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You can leave your hat on

I sat in the car for a full 15 minutes, my mind dithering, swinging wildly from illogical to irrelevance.

“This is ridiculous. Just make a decision and go in.”
“What are the ramifications?”
“Am I being consistent?”
“This is ridiculous. Just make a decision and go in.”
“What message am I sending”
“If you are late for the interview because of this, you will never live it down”
“This is ridiculous. Just make a decision and go in.”

Outside the offices of the company where I’m scheduled for an interview, I’m deciding whether I will go in wearing my kippah or not.

Hopefully some you who are reading this will smile and think “Oh, he’s having *that* moment.” and perhaps recall a similar situation in your own experience. And hopefully some of you will post a comment because I’m taking any suggestions you have.

Here’s the deal: I wear my kippah whenever I’m home. I certainly wear it when I’m at synagogue. And most of the time, when I’m out and about, I wear it.

I like wearing my kippah. I don’t think of it as a security blanked, or talisman, or even as a mitzvah/commandment (it’s not, as I understand it). It just feels like the right thing to do. A part of my identify that I’m (usually) comfortable with. I also feel it’s important because my sons (ages 9 and 6) are so un-self conscious about theirs that I don’t want to project my own insecurity onto them. They were the ones who first started wearing kippot full time, in fact. Having received kippot and tzitzit katan (the small undershirt with fringes) as a gift from a friend, they put them on, announced them “awesome!” and wore them from that point forward. Going to a regular Midwest suburban public school there was nobody in their building – let alone their grade – who knew what to make of them. My boys couldn’t have cared less. They explained – as well as they knew – what that “funny hat” or “danglies” (or whatever else their classmates called them) were and moved on.

Of course, there are times when “that funny hat” needs to come off. When I’m going into a non-kosher restaurant (Yes, I wear a kippah and don’t keep kosher. Let the contradictions begin!); When I go into a store on Shabbat (Shomer Shabbos? Not there yet either!). Often, I’m acutely aware that nobody in the store would have the slightest idea what the kippah signified, but I take it off anyway.

Adding to the confusion is when I *don’t* take the kippah off, but instead opt to wear a baseball cap OVER the kippah. Because that’s WAY better. Or at least different. (At this point, I’m sure many people reading this are thinking “Leon, ‘different’ is not the word I’d be using!”). One of those times is when I’m at work. That’s the job I started 3 years ago, before I was wearing a kippah at ANY time except when I was at shul. When I’m in the office, I’ll wear my baseball-cap/kippah combo on my way to and from my car, and whenever I’m eating something.

My rational is that it would be confusing to co-workers to start a habit out of the blue, and there’s no way to ease into a Kippah. It’s not like growing a beard. You can’t wear a really small one on Monday, and work your way up over the next 2 weeks. Coworkers don’t say “Hey Leon, that funny hat thingy is really filling out nicely”. So I go through my day sometimes wearing a baseball cap and sometimes not.

Which I’m sure is TOTALLY not confusing the snot out of the people I work with. Or at least the maybe 2 people in my office of 1200 who even care what I’m wearing.

Back to the interview that I mentioned at the beginning of this essay, it was for a small shop of about 15 people, in a different part of town. I saw it as a chance to invent, or at least reveal, an aspect of myself that I’d kept out of work. But I still wrestled with whether I wanted my Jewishness so clearly proclaimed.

In that moment I realized that wearing a kippah is kind of like Chanukah every day of the year, traveling with you. You light the candles and set them in the window, because there might be someone out there who needs to know you are there; and because sometimes we need to find it in ourselves to wear our convictions on our sleeve. Or our head.

2 Responses to “You can leave your hat on”

  1. leon says:

    There’s been some wonderful comments over at the URJ re-post of this essay:

    http://blogs.rj.org/reform/2009/09/you-can-leave-your-hat-on.html

    In addition, it turns out that Jesse Paikin has been wrestling with similar ideas. You can read his thoughts here:
    http://jepaikin.wordpress.com/2009/09/15/billboard-judaism/
    and here:
    http://jepaikin.wordpress.com/2009/09/27/billboard-judaism-week-1-a-too-brief-review/

    I have a personal comment, which I’ll save for another post.

  2. Dwayne Holst says:

    Hi Leon-

    Yes, I struggled with putting on my Kippah and my Tzitzit at work as well. I was afraid that my co-workers would think I am a flake and was just doing it for shock value or something. I went ahead and did it anyways and yes I did get looks and many questions and I am sure there are plenty people around me that think I am weird or something but I have found that I don’t care. It is something I am doing for my God and my identity with him and that sustains me.

    It is wonderful hearing of the dilemmas and the freedom afforded to make our choices on how we live as Jews.

    Very clever title by the way, LOVED the read, thanks for sharing that!

    Regards,

    Dwayne

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