Posts Tagged 'Kipah'

Bully Proof

Yesterday I took my boys to an hour and a half class at a local synagogue entitled “Bully Proof”. It was taught by Taekwondo instructor Master Edwards. It was part of whole day Festival of Kindness in commemoration of the Holocaust. Master Edwards started by explaining the basic power dynamics of bullying. He went on to equip the children with some simple techniques to evade getting bullied. He asked them to affirm the comments that people say about them and then leave, laugh it off and leave, and finally to say “ Stop” and leave. To practice their responses Master Edwards brought some 12 year-olds to play the role of the bully. I was listening attentively to what the “bully” said to Yishama. First he commented on his large head of hair, then his large colorful Bukharin Kippah, and then of course his Tzitzit. While Yishama did exactly what he was supposed to do with great aplomb, I was deeply saddened.

What have I done to my children? Bullies feed on difference, singling out people who look or act different from themselves or the larger society. Have I marked my children to be bullied? What have I done to this poor little 6-year-old with a Jew-fro, huge colorful head coverings, and the flowing strings coming out of his pants? And yes, the fact that it is Yom HaShoah was sitting heavy in my consciousness.

Master Edwards ended the session by inviting each child to come up to the front, make a proclamation about themselves, and breaking a board with their fist. Each child came up and affirmed something deep about who they are and who they aspire to be. One said I am important, another said I am extraordinary, another I am significant, and yet another said I am magnificent. When it came time to Yishama to make his affirmation he came up and said, “I am a Robot.” Master Edwards asked him to say something meaningful about himself. Without missing a beat Yishama responded, “I am Jewish” and broke the board.

Blog Yisham Board

On the way home I asked him what it meant to affirm that he is Jewish. Being Jewish did not mean what I had feared it might have meant. Yishama responded, “It means that I have confidence.” Today is not just a day to remember the Holocaust, it is Yom HaZikaron laShoah ve-laG’vurah “Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day”. We should never forget the martyrs and the heroes. It is critical to remember how we lived as Jews with honor and pride, not just how we died. I have confidence that Yishama is “bully proof” and a hero for me.

Look Who Is Talking

In Ki Tavo, this week’s Torah portion, it records the laws we are to keep upon our entrance into the Promised Land. There we read;

It shall be on the day that you cross the Jordan to the Land that HaShem, your God, gives you, you shall set up great stones and you shall coat them with plaster. You shall inscribe on them all the words of the Torah, when you cross over, so that you may enter the Land that HaShem, your God, gives you. …” (Deuteronomy 27:2-3)

There are many questions we can ask about these stones. Are these stones built as a cause or an effect of their entering into the land?  And an even simpler question, which direction did these stones face? Were they facing the residence in the Land or their neighbors?

Reflecting on these questions I think about my daily commute into New York City. In my transit through Metro North and Grand Central Station I come into contact with hundreds if not thousands of people daily. As I am prone to do, I take note of what people decided to wear. What aspects of their identity are they choosing to disclose? Is what they are wearing a cause or effect of the places they are traveling, who they are, or who they want to appear to be? Many are wearing a symbol some variety or other. What do these symbols represent? Do they wear these things  for themselves to experience or for others to see?

There is no doubt that this consciousnesses is a product of my choice to wear a kipah. Regardless if we realize it or not we all are communicating with the people around us with the symbols of our lives. In that sense these messages are as much for our neighbors as for ourselves. It is what we tell people about ourselves which informs our aspirations for the people we hope to become. In turn these symbols help inform our habits.

These stones from this week’s Torah portion were as much billboards of the Torah on the banks of the Jordan as the t-shirt a freshman in college wears for his/her first day of college. Even if we are not about to erect a large stone monolith or a 9/11 memorial, we all could take a moment and think about the messages we send and make sure they line up with the people you want to become.

We could also explore how we communicate with the land itself. I found this piece, “The art of wearable communication” by Kate Hartman, to be very compelling.

While delightfully quirky, there is no doubt it takes this conversation about communication to the next level. Look who is talking now.

The Examined Yarmelke

Recently I was doing hazara on, reviewing, Let You Down by the Dave Mathews Band. What a classic? If you look at the lyrics it is hard not to connect.

The chorus goes:

I have no lid upon my head
But if I did
You could look inside and see what’s on my mind
You could look inside and see what’s on my mind
I let you down, oh, forgive me
You give me love

 I have been wearing a lid upon my head for more time then I can remember. OK- So that is why I connect. So what does it mean for someone like me?

In Ekev, this week’s Torah portion, we read:

12 And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all God’s ways, and to love God, and to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul; 13 to keep for you good the commandments of the Lord, and God’s statutes, which I command you this day? 14 Behold, unto the Lord your God belongs the heaven, and the heaven of heavens, the earth, with all that therein is. 15 Only the Lord had a delight in your fathers to love them, and God chose their seed after them, even you, above all people, as it is this day. 16 You shall cut away the barrier of your heart, and no longer be stiff-necked.” (Deuteronomy 10:12-16).

About this Rashi comments:

The barrier of the heart this means the blocking of your heart and it covering.  ( Rashi on Deuteronomy 10:16)

The Yarmelke is a sign of my being a Yareah Malchut Shamayim, one who fears the Kingdom of Heaven.  But I do not wear my Kipah out of fear. I aspire wear it as a sign of love. I want to remind myself to walk in all God’s ways and to serve the world with all of my heart and  soul in keeping the commandments. Or even in moments of doubt I am filled with love of the Jewish people and I want to remind myself that I represent our larger family.

While the Kipah, Skullcap, or Beany has come to be synonymous with being of a close minded or clannish,  maybe it should imply the opposite. In many ways I  cover my head so that I can regularly ” look inside and see what’s on my mind”.

As a modern Orthodox Jew, I do not pretend to exist solely within my little projection of a Torah world. My Kipah is  a reflective tool. While it is a life long commitment, putting it on is something I do every day. And with my lack of hair it is something I have to do many times a day.  It is an incessant reminder to me to explore my motivations and the examine my daily choices.

As a father is gives me “delight” to see my children make these choices. Socrates is right, ” The unexamined life is not worth living”. I think that wearing a lid is a great way to look inside.


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