Before there was an “I do”, there was a “tfu, tfu, tfu” !


Audrey Beardsley, The Black Cat

By Patricio Abramzon

I met my beautiful Ukrainian-American wife Anna in Jerusalem –a holy place full of cats. Wherever you’d go, there they would be –  walking gently through the allies, resting majestically like King David’s lions on top of the trash cans, and following you around hoping to get a bite out of your Shabbat dinner leftovers.

To some people, street cats simply mean allergies. But to Anna and I, her very secular Jewish Argentine boyfriend,  our first encounter with a black feline was a moment of truth.

It was one of our early dates. We were walking and laughing all the way back to her dorms in the German Colony neighborhood.  The street was uphill. The night was calm and romantic.  Until a black cat crossed our path.

Pause for a second. Let me describe this event of Chernobyl-proportions in slow motion: Think the part in The Matrix when Neo dodges the bullets.

She turned around like a panicked Russian ballerina, spit over her left shoulder, and released the supernatural “tfu, tfu, tfus” I don’t recall how many times. Enough for the poor cat to run away frightened. What amazed me the most was that Anna continued her journey walking backwards, thus apparently avoiding the cat’s evil influence.

I witnessed the spectacle in awe, at first. “Oh my God,” I thought to myself before cracking up.  “It’s no wonder the Soviet Union collapsed,” I teased her, “I’ve never seen anything like this before.” Well, that’s not true: I saw Orthodox Jews in Mea Shearim waving chickens around other people’s heads as part of an old custom around Yom Kippur, expecting miracles to happen. And that’s not very hi-tech either.

Eventually, I learned that superstitions are to Russian culture what Santa is to conservative America’s: nobody believes in Santa, but they still expect him to be white, old, fat and jolly.

Fast-forward: we got married and I managed to persuade Anna to put her crazy superstitions to rest for a while. Don’t get me wrong: we Argentinians have our own issues.  But, this blog is about Russian Americans.

Things were going along smoothly, until G., a beloved friend of ours, who happens to also be from the former Soviet Union- accidentally shattered a human-sized mirror we had  placed in the wrong spot in our apartment in Jerusalem. Silence. Nobody said a word but everyone knew what the other person was thinking. We picked up the broken pieces and vacuumed the floor, trying to convince ourselves that superstitions are silly.That week,  G,  was involved in a horrible car crash in the woods and had to be airlifted back to Hadassah Hospital. The amazing Israeli first responders, doctors and nurses saved his life, and we’re extremely grateful for that. Honestly, we’ll never know whether breaking that mirror brought him bad or good luck: after all, he survived. But one thing is for sure: tfu, tfu, tfu!

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