I'll never forget the first time I decided to put on a kippah. I was 21 years old and living in Israel. It felt so natural; I was so proud to wear it as I walked amongst the rainbow of Jewish people who had come back from so many different places to live in our land.
I'll never forget the first time I came back to America, wearing that same kippah. It felt so uncomfortable. I felt there was a flashing neon sign on my head that read, "Hey, see this skullcap? I'm Jewish! I'm Jewish! I'm Jewish!" I don't remember ever being so self-conscious as I was walking off that plane. I walked down the airport halls afraid that I was going to be the target of some anti-Semitic remark.
In retrospect there was even a deeper fear lurking in my heart, a fear I was too embarrassed even to admit to myself. "If someone did say something anti-Semitic, would I take the kippah off and walk around in a baseball hat the rest of my life?"
I felt a flashing neon sign on my head: "See this skullcap? I'm Jewish!"
On more than a few occasions in those first few weeks back in America I could feel myself tense up in public, preparing myself for this dreaded moment.
It came about a month later, on the streets of Boston, watching the Boston Marathon, I heard a loud voice behind me in the crowd yell, "Hey you x#&#*!%! Jew! Why don't you go back to Jerusalem where all the money is!?" (He obviously didn't know too much about the Jerusalem economy.) I spun around, humiliated and enraged, glaring at my attacker in the midst of this crowd. He was a large anti-Semite, and not one of the more sophisticated ones. He hung out the window of his car yelling, "Jews make me sick!" just before driving off. My face was flush; I was seething with anger – and embarrassment – that I was wearing a kippah.
Clarifying My Values
I never took the kippah off, but I did learn a valuable lesson that I believe contains within it the most important response to anti-Semitism.
The reason for my fear and my embarrassment was because I wasn't really connected to the reason why I was wearing my kippah in the first place. Oh sure, I could tell you all the reasons why, but I was just mouthing words. I didn't feel the power of those words with my heart.
The best response to anti-Semitism is to bring more Jewish values into your life.
The kippah incident was like a wake-up call to me. I had to ask myself, Why did you really want to wear a kippah? Because of tradition? Because it made me feel more religious? No. I wanted to wear my kippah because I wanted to fulfill the reason that the rabbis decreed it should be put on: a constant reminder that we, as Jews, should walk humbly before God. A reminder that we should act in a way that embodies the very essence of the Torah's values – goodness, selflessness, responsibility for helping others, honesty, integrity. In this context, wearing a kippah was truly the greatest of honors, and one that brought with it great responsibility.
After I understood this, my self-consciousness changed to gratitude and a deep pride that I had the privilege of trying to live up to what Judaism represented. Instead of wanting to take my kippah off, I wanted to go out and buy a bigger one. I then realized that the cause of anti-Semitism is also the solution. The greatest way to respond to anti-Semitism is to bring more Judaism and Jewish values into your life!
If someone attacks Israel and you truly feel gratitude for what a gift Israel is, then his or her attack not only doesn't affect you, it makes you appreciate the gift even more. If someone attacked you for giving tzedaka, charity, and you understood how important tzedaka is for the world, it would only make you want to give more.
Every time Israel is attacked, we should plan our next trip to Tel Aviv.
Just think for a moment what it would do to people who were anti-Semitic and anti-Israel if they saw that each anti-Semitic or anti-Israel attack was met with only a deeper resolve, gratitude for, and commitment to Judaism and Israel! What would they do if they saw that each thing they said or did only worked to inspire us more Jewishly?
They would immediately run out of ammunition! They would see that their hatred is only making us stronger and more grateful.
Every time we hear of a synagogue being burned in Europe we should want to go to synagogue even more. Every time we read about someone attacking Israel, we should start planning our next trip to Tel Aviv. But it can't be something that is a forced response, it has to come from our hearts, from our appreciating even more how precious being a Jew truly is. If we can find this kind of response within ourselves, then anti-Semitism will become the grinding stone upon which Jewish commitment and pride is sharpened.
It's been many years since I chose to put my kippah on, and I'm happy to report that I wear it with deep gratitude and pride. What makes me even happier, though, is that my 6-year-old son is even prouder of his.