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The Kippah Quandary

The Kippah Quandary

My landmark dilemma of newfound "kippahedness": do I wear a kippah to the job interview or not?

by

I want to make a confession: I wear a kippah. And not just in synagogue either. All the time. Even in social situations. I didn't used to. In fact, for the first 36 years of my life I only wore one in synagogue. And even that was a rarity.

The phenomenon of the switch from "no kippah" to "everyday kippah" is most indelibly recorded by the reactions you get from friends, family and co-workers. These reactions range from "Why are you wearing that? Is it some kind of Jewish holiday again?" to "He's such a fanatic!" to "He wears it to hide his bald spot!" (I only wish I had thought of that when my bald spot first appeared 15 years ago!)

But my favorite and most subtle reaction came from a colleague whose eyes would dart back and forth between my kippah and me about 50 times during a 5-minute conversation.

A landmark dilemma of newfound "kippahedness" comes when confronting your first new work situation wearing the "traditional Hebraic skullcap," as one co-worker deemed it. This involves meeting with someone outside your current company and thus, outside of the group who saw your slow transition from secular guy to religious guy, and who asked all the questions about your new practices and actually seemed interested in the answers. Now you are venturing beyond the safe zone, out into the final frontier.

To kippah or not to kippah? That was the question.

For me, this "first contact" came while interviewing for a new job. What made it even more difficult was that it was a job I actually wanted! In other words, there was a lot at stake professionally. So, now I had to make a choice. One does not have to wear a kippah to work if it will prejudice his position in a negative way. So, I had an "out" if I wanted one. But should I take the out?

To kippah or not to kippah? That was the question.

Whenever I have these deep, moral questions, I always consult my wife. She's not just smarter and cuter than I am, she's a whole lot wiser. As usual, she had a brilliantly insightful response. "Well," she said, "if you're afraid that your new prospective boss may not like Jews or religious people in general, it's better to find out in the interview stage, rather than after you're working for them."

And with that, the decision was made. I would kippah.

TESTING THE FIELD

I arrived at the interview a few minutes early and went to the men's room to check my wardrobe. I looked pretty much the same as I had in all my other job interviews. Except for the circular addition atop my head. My kippah was clean and tasteful (I wouldn't be caught in public without a tasteful kippah!), but it was also a statement. A BIG statement. So standing there in the restroom, I hesitated for a moment and thought, "You can still take it off."

But then I realized that not wearing my kippah would be an even bigger statement. A statement about denial of who I am. A Jew. A religious Jew. So for me, going in without a kippah would be a statement that I am less-than-fully committed to those ideas around which I base my life. So, in I went -- tasteful kippah and all.

The man who greeted me smiled and shook my hand. No eyes darting from my kippah to me, no jaw hanging down to the ground like in the cartoons. Just a nice "hello."

Early in the interview, he asked me, "What are you passionate about?"

"In business or in life in general?" I asked.

"Life in general," he replied.

I thought for a split second. Should I be really honest? Should I tell him what truly animates and motivates me in life? Or should I just give him the stock corporate answer that "a job well done and sacrifice for the company is what makes me tick"?

I opted for the former. I figured what the heck, he's already seen the kippah. Might as well be honest. Just go for it.

"My passions are God, family, community, and work. In that order."

I tried to soften the blow. "Probably not what a manager wants to hear! But don't misunderstand me. I work hard and take my job seriously. But it's a matter of priorities."

I looked for his response; any sign of shock or noticeable disappointment. I saw none. He simply smiled and continued the interview.

"What are you passionate about in life?"

We really clicked and the rest of the interview went great. But I couldn't help wondering what he thought of my answer to that first question. At the end of the interview, he asked me if I had any questions for him.

"Just one," I said. "What are you passionate about in life?"

(When I later told my friends that I asked him that, they were as shocked as if I had asked him whether he wore boxers or briefs.)

"Well," he said smiling. "It's funny. As I listened to you answering that question, I felt as if I was hearing myself answer it."

I got the job shortly thereafter.

TAKING A STAND

In the end, going to the interview with a kippah and answering the questions in an honest-but-not-politically-correct way, was not a heroic act. My in-laws who survived the Nazi concentration camps, my father who flew over 50 combat missions during World War Two -- they are the true heroes.

Still, what I did made a bold statement. I took a stand for something I believe in. It became clear to me that if I am only a religious Jew in private, then what, if anything, am I really? If I never take a stand on anything then I really stand for nothing. Indeed, maybe because it was evident by my kippah and my words that I did stand for something that I stood out from the other candidates and got the job.

 

Published: August 11, 2001


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Visitor Comments: 36

(35) Ducky Webfoot, November 15, 2013 3:42 AM

Wear one and be fabulous!

I can understand the quandary, as a visible reminder of your race and beliefs "outs" you. As a person who is mixed black, I know that more is at stake by just showing up to the interview. Likewise a kippah can be much like skin color. If the interviewer has negative feelings about that group. Ultimately you wouldn't want to work with or for people who don't like you or your religion. It's better to know that if hired they will respect you and your beliefs.

I have to say, when I see a man with a kippah in public (on a non-holiday) I have respect for that person. Wearing it is an act of faith that should not let you be deterred by others to not do so. By wearing it, you are willing to be judged by others for your actions, to stand up for and be reminded of your own beliefs.

(34) Hadassah Ryklin, March 23, 2011 3:58 PM

Yes, let's stand for the truth

"do not be afraid" were the words addressed to Abraham our father! We have to stop being afraid of how people look at us, the Jews. I wear my kippah all the time. We cannot stop being Jews, even outside of our Synagogues and homes! We are who we are - the light to this world. So let us shine!

(33) Charlie, March 23, 2011 12:20 AM

Yes, wear Kippah

The world is waiting for the Jew to be a Jew. We've don't need more funny Jewish comedians or successful businessman or brilliant scientists - the world would love to see Jews who aren't ashamed of who they are. Be rejected Hashem will love you for it - You're being rejected because the world hates what you are doing - You're being a light and you're refusing to be covered. Jews are supposed to be moral lampstands. When will Jacob become the Prince of G-d that he was intended to be. May Israel live!

(32) aish alum, March 22, 2011 10:08 PM

re kippah @ work, i asked a rav what should be done

before my first job interview, i asked a rav if i need to always need to wear a kippah at work. he answered that if it may negatively effect my job and income, then it is ok to remove it. looking back, i came across so much anti-religious hatred, usually from non religious jews, not gentiles, OUTSIDE of work, that wearing a kippah in the office would have made no difference.

(31) Allen, December 3, 2008 12:53 PM

Yes, to wear, kept me out of trouble

Yes, I wear a kippah all the time and have been doing so for about two years now. Yes, it has been a point of concern during several job interviews, no I didnt get the jobs. B"H I think it kept out of potentially troublesome places. No one would know that I am Jewish especially since I dont have a quote typical Jewish name unquote. Maybe this is another reason I wear one because I am proud of who I am. One other thing, NO, I dont live in a major metropolitan area, actually there are very few Jews where I live and even less who attempt to be observant. Maybe this is another reason I wear one. Notwithstanding the reasons above it still reminds me that HaShem here, HaShem is there, HaShem is everywhere.

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