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Me and my takiya’/kippah

Making the tough decision on when and where to wear a head cover during these challenging times


By Al Maimon (aka Little Al)

 

I started writing this more than a month ago. Unfortunately, it becomes more and more relevant as the number of antisemitic incidents skyrockets.





For a variety of reasons, I have been thinking about my personal experience with wearing a takiya’, or kippah, bringing up memories from many places over the last 70+ plus years. Right after Oct. 7, leaving my doctor’s clinic, I was wearing my kippah, and a non-Jewish woman who was also leaving came over to me and hugged me. She said it looked like I needed a hug and it was a gesture of support “of our Jewish people.”

 

I want to share this window into my life to reflect the changing times so that maybe we can we learn from this. In this writing, I’ll refer to our distinctive male head covering as “kippah.” Women’s hair covering is not addressed in this essay.

 

In general, wearing a head covering is both personally a symbol of reverence of the Omniscience, Omnipresence of and Omnipotence of HaShem, and/or communally, beyond this, a symbol of communal belonging. This includes wearing a kippah when praying or eating at home, in the synagogue, in Jewish secular events, at secular private or public venues, and on the street.



 

Over the years and over many places, the fabric, design and size of the kippah has also become a sign of identification with a particular subculture. Kippot come in many different types of fabric and take on many different shapes and sizes. We’ve all seen those made from black velvet, white, black or other colored satin, embroidered, so small as to be compared with a Coca Cola bottle cap (for those who remember glass bottles and their caps).

 

Also, generally each of these purposes has been challenged or compromised, including the basic issue of covering one’s head, whatever the reason, beyond whether or not to cover in a distinctive Jewish way.

 

As a child growing up - spending time at home, the synagogue, and school (I was in the first class of the local Jewish day school), I was pretty sheltered. I lived a block away from Garfield High School and, when I went there, I didn’t wear a kippah, but I always came home for lunch and donned my kippah when I entered the house. Every day I made my “deal with HaShem,” deciding when to take it off as I walked the block between home and the school.

 

Communally, at that time, in Seattle’s Orthodox community, it was not the norm to wear our kippot outside. We were told, instead, to either wear a hat or go bareheaded. This was even more clear in our Sephardic community, where it was not the norm to wear kippot outside. My father and his peers wore hats at work. I remember being bawled out for wearing it at a Garfield basketball game. A community member admonished me, saying, “if you need to cover your head, wear a cap.”

 




Across the country, things were quite different. I attended Yeshiva University. There, outside the Sephardic community, wearing a kippah was ubiquitous, and was actually required all the time - on the subway, on campus, and in the neighborhood. However, practice of the Syrian community, the Sephardic custom was - except for those going to Yeshiva – to only cover one’s head when eating or praying.

 

When visiting Turkey about 15 or 20 years ago, we were strongly advised, for our safety, to forgo wearing our kippot, and instead to wear a hat outside if we needed to have our heads covered.  

In Israel it is not an issue of wearing a kippah, but more about paying attention to which group we belonged to reflected in the color, size, and material of the head covering.

 

Briefly, in my work life, I experienced stages - before living in Israel, while living in Israel ,and after returning from Israel – when I made a deal with myself on when to wear or not wear one. A difficult time was navigating this at business meals (“no demandes” - that’s for another time). Interestingly, one friend decided to wear a wig, over his full head of hair, which in and of itself raised questions among his coworkers. When I was doing external marketing in my job, I felt I needed to be sensitive to the fact that I was representing the company and didn’t want a customer’s potential prejudice to extend from me to the company. Then there was the time when I was in Bahrain … but that’s also another whole story for another time.

 

In closing, during these times of heightened antisemitism and hatred toward so many Jews, my hope is that we individually and communally continue to have the ability to choose if, what, when to cover our head, and that, in general, we are able to self-define ourselves so that we and others are free to express our choices peacefully, without prejudice, threat or malice.

 

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