Like an Uzi, my brain  fired off the answers: touching, feeling, patting, petting, picking, jerking, praying, caressing, holding, wiping, fingering, scratching, signing, digging, slapping and signaling.

What more appropriate body part to be designated as our protector.

Now my brain converted into a single shot .22 rifle.

Contemplative hands tugging on a beard.

Curious hands bringing smells to noses and tastes to tongues.

Emotional hands extending love or causing pain.

Peaceful hands beating swords to plowshares and spears to pruning hooks.

Happy hands clapping loudly.

Mordechai lowered his voice and continued his story.

“Two months ago, my daughter boarded an Egged bus to school. As she found a seat in the back of the bus, a terrorist entered the bus and detonated his suicide vest. Passengers were blown to bits. But my daughter didn’t receive a scratch. I believe the hamsa saved her.”

As tears formed in my eyes, now I sat silently looking out the SUV window contemplating Mordechai’s story.

When we arrived, Mordechai announced,”you’ll have an hour for lunch and an hour to shop. Then we’ll meet back at the SUV.”

I walked down the narrow cobblestone alleys of Safed’s artists’ quarter searching for a hamsa.

Then in a gallery window, I spotted it.

A palm-sized amulet, made of yellow glass with a blue Star of David painted in its center, framed in silver with two semi-precious blue stones affixed to the thumb and pinkie.

The warmth of the yellow and the coolness of the blue drew my right hand to touch it.

I asked,”How much?”

And then I offered half.

The proprietor sneered in disgust, as if I had cursed his family, his business and his religion.

He acted as if he knew it had holy powers and I, a dumb American, could never appreciate its beauty.

I imagined the proprietor yelling, “Didn’t you know that bargaining for a hamsa was a sin!It’s listed in the Ten Commandments. Get out of my gallery!”

I paid full price.

I walked out of the gallery proudly holding my treasure.

As Mordechai drove me back to the King David, I showed him my purchase.

He touched it.

“You bought a beautiful one. G-d willing it will protect your home.”

As Mordechai spoke, my hands sandwiched my hamsa, as if in prayer mode,—warming the glass and metal.

Then a rush of warmth blanketed my body and I began to sing:

And when I touch you
I feel happy inside
It’s such a feelin’ that my love
I can’t hide.
I can’t hide
I can’t hide

Author’s note: Drop me a note in the comment box below if this story got you to buy or consider buying a hamsa or if you own a relic that protects you from the evil eye.

About the Author
Florida's Jewish short-story writer, speaker, film producer and retired attorney. He has authored, "A Hebraic Obsession", "The Hanukkah Bunny" and "The Greatest Gift." He produced an award-winning short film entitled, "The Stairs". Movie can be viewed online. ChatGPT says, Mort is known for his works that often explore themes of love, loss, and the human connection. Laitner has published several books , including “A Hebraic Obsession.” His writing style is characterized by its emotional depth and introspection. Laitner’s works have garnered praise for their heartfelt expression and keen insight into the human experience. Mort is in his third year as president of the South Florida Writers Association. He was a correspondent for the Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel Jewish Journal.
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