Rabbi Charles K. Briskin
My friend Jim started wearing a kippah recently. In a beautiful essay he shared the question that many have asked him: “Why would a 52-year-old liberal Jew start wearing a kippah?”
I asked him a diﬀerent question: “What eﬀect has wearing a kippah had on you?” He wrote that wearing the kippah reminds him—all the time— that he is Jewish. Jim has always been a very proud and outspoken Jew. Before, he could hide his Jewish identity; however, when he wears a kippah, he can’t.
Wearing a kippah makes him positively self-conscious; “I ﬁnd myself going out of my way to smile at, talk to, and be kind to people of other races and ethnicities, not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because I want them to know that a white Jewish man wearing a kippah values them for who they are…I want people to know that Jews come in all shapes and styles and types of observance. It’s especially important today, with so much xenophobia in the world.”
Most responses to Jim’s kippah have been positive. Sadly, he has dealt with some hate speech directed towards him, or uttered in his presence. It takes adjusting to being recognized as a Jew before anything else.
Jim’s story is relevant this month as we prepare to celebrate Purim, a holiday that addresses issues of Jewish identity.
Queen Esther concealed her Judaism. She didn’t want her new husband, King Ahashverosh, to know she was Jewish. She hid behind her crown, and even when her people were imperiled, she resisted intervening on behalf of her Jewish community. It took the pressure and cajoling of her much more outwardly Jewish uncle, Mordechai, to convince her that she needed to act boldly to save her people and herself from the wicked Haman, who sought to kill all the Jews.
In our community today, how much of our Judaism we reveal to others and what we conceal isn’t a matter of life or death, but rather a matter of personal preference and comfort.
What are ways you could be positively self-conscious? How can you demonstrate your Judaism more aﬃrmatively? Are you willing to make yourself stand out a bit more than usual? What are ways you could proudly show your Judaism to others ?
Jim is right; at this moment in history, when there is so much xenophobia in the world, perhaps it is time for us who can blend in more easily, to stand out, to wear our Judaism on our sleeves, or heads. To show we are proud and not afraid. It’s a small act that may help us to better see ourselves and others in the world, while being seen by others as well.
Share your stories of your public displays of Judaism and let me know how they aﬀect you.