For the past several years, before I even considered the rabbinical program I'm now in, I toyed with the idea of wearing a kippah (head covering) outside my synagogue. Often I'd wear it all day on Shabbat (Sabbath) and sometimes I'd wear it on other days, but more often I didn't wear one because it made me too self conscious.

Now I'm trying it again.

Let me tell you why.

First, it has nothing to do with my journey to become a rabbi. It has little to do with my identity - in and of itself - as a Jew. And while wearing a kippah actually is done as an act of humility before God, even that doesn't really resonate with me. Wearing a kippah, for me, is more like what wearing tzitzit is for some Jews: it's a powerful nudge to watch my behavior in public and to represent my religion in an honorable manner.

What I want to do is to, say, walk into a restaurant and put out extra effort to be patient while I wait a very long time for a table, (remember what's on your head, Mary), to exude warmth to anyone with whom I have eye contact, (remember...) and to be generous to a server who may have been deluged with too many tables (remember...). I want my kippah to remind me that I, at that moment, represent Judaism. I want to be a top-notch emissary.

Yet I'm afraid. Maybe I'll just be an emissary for looking weird. What if that sarcastic, condescending tendency of mine leaks out and that's how I'll represent Judaism? What if the server really sucks and I don't want to leave a tip?

Many non-Jews I meet still feel proud that they know I go to "church" on Saturday instead of Sunday; what in the world could I possibly convey to people who know absolutely nothing of my faith and religion?

I'm afraid, also, of what other Jews will think and say. One friend initially felt it wrong of me to wear a kippah if I ate in a non-kosher restaurant. "What if my Orthodox friend sees you and thinks it's okay to eat there? she asked.

First of all, your Orthodox friend wouldn't trust a woman in a kippah. Secondly, he shouldn't be making assumptions about what wearing a kippah means. It does not mean that everyone who wears one eats only in kosher restaurants.

Perhaps the thing I dread the most is hearing what I so often hear anyway: "Jews by choice are so exuberant! You put the rest of us to shame!"


I know you mean that as a compliment, but please don't distinguish me as a convert. I am a Jew. There are Jews who are much more observant than I am, Jews who are much less observant, and Jews who are about on my level of religious faithfulness. Feel free to ask about my conversion, but don't tell me I'm religious because I'm a Jew by choice.

I don't want to be the convert who wears my Judaism on my sleeve.

With that said, I'm doing it again. I'm wearing a kippah everywhere. I'm enduring the sideways glances. I'm imagining what people are saying, both Jews and non-Jews.

But I'm trying to concentrate on why I personally wear a kippah.

Maybe I'll build a few bridges and create a little more understanding. I remember the woman who, about a year ago, ran screaming across the parking lot of a strip mall, trying to reach me before I got into my car and drove off, just because she wanted to learn more about Judaism. Wearing a kippah opens the door to conversations and relationships.

Mostly, though, I want others to see through the minhag (custom) and ritual of wearing a kippah. I want Jews to understand it isn't a sign of fundamentalism or fanaticism. I want non-Jews to see my religion as one that exemplifies love and kindness and spirituality and godlike behavior.

So if you run into me and I'm wearing a kippah, just go with that - and let me know how I'm doing.


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