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The Kippah Debate

The Kippah Debate

Wearing a yarmulke is no easy decision. It signifies to the world – and to its wearer – that it sits on top of a committed Jew.


The first time that I wore a kippah outside of synagogue in Canada, I was petrified. I had just got back from Israel, where I became religious and where kippahs are about as common as cellular phones. But when I came back to Vancouver, I didn't have the courage to start wearing a kippah.

My reasons were many: I didn't have the courage to stand up to the questioning of my friends and family. I didn't have the courage to be a "model Jew" and have all of my actions judged, because I was wearing a kippah. I simply didn't have the courage to make the statement that wearing a kippah makes.

However, my first Shabbat in Vancouver, I was informed that one is not allowed to carry anything on Shabbat (in the absence of an eruv, which didn't exist). That meant that after shul I couldn't put my kippah in my pocket!

What was I going to do? I had an hour walk home! What would people think of me? I didn’t have too many options.

I thought about sprinting home so people could only see a cat-like figure rushing by them.

I thought about sprinting home so people could only see a cat-like figure rushing by them which wouldn't give them time to make out my head covering. But I realized that I was not at all cat-like, and that I could probably sprint for about a block before I would fall to the ground in convulsions. So I decided to bite the bullet and walk all the way home wearing my kippah.

During that walk home, I must have looked like an escaped mental patient with a serious case of paranoia. When someone walked by me I would think to myself, "What are you looking at? Are you looking at my kippah? What's wrong with you? Haven't you ever seen a Jewish person before? RACIST PIG!"

Actually the person walking towards me was probably thinking to himself, "This man approaching me looks like he is addicted to crack. I hope he doesn't beat me up."


As the months and years went on I got more comfortable wearing my kippah and started wearing it almost all of the time.

But when I applied to summer internships at law firms in Vancouver I didn't wear my kippah to the interviews. "Who is going to hire me if I am wearing a kippah?" I asked myself. Despite the fact that Canada is probably the most multi-cultural, tolerant country in the world, I still couldn't do it.

But I discovered there were problems with not wearing a kippah at work.

My first day at the firm, they took me out for lunch to "The Spotted Prawn."

Since my co-workers had no reason to think that I was different, my first day at the firm, they took me out for lunch to a restaurant called "The Spotted Prawn."

While all of my co-workers ordered various shellfish dishes forbidden to me, I wanted to ask if the chef could make me a special dish -- like, perhaps, roasted water with a side dish of sliced water seasoned in water. Instead, I ended up ordering a salad, but I knew that I was still compromising my kashrut standards.

From then on, it was bag lunches for me.

For professional and spiritual reasons, I decided to move to Toronto. With my previous kippah-wearing difficulties under my belt, I was determined to go to my Toronto interviews wearing a kippah.


My first interview was in a downtown firm that I was really interested in. I got into the elevator, which was to take me to the 45th floor, a little nervous about the kippah thing but forging on courageously.

I noticed another guy in the elevator wearing a kippah as well. I felt immediately relieved. We struck up a conversation and I told him which law firm I was interviewing at.

"Oh, that is a great firm," he said. "Congratulations on getting an interview there." He paused for a second and then continued, "I should warn you. I've heard they don't really like it if people wear their yarmulkes to work."

I looked both ways as if I was going to set off the "kippah alert alarm."

My heart sank into the pit of my stomach. I am not sure if that was from hearing the news or because the elevator came to an abrupt landing on the 45th floor. I exited cautiously and looked both ways as if I was going to set off the "kippah alert alarm." I turned to the man in the elevator and thanked him for the advice.

"No problem," he said to me while he stepped out of the elevator as well.

"Good morning Mr. Rothstein," the receptionist said to my friend in the elevator. "Your 9:00 appointment is here to see you." My elevator buddy -- a partner at this firm -- winked at me and laughed. "Good luck in the interview. Come by my office when you are done if you get the chance."

My interview went well and I could see that my decision to wear a kippah was paying off already. Some of the lawyers told me, without me asking, that I would have no problem observing Shabbat at this firm, even in the winter months when Shabbat begins early.

The firm also wanted to take me out for dinner, but they offered to set up a get together in the office so that I could come without having to order roasted water. I didn't have to explain myself, my kippah did the explaining for me.

Once I put the kippah on they knew exactly where I stood. It was also a symbol for me to know where I stood, in that my internal "religious" thoughts and feelings had to be reflected by external actions.

You may think that I was overly neurotic about my kippah dilemma. But the fact is, that once someone puts on a kippah, he is making a statement.

For me, it is a statement to myself and to others of my commitment to Judaism and the Jewish people. After becoming more secure with my own Jewish identity, I have finally found the courage to make it.

April 1, 2000

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Visitor Comments: 107

(105) Mark, January 22, 2018 3:20 PM

Jew of African descent Kippah in the work place...

I've just accepted an offer to leave my current employer for a huge corporation as an Applications Engineer. It's going to be a wonderful place to work, at least about as good as working for any employer other than yourself could be. I chose not to wear kippah or Tzitzit during the interview but I've been planning to do both on the first day of work going forward. I've struggled and went back and forth with if I should wear kippah but I've decided to definitely wear Tzitzit every day. I really think the questions will come as I'm what it considered a Black and Jew. You know, the same as see a unicorn on skates. I also wear locs, aka dreadlocks, under my kippah, so I know it's going to pose a lot of questions and opinions but I don't think I care much. I feel really strongly that I'm going to wear both. If I can wear kippah proudly in the work place, I'm sure many of you can make that decision without nearly as many obstacles as I may face as a Black Jew with Dreadlocks wearing Tzitzit and kippah daily in corporate America. Baruch Hashem

(104) Josh, September 13, 2015 9:35 AM

I loved the article. I just wanted to say that, it is not neurotic that you felt nervous wearing a kippah. I suffer from the same fears. I was born into a conservadox family who has always kept strict kosher and Shabbat. But my father was not the type to wear a kippah outside of Shabbat and holidays. Recently I have decided I want to wear a kippah. I have always felt I should practice being a good Jew and then to start wearing a kippa. I can't say that I can call myself orthodox fully but I try my best. Even though I am sure there are plenty of other mitzvot to keep, I have been feeling ashamed that I have been feeling ashamed about wearing a kippah haha. I am wearing one currently on the plane. It is the first time I have wore a kippa during a flight.

(103) Beverly Margolis, June 16, 2015 2:12 AM


Why is it perfectly fine for Muslims to wear their head gear and their women can walk around with their burkas and other head coverings but we Jews can't?

Give me a break. Grow some ya-yas, put your killah on and be PROUD. If anyone says anything just ignore them or ask them if they love Muslims.

I'm sick and tired of Arabs lording it over human beings.

(102) Steve Wilson, December 11, 2012 4:42 PM

To wear or not to wear during an interview.

I always wear a kippah and it has prompted many wonderful conversations with strangers, some Jewish, others not, as I go about my day, especially on the city bus. My most recent employer was very supportive of my wearing a kippah as were my coworkers. Positive experience all around. However, I am now searching for a job, and the debate turns to the interview. Among the advice that I've been given, is not to wear it (or any religious emblem) during an interview. Because it does send a strong message but can mean different things to different people, it can be a distraction in the short time that you are in an interview. During that brief time there is insufficient opportunity to get a full understanding of a person other than as related to the job. In fact, most wouldn't or shouldn't ask which leaves them solely with their understanding and not the message I might wish to convey. It's a tough call, because Judaism is such a big part of my life, but during an interview we're also not talking about any other facet of my life outside of work. On the other hand, should they hire me, one day I'll show up wearing a kippah and they will be somewhat surprised, hopefully not in a bad way..

(101) Brian C, August 10, 2012 4:50 PM


This is something that I too have struggled with. My supervisor knows this too and has encouraged me to wear it to work, but mostly to see how others will react so I almost feel as though it would be just for him to see a bit of shock-value.

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