Anyone who knows me or sees me around town, knows that I wear my kippah (sometimes spelled kipa) all the time. I wear it when I teach at the college and of course at the Temple. I also wear it in the supermarket, the hardware store, restaurants, and even on river cruises and under Purim costumes. I wear it at home.
In the hours after the October 24, 2018 shooting (a couple days ago), I heard a number of people express fear saying they may not continue to wear theirs and/or tuck their Jewish jewelry inside their shirts. I thought for a few minutes about safety and I remembered the many years before returning to rabbinical studies, when I worked at Goodyear, that I, too, hid my Jewish jewelry inside my shirt. Of course, it did not mask my Jewishness…
Somewhere along the way to returning to rabbinical school, I decided to wear my mother’s star of David outside and a kippah all the time. I tried the beret, the snood, and other ideas, but the kippah works best for me. People have come up to me in many places and started conversations because of it, usually out of curiosity, sometimes because they, too, are Jewish. When I attended classes in Chicago a couple years back I idly wondered if everywhere I was walking in town was safe, and especially so in my kippah and star, but I stayed my course. There were no challenges.
Last summer was the first challenge I had, and it came somewhere I did not expect it. As I mentioned earlier, I wear it everywhere. The service organization, whose state conference I was attending, was certainly used to seeing it at the local level. However, at this state level, there was a small group that protested my right to wear it to official meetings on the grounds that hats were not allowed. I refused to remove it and I refused to leave the meeting, advising them that it was not wise to force the issue. Fortunately, the person in charge of the gathering declared that I was entitled to wear the kippah and that, as a religious article, it was not subject to the no hat rule.
I thought that handled the situation, but as I was walking across the meeting room floor at the conclusion of the session, the woman walking next to me explained to someone that I was an ordained rabbi (as if just being Jewish might not be enough reason?), and someone sneered at me “You are not a rabbi in here.” My reaction was that I am a rabbi no matter where I am and rabbi or not, I am Jewish no matter where I am.
My kippah became a topic of discussion a few more times during the conference, but always in a supportive way, including a wonderful discussion with the organization’s lawyer who happened to be with someone who was sitting at my table.
On my ride home from that event, I thought about how those who are Antisemitic were feeling emboldened and that there was more division within this otherwise friendly service oriented organization than in the past, and that this was the case elsewhere as well. I remember wondering how much worse it would get and how quickly, as well as what could be done to counter that tone and attitude.
At the same time, I noted that my students and many millennials with whom I have contact were mostly inclusive and with only a few exceptions, found the bigotry of the older generations unacceptable. Yes, there are pockets here and there that have imbibed the poisonous elixir of hatred and bigotry, but far fewer in the younger generations.
And I compared today with the memories of Europe my parents shared and what I have learned from historians. There are striking and frightening similarities – and there are striking differences. Some of the differences are in the economic scenarios then and now. Another difference is the growing solidarity of those who oppose hateful rhetoric and domestic (and other) acts of violence. A third difference is social media. Are these differences enough to stem the slide toward devastation and destruction? I hope so.
Yet hoping so is not enough. Part of what needs to happen is purposeful action to move the country and the world into a better more inclusive place. And my kippah plays into that need. If I allow the haters and bigots to force my star back under my blouse and the kippah from my head, then they have won, so I will not allow that to happen.
And the haters and bigots want to attack other minorities (a real definition of bullying, by the way). However, there are more minorities and members of the White majority who still care (I have received so many phone calls from them) than there are haters and bigots – so if we come together and move our country and the world out of this dark time, we might be able to avoid the destruction that comes from the slide we are already seeing.
So, not only will I wear my kippah everywhere, I will continue to openly call out the hatred and bigotry aimed at any group and stand up for the rights of Blacks, Muslims, Asians, LGBTQ persons, women, or any other group. I will wear my star with dignity and model my recognition that everyone is entitled to fair and proper treatment – always and in all ways. I will teach it, I will model it, and I will live it. This is not a time to hide and let fear and hatred win. Too many have already died in our country.
And that is why, after Pittsburgh, I will absolutely wear my kippah.
Thanks for reading.
Pittsburgh Kippah Jewsforhumanity treeoflife strongerthanhate peace