Rachel's tomb as protection against an evil eye
In kneytlakh-leygn and feldmestn, it seems that it was believed that by laying the candle wicks around the cemetery they would be imbued with the power of ancestral connection; that the resting place of the more recent dead was an important link in the chain leading back from the living to the Matriarchs and Patriarchs with whom God made his covenant. There is perhaps a connection here to the Kabbalistic practice of wearing a bracelet of red thread that has been wound seven times around Rachel’s tomb in Jerusalem, charging it with Rachel’s qualities and thus protecting the wearer from the evil eye. Often dismissed as a popular fad (thanks, Madonna) or a tourist trap (the red bracelets are often sold at holy sites in Jerusalem and can even be bought on amazon), the custom is nonetheless mentioned in a a few memoirs I have come across. Israeli politician Avraham Krinitzi describes in his memoirs of his childhood in Grodno how his grandmother used to distribute bands of all colours that she had herself wrapped around Rachel’s tomb in Jerusalem to children as a remedy against an ayin hore. The earth itself is seen to hold special power.
My grandmother – like she was standing before my eyes: a small, wearing glasses from which one lens was always missing, wrapped in a shawl with big flowers – and this is a shawl she had brought with her from Jerusalem. And she had brought also from the holy land bands, a whole treasure of bands in various colours, and just as I remember her always with those glasses missing one lens, so I see her always with a handful of bands, how she distributed them over and over again as presents to women and children – for them a red, and for them a green, and for them a yellow and for them a blue one. She tied the bands around the children’s hands, or around their feet, or around their necks – a remedy against an ayin-hore, God Forbid, because with those bands she had with her own hands measured around the tomb of Mother Rachel, and is there in the whole world a better remedy than those bands which had touched the dear earth of Rachel imonu*?
*imonu = our mother
Avraham Krinitzi, Mit di eygene tsen finger, (Tel Aviv: Letste Nayes, 1957)