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.’
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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.
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He muttered, “Uh, no,” before dropping my hand and abruptly turning away.

Triumphantly slamming the trunk door closed, I was pleased that I had unmasked what I considered to be the reality lurking behind his prayer offer: the assumption that his God was mightier than my God. And worse, that he — and he alone — could intercede with his Great and Glorious Wizard on my behalf.

How different his approach was to that of the Catholic college nuns, whose blessings were intended for me, but never done for me. Like my mother saying, “Drive safely,” when I back out of the driveway, the sisters’ blessings meant only that they cared deeply for me and wished me well.

This was most likely also the case with my work colleague. Her recorded message had not said, “At the sound of the beep, leave your prayer for me to deliver directly to Jesus.” Rather, the recording was her way of saying, “Have a nice day,” but with a punch.

My neighbor was probably trying to convey something similar when concluding even the most pedestrian conversation with, “Blessings.” The first time she made this heavenly reference, I was the one taken aback. Other than praying for the rain to stop, she and I hadn’t engaged in much talk of religion, so her blessing came out of the blue.

I am used to hearing it now, but still not sure how I should respond. Unlike a phone message, which is easy to ignore, a blessing offered in person seems to call out for a response.

I usually toss out, “See you later,” or “Take care.” I know that “Goodbye,” a contraction of “God be with you,” is appropriate, but it seems too commonplace. From now on, whenever my neighbor offers “Blessings,” I think I’ll respond with, “Thank you,” or “Blessings to you, too.”

Or maybe I’ll try something closer to my own theology, such as, “May the Force be with you.” If I add a wave with fingers spread in the V-shape that Leonard Nimoy made famous on Star Trek, I will even be invoking the Jewish priestly blessing. That way, no matter what she believes, I know no God can top that.

Nancy Kalikow Maxwell is working on a nonfiction book about Jewish women in retirement. She can be reached at kaliwell@kaliwellinc.com.


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