This past Friday night at services I spoke about the kippah as a symbol of Jewish identity and pride. The wearing of a kippah is not a mitzvah (a commandment). If it were, there would be a blessing recited before putting it on, in the same way that there is a blessing for the wearing of the tallit or tefilin. But the kippah has become over time an almost universally recognized symbol of Judaism. Virtually every observant male Jew (and some women in the Conservative and Reform Movements as well) wear kippot most of the time. That is to say, not only when we are in shul, or engaging in ‘religious’ ritual – but all the time – at the bank, in the foodstore, at the ballpark, walking the dog, and on and on. In this practice we not only keep ourselves connected to the tradition throughout the day, we also are wearing our faith on our sleeves, or in this case, on our heads.
I believe this is a statement that has become more powerful as Jews have become more assimilated. Today, a Jew can navigate his or her life in every phase and never be recognized as a Jew. Even one generation ago this was simply not possible. Yes, our names might still identity us as Jewish, and perhaps in the fall when we take a couple of days off to attend shul for the High Holy Days, or in the winter when others celebrate Christmas and we are lighting the menorah it might still be clear that we are different. But the vast majority of time that difference, that distinctiveness, is lost.
On the one hand this is a good thing. It means, if you will, that we have finally ‘arrived.’ On the other hand one can easily make the argument that it has been our distinctiveness that has, in large part, enabled a sense of Jewish peoplehood to continue to exist for thousands of years. We are right now living through the first period in Jewish history where our sense of being different may be going the way of the dinosaurs. Perhaps it is time, in small ways, to reclaim that sense of difference, and even to celebrate it.
So in that spirit on Friday night I proposed a ‘kippah challenge.’ Pick one day this coming week (I suggested Friday the 14th) and wear a kippah all day. If you are going to school, if you are going to work, if you have a meeting, if you are out in your neighborhood, whatever you are doing, wherever you are, wear a kippah. If you are not used to doing so, you will feel consciously Jewish in a new way. You will be simultaneously connecting to an ancient heritage and celebrating a modern value of respecting differences. You will also be reminding yourself that there are still places in this world where a Jew cannot comfortably wear a kippah in public.
At the end of services a number of people told me they would give it a shot, including some of the teenagers who were there. I would like to hear from folks who take the kippah challenge about their experience. You can respond here at this blog, or at the Beth El FB page – https://www.facebook.com/pages/Beth-El-Congregation-of-Baltimore/203980667310?ref=hl
good luck! have fun! and keep your head up high –