My eldest daughter, Allie, recently got engaged.
It’s good news. In fact, this is great news. Her fiancé is a wonderful guy, they are a fabulous couple and we are delighted to welcome him to our family.
My best friend Andrea asked me what one of our mutual friends said when I told her the big news. “Not much,” I replied, “because I haven’t told him yet.”
“That’s great news!” she said, “Why haven’t you told him yet?”
I am uncomfortable sharing good news. Inside, I’m in heaven, I’m ecstatic, I want to shout it from my roof using a megaphone. But I only told a few close friends and relatives about the engagement. i am kvelling, but silently.
I told Andrea that with so many terrible things going on right now, it’s off-putting to brag that something good has happened to me. Andrea couldn’t believe it. First of all, she says, “it’s not bragging” to share good news with people who “crave something to cheer about.” Besides, she added, “It’s not because of the pandemic. That’s how you always are. You have a hard time accepting when good things happen to you or allowing others to get excited for you. It’s you and your kinehora!”
She was right. I’m afraid of one kinehora– the evil spirit that lurks, waiting to steal my happiness.
The Yiddish word kinehora is a sentence composed of the words “kein ayin harawhich translates to “no evil eye”. As Elizabeth Alpern explains in an article for Jewniverse: “The origin of the expression is the superstition that talking about one’s good fortune draws the attention of the evil eye, which likes to mess things up.”
When I was a child, we visited my grandmother every week. She punctuated almost every sentence saying kinehorawhich for her was a five-syllable word. “The baby is getting so big, ke-NAIN-uh HUH-ruhshe would say. Or she would look at me and say, “How beautiful you are in that blue dress, ke-NAIN-uh HUH-ruh.
To be on the safe side, my grandmother added “caca, caca, caca” (illustrating the sound of spitting but without saliva coming out of her mouth). The reasoning was the same as locking the door and then shaking the handle several times before leaving the house. Saying kinehora was to lock out evil spirits and poop, poop, poop was she checking that they couldn’t get in.
After my grandmother died when I was 9, the word kinehora took on a different context for me. My grandmother had used it lightly, with the same urgency you would say gesundheit after someone sneezes or amen after a prayer. She wanted to make sure the evil spirits stayed away from us, but she didn’t seem to. fear them.
But my other relatives, especially my grandfather, used kinehora as a dire warning. When he said it, the tone was ominous. My grandfather’s view was that evil lurked around every corner, eager to steal your good fortune. The only way to cling to something good was to hide it, keep it to yourself, and avoid taunting the evil eye.
Even though I knew how my grandfather felt about sharing good news, I was still surprised by his reaction when I told him I was pregnant. I had been married for several years and was thrilled. After waiting the standard three months, I was figuratively and literally jam-packed (out of my pants) to tell people I was expecting.
For some reason, I thought he would be ecstatic too. After all, it was her first great-grandchild. But when I told him, he didn’t smile or start crying. He just said, “Don’t tell anybody. I laughed and pointed to my already rounded stomach. I explained that it was not an option to keep this news a secret any longer. He shook his head emphatically and said sternly, “Don’t say anything. You will give yourself a kinehora.”
His answer shocked me. Part of the fun of being pregnant was supposed to be telling people, “I’m pregnant!” and them being excited too. I was annoyed. I thought: other people have embraced happiness and the opportunity to share it. Enough already with the kinehoras! The evil eye did not exist. It was good news, my good news. I wanted to share it. So I did.
Two weeks after this conversation with my grandfather, I developed a fever. At first, my obstetrician was not worried. But a few days later, he sent me, still feverish, to an infectious disease specialist. Tests determined I had a virus known as CMV, which is benign to most of the general population but dangerous to pregnant women. I had to do an emergency amniocentesis. Fortunately, the virus had not crossed the placenta. The baby was fine. The rest of my pregnancy was normal, ending with the birth of a healthy baby girl.
Physically I fully recovered but emotionally I was haunted. Even though all the doctors said the virus was a fluke and assured me that I had done nothing wrong, I felt responsible. I had bent over my happiness, boasted of my good fortune. I had dared the evil eye to get me – and it happened. Lesson learned.
From that moment on, I not only believed in the power of kinehoraI feared him and gave him the power to govern my actions and reactions.
If good things were happening to my family or to me, I inherently wanted to keep them a secret. If we were lucky enough to partake in life’s buffet of good fortune, I would insist that we enjoy those morsels tucked away in a closet, hidden in plain sight from anyone, especially those with bad eyes.
When Facebook was launched in 2004, friends asked me to join, but I resisted. A public space to share all the good things, from intimate birthday parties to kids’ accomplishments or exotic vacations? The thought seemed downright scary, like waving a large red cape in front of an angry bull. My friends insisted that posting on Facebook was fun and a great way to stay connected. But to me, it looked like a well-crafted trap set by the ingenious evil spirits to solicit information and then: wow! Way too scary an undertaking just to see pictures of Jane’s new puppy from high school.
Eventually, when I had to enter the world of social media for work, I did so in a tenuous way. I rarely posted personal stories or photos. But even just using it to promote an article I had written felt like tempting fate. The likes and shares, while well-meaning, made me anxious.
Being stingy with the good news I shared gave me a false sense of protection. Part of me believed that by keeping the good news to myself, I was protecting my family from harm. But sometimes bad things still happened. No one is really able to totally ward off evil spirits, I learned, even if you lock the door and check it several times.
Moreover, living in fear of kinehoras stole something from me.
On the Psychology in Action website, writer Mona Moieni explains that sharing good news can have a positive impact on relationships. Known as compounding, sharing important and insignificant happy events creates closeness between people. Besides enjoying the happy event itself, Moieni explains, “Sharing positive news with others is associated with benefits such as feeling more positive and satisfied with life, higher self-esteem and decrease in feelings of loneliness.
After my conversation with Andrea, I decided to tell a few more people about my daughter’s engagement. Phone calls were greeted with cheerful responses of “Mazel Tov!” and “Congratulations!” followed by questions about the proposal and wedding plans. Texts announcing the engagement received responses from “So Exciting!” with heart, ring and champagne glasses emojis.
Everyone said hearing about my happiness made them happy too. These people aren’t evil spirits, I’ve come to understand; they are kind and loving spirits who welcome me to share good news with them. And that’s good news!
And yet, I still can’t completely get rid of this gnawing feeling. It’s like a friend of mine who was told as a child that cola was made from crushed ants so she wouldn’t like it. Now an adult, she logically knows it’s not true but she still can’t drink it. I want to believe that evil spirits are made up and have no place in my life. But still, sharing good news scares me, like I’m tempting fate and risk losing everything.
I try to move past negativity to find a middle ground between secrecy and bragging where I feel safe to share. This place seems to be in my grandmother’s memories. She said the right things, smiling proudly when she did. And then she protected him with magic words, like verbal bubble wrap, just to ward off those evil spirits.
My daughter is getting married ke-NAIN-uh HUH-ruh. (And just to be sure, poop poop poop.)