This week's portion: a home for God
Velveteen Rabbi in the Austin-American Statesman

More on kippot (and also kufis)

There was a high hipster quotient at South by Southwest, and at first I felt drab by comparison. Where were my reclaimed thrift store garments, my multicolored hair, and my stompy boots? (Answer: I haven't thrifted in years, my hair is pretty mousy although at least the cut is cute at the moment, and I didn't pack my stompy boots because I was so excited by the novelty of going outside without heavy socks on.) But I managed to stand out in the crowd, at least a little, because I was wearing my rainbow kippah.

I started seriously thinking about being kavod kippah during my chaplaincy year, and I wrote a long post exploring various understandings of the kippah (called Being visible.) As that post indicates, at this point I wear a kippah when I'm actively "doing Jewish" (teaching, leading services, studying Torah in hevruta, representing my community, officiating at a lifecycle event...)

Anyway, at South By I donned my kippah on erev Shabbat, Friday night. It was a useful way of reminding myself to be in Shabbat headspace, to encounter the world through Shabbat's especially sweet lenses. Plus, it turned out, the kippah was a great way to make me visible at the conference (the only other person I saw in a kippah all weekend was Kevin Smokler's brother, who's an Orthodox rabbi) so it was a great conversation-starter.

The experience of wearing the kippah in such a public forum got me thinking again about why I do it, and how its meaning shifts over time, and how the practice subtly changes me. All of which made me delighted to see this post from my friend Andrew, who has recently returned to blogging (hooray): Wearing a Yarmulkah. He cites an essay by a rabbi who began wearing the kippah during his chaplaincy year, to decidedly mixed reactions -- which makes Andrew all the more grateful for how his family and community have responded to the practice. Andrew writes,

[W]hen I started wearing it, I still wasn't much of a practicing Jew. Why was I wearing it? I felt a strong impulse, which I couldn't explain very well.

I wanted to be a good Jewish role model for my kids. Maybe I wanted to show that an anti-Zionist could also be a proud Jew; or maybe to make explicit what had been understood but never spoken throughout my childhood and adult life in rural Massachusetts: that I was a Jew "from somewhere else" in a community of Christians with generations on the land.

I also had this idea that I would, as the song says, "make my life a blessing" -- that I would honor God by living a moral life and by displaying honesty and compassion in my daily acts.

It's worth reading, regardless of your own hair-covering practices (or lack thereof.) One of these days I'd like to write a follow up to my initial kippah post, exploring how this issue plays out specifically for women (perhaps related to the whole question of how women rabbis are expected to dress, and how beauty and body and sexuality fit in with religious visibility) but that day is not today; for now I'll just point you to Andrew's post. (And if you too want a rainbow kippah: there's a range of rainbow kippot by the same artist who created mine here.)

Intriguingly, on a semi-related note, the New York department of justice just sued the state over a decision to ban wearing of the kufi, a skullcap with religious significance to some Muslims, in prison contexts. (Story here and here; hat tip islamicate.) I wonder to what extent the kufi and the kippah are related -- both the words, and the customs they represent?

Shabbat shalom, all!

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