The Bendalas that Bind

Long before Madonna, Demi Moore, Britney Spears and the rest of (not Jewish) Hollywood were sporting red Kabbalah bracelets, my kitchen cabinets, purses, closets, drawers, children’s rooms, and just about anything that could open and close were awash with red ribbons. Actually, now that I think about it, this has been going on for a long, long time.

Flashback 197-something: my Aunt Sandy is walking toward me at a wedding, wearing a gorgeous beaded ensemble. Her hair is platinum. It might have been the eighties. She looks at my dress (strapless, with not much to hold it up, I’m afraid). She has a snippet of red ribbon in her hand. Realizing she can’t put into my bodice as it will fall straight down (those were rough years), she asks for my purse. I hand it over. She opens it, sticks the ribbon in, says “Goodbye!” and marches on. No explanation.

1982: It’s my high school graduation and my parents, brother and I are on our way to the ceremony. My mother is walking out the front door of our house in Staten Island. She turns around, grabs something from the table just inside the foyer and says “Put this somewhere.” She hands me a red ribbon and walks right past me, out the door. No explanation.  She’s very much like her older sister (Sandy), in case you hadn’t noticed.

I’ll skip a decade (or two), just for expediency’s sake.

2007: My son, Morgan is about two weeks old. My parents are in Boston with me, husband 1.0 (I could have used more red ribbons, for that one, folks!!!) and just doting over the baby. My mother is spinning through the house like a whirling dervish. I’m in that half sleep-deprived/half delirious-first-time-mom phase, as she whips through the house, room by room, offering commentary as she makes her rounds.

“That’s not how you do crib sheets, Jodi…”  And I wonder, what is she doing? Then, “It only takes two seconds to clean out the garbage can!” as she passes through the hallway bathroom. I’m so tired, I don’t fire back with the usual snarky comebacks that have become the hallmark of our relationship.

I see a blur of a woman in a housecoat and black bob hair as she passes by me, my sleeping son, and my dad, as we watch her from the living room couch. She has now made her way to the first floor. I’m concerned about what will happen when she hits the laundry room. This is her specialty zone.

“How do you do it, Dad?” I jokingly (kind of) ask my father.

“I take pills” he says, deadpan, and I laugh so hard, I practically wake my son. My father’s comeback becomes a running joke for the next few years.

Later that day, as I make my way around the house I find red ribbons everywhere. In my son’s crib (which he won’t even sleep in for another few months), under the pad on his changing table, behind the deep cushions of his yellow velour rocking chair.

She’s crazy, my mother. And I’m related to her. And I love her for it. And I’ll no doubt go around planting these little red bendalas in my own children’s homes when they have homes of their own. And before that, I’ll get to their dorms and my daughter’s purse and the boys’ backpacks.

But back to the crazy part: the red ribbons are supposed to ward off evil spirits and those who wish harm on us. And yet…

All of us (and I’ll bet your family does this too) pride ourselves about how wonderful and close our families are but whenever we go to simchas, we shove red ribbons into our purses and clothes. We open up our homes to our families and friends for the holidays and truly welcome everyone in. Yet when I look around my house, it could pass for a Jo-Ann Fabrics with all the bits and bobs of ribbons here and there.

So what gives? Should I really be worried about the people I have in my home? Or is this whole red bendala business just an old bubbe-meise?

FYI, I usually forget about all the ribbons that are hiding in my home until I move a piece of furniture or take out a purse for a special event and then I find myself laughing, knowing that either my mother or Aunt Sandy were here. And in the moment, I always laugh, happy that they were.


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Jodi Luber

Jodi Luber

Here goes: Born in Brooklyn. Daughter of a bagel baker with a Henny Youngman soul and a mom who makes Joan Rivers seem tame. Late bloomer. Married the love of my life at 45 and love being a mom to our three kids. I'm a professor at Boston U. Happiest in the kitchen baking and remembering how my dad would melt from a single bite of my cheesecake.
Jodi Luber
Jodi Luber

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