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Jewish Journal

Tempting Fate

by Susan Esther Barnes

May 7, 2014 | 1:00 am

Photo by Susan Esther Barnes

I’m a literal person. I inherited it from my father, alav hashalom. He was the kind of guy who would call up a business, ask to speak with someone, and when the receptionist inquired, “May I ask who is calling?” he would answer, simply, “Yes,” then wait through the awkward pause that followed.

Similarly, if you asked him, “How are you?” he would say something like, “I feel fine, and my doctor says I’m well, but who really knows?”

I don’t take my literalism quite that far, but there is one quirk along those lines I did pick up from him. When someone asks me whether I am going to be somewhere, instead of saying a simple, “Yes,” I almost always say either, “God willing” or “I plan to.”

I don’t do this because I’m particularly superstitious. It’s more that I like to remind myself, and others, that I’m not in charge. God is in charge and, as they say, “We make plans and God laughs.” It’s helpful to keep in mind that life is full of surprises, and I don’t want to promise I’ll be someplace when I know something unexpected could upset my plans.

Late Saturday afternoon, I broke my rule.

I drove down to a synagogue in Los Altos Hills to pick up Israeli scholar Rachel Korazim after she spoke there, in order to take her to where she would spend the night before speaking at our synagogue on Sunday morning.

As we drove toward our destination, we had a very nice chat. We talked about Israel, and her family, and I pointed out the sights as we passed them. At one point, she asked me whether I was going to come hear her speak the next morning. Without thinking, what popped out of my mouth was, “Of course.”

I don’t know what came over me. Maybe it came out of a desire to be direct because, as a general rule, Israelis prefer people who don’t beat around the bush. Maybe it was because I wanted her to know I was enjoying my conversation with her, and I wanted to learn more about what she had to say. But, for whatever reason, out it came, and I left it there, allowing the conversation to move on.

As I said, I’m not superstitious, and I believe God has much better things to do than to monitor our conversations to detect slips of the tongue that may deserve punishment.

All I’m saying is, the next morning when I got in my car to head to the synagogue, I discovered I had a flat tire. As a result, I missed the whole presentation.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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Susan Esther Barnes is a religious Reform Jew who can regularly be seen greeting people at her synagogue before services. She is a founding member of her synagogue’s chevra...

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