A letter to the culturally uninformed

Anya Eydelman, Staff Writer

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In Judaism, the Hamsa necklace is protection from evil. When the Hamsa is only used as a trend, it can be disrespectful of many people’s religions. Photo illustration by Nora Smith

Dear woman  standing in front of me at the Lifetime
Fitness café,

I am dying to know where you got your Hamsa necklace from.

I’ve been looking to buy a meaningful Hamsa bracelet for my sister’s bat mitzvah, so I had to say, “I love your necklace, where did you buy it?” To which you responded, “Thank you, my yoga studio started selling them last week. They were so cute, and I just had to buy one!”

Trying to restrain my anger, I muttered an, “Oh, okay,” through clenched teeth. 

But it was not okay that your yoga studio was selling Hamsas. The Hamsa is an extremely meaningful symbol in several religions, not a “cute” item of jewelry. And it was not okay to wear this powerful symbol without any knowledge of what the Hamsa means to the many cultures it represents.

There are people who neglect cultural values every day. Whether this neglect is shown by department stores selling Buddha figurines as “boho” home decor or social media feeds bursting with posts of “artsy” henna tattoos, people are ignoring religious symbols, or simply not realizing how they are being disrespectful. Either way, cultural appropriation is being supported by society for its trendiness, and it is demeaning to all cultures when religious symbols are trivialized and portrayed as nothing more than stylish.

For the entirety of my life, I have been writing G-d’s name as “G‑d” because it is disrespectful to write G-d’s name in a place where it may be thrown out. Similar to the respect shown for G-d’s name, the Hamsa is honored in Judaism because it represents the actual hand of G-d.

As in Judaism, the Hamsa is a holy symbol in many other religions. To the Islamic faith, the Hamsa is Fatima’s hand, daughter of the Prophet Muhammad, and it stands as a symbol of faith with each finger representing a different pillar of the Islamic religion. And to certain groups of Christians, though not as common, the Hamsa represents the “hand of Mary,” mother of Jesus Christ.

And to all religions, it is offensive when our ideas are disrespected and shaped into symbols that are belittled from what they truly represent.

You should know that the Hamsa you purchased at your yoga studio, a symbol shaped like an upside-down hand, is the same symbol that my parents hang around the house to represent G-d’s protection. It is the symbol I received on a necklace from my grandmother when I was three and the one embroidered onto the Torah cover at my synagogue.

Perhaps the next time you choose to wear the “yoga pendant,” think about the Hamsa’s religious value to us.

Instead of admiring or selling someone’s religious symbol for its aesthetic appearance, become curious about what it stands for. Take the time to be mindful of our cultural differences, learn about each other, and understand how to distinguish between appropriation and appreciation. Appropriation is a moral crime: when someone of one culture exploits another culture with little understanding of their traditions. To appreciate is to recognize the beauty behind each individual culture, ethnicity and race.

So, dear teens who hang tapestries on your walls, did you know that in Buddhism and Hinduism, it stands for spiritual wholeness? Dear pop stars who wear hijabs in your music videos for a “sexy” appearance, did you know that to the Islamic culture, the hijab symbolizes modesty? Dear woman standing in front of me at the Lifetime Fitness café, you should know that when I wear my Hamsa necklace, I am carrying the protection of G-d’s hand and centuries of Jewish tradition.

Dear everyone, embrace other cultures for their real beauty.

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A letter to the culturally uninformed