Monday, December 2, 2013

Reaction: "My Kippah, Myself"

This article resonates with my own experiences.  It is one woman's description of her experiences wearing a kippah for the last 20 years, starting at age 9.  She shares some of the challenges she has experienced- and the theology and identity that lead her to make, and to continue to make, that decision.  It's worth the read.

I didn't start wearing a kippah as early as Gila Drazen did, nor as consistently- I often swapped over to a folded scarf or a headband.  But when I wore a kippah on the street (or at the grocery store, department store, post office...) I got the same reactions that Drazen did.  They were glorious and they were miserable.  They were, most of all, inescapable.  By the time I went to Israel, it's no wonder that I didn't have the energy for the infamous "Ben O Bat"?" (Are you a boy or a girl?) conversations that many of my friends have had.

Drazen's story reminds me of my own in so many ways.  There is no moment of definition- there's only her moment of recognition that she's known all along- the kippah her parents give her is sparkly, purple and Jewish, of course she was going to wear it all the time.  For me, it was an even earlier moment of "I'm Jewish", therefore- for me, I was 5, and I insisted that my parents send me to Hebrew School.  Her story resonates in its very lack of revolutionary energy.  There is nothing at odds with the Jewish life she already was living in this decision- it barely Was a decision.  It's only later, interfacing with the external world of the broader Jewish community and the non-Jewish world that it becomes a challenge.

I too had a conversation with a man in a black hat about my kippah- except I didn't get to have the conversation.  I was walking with two Jewish men (with kippot and tzitzit) and a non-Jewish woman, a Protestant seminarian, after an interfaith conference.  A man drove by, pulled over, and asked my male colleagues- "why is she wearing that?" I tried to answer- he didn't look at me, or listen to my answer.  "Who said she could wear that?" "Why can't she just bake challah and light candles?" My colleagues tried to answer him- they said what I might have said, only more politely.  Our Protestant company was passed by without comment, although she was wearing jeans, and a low-cut shirt.  But my kippah (over a dress and long-sleeve, high-necked shirt)- now That was confusing, and a threat.

It's a reminder that clothing can be about us as much as it is about our way of shaping how other people see us.  There is a connection between identity and identification, obviously- but the way that the kippah gets grabbed as a signboard can be very trying when one wants to send no message more controversial than Ï am a Jew who is in relationship with God".

In the end, Drazen's message is one I heartily approve of, even as someone who no longer wears a kippah herself- at least when you can see me:
My kippah is not about you any more than the rest of the way I present myself is about you. My kippah is about me, it’s about God. It’s about Judaism and family and tradition. You are not the official arbiter of what Judaism is or is not. I do not require your understanding or your approval; however, respect is appreciated. 
Have you had one of these experiences?   Are you curious about why women wear a kippah, or how they made that choice?  This is an open space for respectful communication about the topic.  Please share stories, questions, and answers.  Anything disrespectful will be removed as soon as I can.


  1. Though I am thoroughly fascinated by head covering, I am not of the Jewish faith. Why are some people opposed to head covering for women?

    1. Aggie- that''s both a very simple and a very complicated question. In this case, some people object to women wearing a style of head covering that is traditionally worn by men. They may feel that this is a violation of prohibitions on cross-dressing, or just find that it feels too weird to them, depending on their perspective.

      Some people object instead to women's covering any of their head, because they think that religious head covering is unnecessary or unAmerican- but that would be a very different group than those who are objecting to this woman's practice.

  2. Thank you for answering, I enjoy learning through your blog.

  3. Thank you so much for sharing this!

  4. I was very encouraged to find this site. I wanted to thank you for this special read. I definitely savored every little bit of it and I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff you post.

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