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Commentary Detail

Not Giving a Kena Hora
Commentary by: Mark Shook
Aired February 28, 2008

In my religious tradition there is an expression one utters in response to another person’s over-optimism. For example, your basketball team is leading by twenty points with four minutes left in the game. A friend declares, “This game is in the bag!”

“That is the moment of greatest danger,” my grandmother warned. Then she would say the mystical words, “Don’t give a kena hora.”

The phrase is supposed to ward off the evil eye, a folk tradition that fears good news. Just when things are good, the evil eye will bring disaster. One should never be too optimistic, too positive about anything. The moment you have let your joy and happiness loose on the world, the evil eye will try to bring you down.

I had a kena hora moment this week as I suddenly realized that religious issues were no where to be found in the battle of the front runners for president. The leading candidates were actually speaking of education and healthcare, foreign policy and defense matters. I knew that if I made this observation public, I could risk the wrath of the evil eye-so I said, “ Kena hora” and spit three times. They were symbolic spits.

In recent days, none of the three front-runners has been sending covert or overt religious messages on the campaign trail. I prefer to get my inspiration from my faith leaders at the pulpit rather than from political candidates at the press conference. Maybe we are entering a new era of respect for the constitutional separation of church and state.

I know grandma, don’t give a kena hora.

(The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. Louis Public Radio.)

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Mark Shook

Mark Shook


Mark Shook is Rabbi Emeritus at Temple Israel.

More Mark Shook Commentaries