The hamsa.

Mostly these days, I comment at other places as just plain old me: Emily L. Hauser.

But back when I started the whole “trusting the blogosphere” thingie, I took the user name ellaesther (my Hebrew name) at Jezebel, and that is still my name at the handful of places where I maintain a real, regular presence. I think it makes sense that I create some kind of wall between the experiences of being part of an active online community, and being A Professional And Unpaid Blogger (though having said that, I never write anything anywhere on the net that I wouldn’t be willing to claim in the broad light of day. ‘Cause I’m old n’ wise like that).

In the places where I am ellaesther, my avatar (where I can have one) is this gold hamsa, because of the meaning that the hamsa has in my life (and because this one is so pretty!). Sometime ago, I mentioned at Ta-Nehisi’s place that I would have to post something here explaining the hamsa’s significance to me, but as is (sometimes) the way, I’ve never gotten around to it.

But as we approach Shabbat, in the week in which Bibi refused to come talk nuclear weapons because if he does he’ll have to talk about his own, and I learned that 70% of the Israeli people (Israeli-Jews and Israeli-Palestinians) believe in the two-state solution, but 70% also believe that solution to be well nigh impossible — I thought: The hamsa. This is a good time to write about the hamsa.

There’s not much to it, really: A hamsa is a Middle Eastern amulet against the evil eye. (“Hamsa” means five, and refers to the five fingers of the hand). It’s used by both Jews and Arabs, and the notion is of providing an extra hand in times of trouble (sometimes also known as the “Hand of Fatima“).

I think that the filigreed ones in particular are quite beautiful, and I have many hamsas hanging on the walls of my home — sitting in front of my desk and typing, I can see four without turning my head. I often wear one on my right hand, in the form of a ring (thanks for the tip, jemimapuddleduck!), but in a pinch, one may simply hold one’s right hand up, toward the person or circumstance to which one would want to bring good luck or protection, and say “hamsa!” (Often though people emit something of a slew of hamsas: “Hamsa! Hamsa! Hamsa!”)

Though I don’t truly believe in the evil eye, or in amulets, I do certainly believe in the idea of giving a helping hand in times of trouble, and of wishing each other well — and the idea that this is something shared between Jewish and Arab culture resonates deep within me.

Bottom line, it speaks to my hopes and dreams, the idea that we might one day reach out to help, rather than kill, each other. “None shall hurt or destroy in all My holy mountain” – amen, amen, speedily and in our days.

Shabbat shalom to one and all, and may we find that all the troubles and tribulations we face today are but a sign that the bloody cycle of hatred between Israelis and Palestinians will soon be coming to a close.


Please check out this conference call planned for April 15 by Ta’anit Tzedek, The Jewish Fast for Gaza (co-founded by my rabbi, Rabbi Brant Rosen):

Ta’anit Tzedek’s next monthly fast day is Thursday, April 15. To mark the occasion we’ll be sponsoring the second monthly phone conference of our new initiative, Resisting the Siege: Conversations with Gazans.

This month our call will spotlight the Popular Achievement Program in Gaza – a project of the American Friends Service Committee.  This remarkable program works with 14-17 year old Gazan children, instilling values of civic engagement and empowerment to achieve positive social transformation and sustainable development in their communities.  As you can see from the clip above, these kinds of programs demonstrate the critical importance of strengthening Palestinian civil society. Initiatives such as the Popular Achievement Program – not blockades and bombs – are the true key to stability within in Gaza and the Occupied Territories.

On our call we will be joined by Popular Achievement director Amal Sabawi and two teenage program participants, Sarah and Roba Salipi, who will discuss how they live with the daily challenges of life in Gaza.

This is an excellent way to, in the words of Rabbi Heschel, pray with our feet (or our telephones, as the case may be).



  1. Mary Dearing

     /  July 11, 2010

    This comment is so that I can subscribe to your blog. In a world where conflict is so often just under the surface, the spirit of kindness you show in your articles is very special. Thank you.

  2. SiubhanDuinne

     /  July 22, 2010

    Thank you for that lovely piece about the hamsa. And thank you for this lovely blog. I look forward to spending a lot more time over here.