A (Mixed) Blessing on My Jewish Head

Why Some Unsolicited Benedictions Are Better Than Others

Gesundheit: If a nun blesses you, it’s a good thing, even if you didn’t sneeze. It’s not easy to feel the same about every ‘blessing.’
Getty Images
Gesundheit: If a nun blesses you, it’s a good thing, even if you didn’t sneeze. It’s not easy to feel the same about every ‘blessing.’

By Nancy Kalikow Maxwell

Published October 06, 2013, issue of October 11, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

When I worked at a Catholic college, the nuns were forever blessing me, even when I hadn’t sneezed. The nuns’ blessings were like a warm, fuzzy blanket on a cold winter night. During my seven years at the college, I came to admire the dedication and selflessness of the sisters. I considered it the highest compliment whenever I was mistaken for a nun. “Sister Nancy” filled me with the same kavod, or honor (to use a Hebrew term), that I felt being blessed by them.

And the setting for the blessing — the campus of a Catholic college — normalized such utterances. God was alluded to so often at the college that one would have thought He was one of its benefactors (which, in a sense, they considered Him to be). Prayers routinely opened department meetings, faculty assemblies and student activities.

At my first staff meeting, I was even prayed over, and proclaimed to be a blessing to the library and the college. When was the last time your boss thanked God for your employment? So expected had these benedictions become, I would have been disappointed if I left the presence of a nun without being blessed.

But being blessed at a community college by a colleague’s phone message that said “Have a blessed day” was different. Religion was rarely a topic of conversation at that publicly funded institution. Of course, as the old joke goes, as long as there are math tests, there will be prayer in school.

Because of our secular work setting, I didn’t know my colleague’s religion. I wasn’t sure if she was wishing me a day blessed by Allah, the Earth Goddess or Xena the Warrior Princess. According to one online source, “Have a blessed day” is the secret handshake of Southern Baptists, frequently used in Texas, especially by Sam’s Club cashiers.

But even had I known her religion, I couldn’t divine what theology she believed in. Was the God she had in mind an inclusive, merciful, loving God? Or was it the hellfire and brimstone, “Jesus is the way, the only way” kind of God? As a Jew, I wanted to know before accepting the blessing.

At least her invitation was more open-ended than the one I received volunteering at an evangelical church’s community food pantry. After helping load groceries into my car, one of my fellow volunteers took my hand, looked into my eyes and asked, “Now, is there anything you would like for me to pray for you?”

I pulled his hand closer, lowered my voice and said, “No, thanks. Now, is there anything I should pray for you?”


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "We know what it means to be in the headlines. We know what it feels like when the world sits idly by and watches the news from the luxury of their living room couches. We know the pain of silence. We know the agony of inaction."
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • BREAKING: Missing lone soldier David Menachem Gordon has been found dead in central Israel. The Ohio native was 21 years old.
  • “They think they can slap on an Amish hat and a long black robe, and they’ve created a Hasid." What do you think of Hollywood's portrayal of Hasidic Jews?
  • “I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager. I didn’t think I would have to do it when I was 90.” Hedy Epstein fled Nazi Germany in 1933 on a Kinderstransport.
  • "A few decades ago, it would have been easy to add Jews to that list of disempowered victims. I could throw in Leo Frank, the victim of mob justice; or otherwise privileged Jewish men denied entrance to elite universities. These days, however, we have to search a lot harder." Are you worried about what's going in on #Ferguson?
  • Will you accept the challenge?
  • In the six years since Dothan launched its relocation program, 8 families have made the jump — but will they stay? We went there to find out:
  • "Jewish Israelis and West Bank Palestinians are witnessing — and living — two very different wars." Naomi Zeveloff's first on-the-ground dispatch from Israel:
  • This deserves a whistle: Lauren Bacall's stylish wardrobe is getting its own museum exhibit at Fashion Institute of Technology.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.