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One Town, 7 Churches, No Synagogue & My Son’s Kippah

One Town, 7 Churches, No Synagogue & My Son’s Kippah

My son wore his new kippah publicly, like a billboard announcing his heritage. I didn’t want him to stick out.

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My eldest son tore open the package, his excitement palpable. He pulled out his new yarmulke and immediately asked me to help him pin it. A navy blue number with a silver Magen David, my son had picked this kippah out to be his “formal” one. I watched him dash off to the mirror to admire himself with a mixture of pride and amusement.

I was surprised, however, when he elected to wear it while accompanying me to work that evening. I was on a photojournalism assignment to cover the dress rehearsal of a local dinner theatre. The rehearsal was in a church we’d been to many times and which many of his friends attend. As we walked in the door, I realized that my son had never worn a yarmulke publicly in our town. A familiar feeling of uneasiness settled around me.

In our small town of seven churches and no synagogue, sticking out is always a little uncomfortable. We are open about our Judaism to those who are interested, but we certainly don’t advertise it. For us, faith is a private and exquisite thing centered on our relationship with God. And as I watched my son walk into the rehearsal space, I realized he was practically wearing a billboard announcing his heritage. I’ll admit for a moment, I wished he hadn’t worn his kippah. I didn’t want him to stick out.

My son’s friends greeted him and I settled into the task of simultaneously photographing and documenting the rehearsal. The play took place in an imaginary Middle Eastern town and was loosely based on the birth of Jesus. With the semi-exotic setting, most of the kids and adults were wearing costumes including headscarves and robes, as well as fake beards, stiff as steel wool and (judging by the itching) just as comfortable. I felt relief as I realized that my son and his yarmulke were among the less noticeable sartorial choices in the whole room.

Then it happened. A younger brother of one of my son’s close friends saw the yarmulke. This boy, only eight years old, was naturally very curious about it. He walked up, tapped my son on the shoulder, and said “Hey, what’s that on your head?”

As my son turned around to answer him, a woman appeared at the boy’s side and pulled him away so quickly, it was like watching a magician remove a tablecloth from underneath a fully set table. I was surprised not to see a puff of smoke follow the movement. I watched her from my seat near the front. I was surprised overhear the following, related sotto voce, “You shouldn’t ask people things like that! He’s wearing it because he is a Jew,” and then her voice became inaudible.

I watched, feeling saddened, both by the choice she made and the opportunity she denied my son. Her pulling the boy away so aggressively for asking a question made being Jewish and wearing a kippah seem shameful and secretive. If my son had been allowed to answer, it would have been a learning opportunity both for him and for his friend’s brother. I was half tempted to discuss the matter with her after the rehearsal or perhaps to reassure the boy that his asking my son was actually a sign of respect and interest. But, like most mothers of many children, I let it go and headed for home, the demands of my household intruding on my inclination to educate.

What a missed opportunity. What a chance that passed by. Imagine if we were all like that eight year old boy, interested and questioning, fascinated and open to the explanation of what makes others unique? And then I realized: I was no better than that woman, with my fears about the reactions of the town.

My son is due to get another new yarmulke this week, his “casual” one. It is as vibrant and colorful as a Rastafarian cap and he can’t wait for it to arrive. I am no less eager. I hope he wants to wear it around. And I hope people ask him about it.

He will stick out, yes. But he already sticks out due to his warmth and his spectacular personality. His kippah is just the proverbial icing on the cake.

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Visitor Comments: 27

(18) Rachel, December 28, 2015 4:59 AM

I hope you will consider moving to a community with a shul

Not because I have a problem with having many non-Jewish neighbors, but because it is difficult to lead a full Jewish life without being part of a Jewish community. As we near retirement, my husband and I are aware that some of the nice communities that are often touted as great retirement destinations will not work for us for that reason.

When our children were young we likewise chose a smaller home in an area with Shuls instead of a big house in the outer suburbs but less Jewish life.

(17) Krys, December 28, 2015 2:48 AM

WHAT A BEAUTIFUL YOUNG MAN! BE PROUD OF YOUR HERTITAGE! AM YISROEL CHAI! <3

(16) Rebecca, December 27, 2015 3:32 AM

Feeling isolated

We live in a small town with a temple and 20 churches. Everyone is nice, but my boys don't want to break Shabbos for soccer, etc. I'm concerned that maybe we should move before they get much older. I don't think it's fair to have them always do 'part' of the sport and not get to compete. Any ideas? Ps - I love it when my boys wear their kippahs too!

(15) Barry, December 26, 2015 2:26 AM

People Worldwide should be familiar with seeing a yarmulka

It should not be shocking to see a yarmulka anywhere in the civilized world. Jews should be proud of their heritage. It is a beautiful gift we have received from the Lord God -- being his chosen people forever.
We may have suffered many times in many places but it comes with being a "Chosen" people. My parents have both spent 3 years in Auwshwits and survived to have me to not hide or live in terror because of some overzealous Muslims. They will be wiped out and Israel will be there as the homeland of the Jewish people. We need to support Judaism and Israel and stop trying to integrate and be invisible in a white Christian society in the countries we now live in because we were dispersed around the world after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. We need to wear Kippot and Stars of David proudly. We need to stop trying to be invisible and blend into the societies we live in. They all know you are Jewish not matter how hard you hide it and try to integrate. Are you going to date and marry a non-Jew? Will you bring non-Jewish children into the world and end a Jewish line? They do not want you to marry their Sons and Daughter because you are Jewish so why try to hide it?
Seeing a yarmulka anywhere should not be shocking. We must regain the respect we deserve. The world has a very short memory and forgets the past. NEVER AGAIN will we be treated as sub-human.

(14) Robin, December 25, 2015 5:17 PM

Me too

Many years ago as a single mother, my girls and I were lighting Chanukah candles and we invited our neighbor, also a single mother with her young son who was around 4 years old. He asked why we are lighting the candles and his mother cupped her hand on his mouth and apologized. I told her that his question shows his intelligence and she should encourage questions. I also told her to always ask me any question she wants about Judaism and I would gladly answer them or find the answer for her. Non Jews need to be encouraged to ask questions of us. Remember, we tend to fear the unknown and then we hate what we fear.

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