Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart
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Thursday, 5 March 2009

Judging People Externally

This article from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency caught my attention today and reminded me of a bitter story which shows me how Jewish unity is like the Loch Ness monster, something everyone's seen a grainy photo of but knows doesn't really exist.
Flip your lids. That is, wear a different kipah.
If you wear a leather kipah, wear a velvet one. If you wear a velvet one, wear one of those Zionistic knitted ones. If you wear a knitted one, don one of those cheap shiny white ones.
It is also an amazing social experiment because you are the same person you were a moment ago when you had on your regular kipah. So why is it that all your friends look at you slightly different and wonder what’s going on?

Sounds simple and the author brings some good points about it. But in truth, it's more likely to fail. Here's my story:
Several years ago I was at a wedding along with some friends. One of these friends was the son of a prominent rabbi in the Jewish community near where I live. His father had his own shul which was dedicated to outreach and, from the few times I'd davened there, really seemed sincere about welcoming people in. Naturally his wife was also renowned for her welcoming nature and tolerance for all kinds of people.
Anyway, my friend and I were talking and we got onto the subject of how people judge you by your kippah and decide on what kind of a person you are before they even say one word to you. If you were velvet, you're frum. Suede? Well, you probably wear velvet on Shabbos. Knitted kippah? You're not really religious. And he thought it was all hooey. No one really thinks like that, he insisted. No one really thought that because he wore a velvet kippah he was frummer than me in my knitted job.
So I suggested we switch kippos and see what happens. He readily did it because he refused to believe anyone would care and notice.
Five minutes later he found me and requested we switch back immediately. Two of his friends had joked that it wasn't Purim which he didn't care about but what had shocked him was his mother's response when she saw him in a serugah. "Get that off your head," she apparently told him. "Do you want people to think you're a goy?"
In other words, beneath the veneer of the outreach smile was the usual intolerance: you're only frum if you look like us.
I was also reminded of this story last week while learning with a Chabadnik rav I have a chavrusa with (and no, it's not in Tanya). That evening I'd already showered and was wearing an old black cloth kippah I keep around the house. He stared at it and was clearly confused. Why wasn't I wearing my serugah? A paradigm shift perhaps?
The more things change, the more they stay the same. As long as we insist on dividing ourselves along political/religious lines based on such insignificant details as kippah fabrics, we will remain in golus.

3 comments:

David said...

Nice idea, but you ain't going to fix this. Frumkheit has become so obsessive-compulsive and has, for so long, identified itself more by "who we're not" that "what we are," that it's almost inconceivable that we wouldn't start judging each other's merits through assessments of headgear (or table cloths, etc.).

And, for the record, noone should wear a shiny white kippa, unless he's the pope.

Dr Mike said...

Old story: I was in an elevator once and this guy looks over and say "Hey, you're Jewish! I have one of those beanie things too. I picked it up at a wedding. but mine's much nice. Shiny, white and it stand up on my head, not flat like yours."

Baruch said...

If you think switching kippas is fun, try having regular discussions in real life with different chareidi people about the stuff we discuss in the J-blogosphere!

If you're lucky like me, you might get your very own cyberstalker! Not to mention the fun things you get to hear, like how at the end of his life the Rav went to an Agudah convention and, in front of hundreds of people, broke down and cried for his failed policy in America, nebuch (not kidding).