01 April 2008

Why are you wearing that on your head?


Girl in a Watermelon Kippah
(if you can still call me a girl... do I even still count as a "young woman," here in my [early] mid-30s? I guess it's all relative: A. had just been calling herself "middle-aged," and then the Good Rabbi refers to us as "2 young Jewesses" ;) )

Standing in line for Oxford Literary Festival tickets at the marquee (that's Big Ol Tent for us Americans) yesterday, wondering how long it would take to get up to the front and get things done --

and suddenly a voice booms out from behind me:

Why are you wearing that on your head?
You're not Jewish!
And you're not male!

I turn to see a bushy-bearded (grey, and unkempt literati-beard rather than frummy-Ortho-beard) fellow, bald of pate and blue of eye, interrogating me.

ohhh kayyyy:

I am Jewish,
and no, I'm not male,
but it's my custom to wear it.

I've never heard of such a thing!
I've never seen a woman wearing a skullcap!
(quite loud, a little pushy/aggressive, but more astonished than aggrieved)

Women do, in the progressive movements -- you'll certainly see it in Reform, Liberal, Conservative & Masorti, Reconstructionist. It's true that there aren't so many women who aren't clergy who wear one all the time -- but I'm not clergy, and it's my custom to wear one, and I do know a few other laypeople who are women who do the same. But if you go into a non-Orthodox shul in the States you'll be very likely to see women wearing kippot, and also tallitot -- which I also wear in synagogue. I actually started wearing a kippah on Shabbat & holidays here in Oxford, when I became more involved & observant, because that was the custom of my friend Lisa, now Rabbi Doctor Lisa Grushcow...

You don't look Jewish!
Well, I am Jewish. Jews look all kinds of ways...

I'm Jewish! And people tell me I don't look Jewish!
Then they have a rather narrow view of what "looks Jewish" -- good thing that there are people like me and you to show them otherwise!

So you're not "taking the piss," then?
[Brit-speak for mocking/making fun of something]
No, I'm wearing this kippah because it's my custom, my minhag, to do so. Just like it is for some men.

I've never seen such a thing. These people, who are mostly goyim--
you're Gentiles, right?
--have you ever seen a woman wearing a skullcap before?

[The 20+ folks in line, who probably are mostly Gentiles & mostly Brits, decline to participate in BeardMan's straw poll. In fact, they mostly do not look at him and try to disengage from the situation, other than occasionally giving me sympathetic and somewhat amused looks, since I seem not to be minding his attempt to make me a subject of public debate and/or spectacle.]

Well, now they--and you-- have!
My name's Rebecca--what's yours?

Rebecca what?
Rebecca B----.

B----. It's from my father's -- non-Jewish -- side of the family.

Ah-ha! So you're not purely Jewish!
Not all of my family background is, no -- but I'm Jewish.
Your name is?

David Diamond.
[takes my hand and kisses it]

A woman wearing a skullcap!
Yep. Nice to meet you!
[he kisses my hand again]


Zackary Sholem Berger said...

"purely Jewish"!? Whoever heard of such a thing?

MiriyaB (Becca) said...


I don't quite remember whether he said "purely Jewish" or "all Jewish," but in either case I'd certainly take issue with his statement!

Since then, I have had 2 or 3 more people -- none Jewish (1 Muslim, 1 Christian, other I would guess Christian, all women) -- at Oxford Literary Festival events inquire, much less combatively, about my kippah. :)

I mentioned the incident to Oona King when I was talking with her after her highly entertaining and engaging event on Friday afternoon; her response was "clearly, he was nuts!" ;)

MiriyaB (Becca) said...

I've had a few more kippah-related encounters on my recent travels (e.g. in Israel), which makes me think that there may be an ongoing series of the Amusing Adventures of Watermelon Kippah Woman (aka WaKiWo or WKW)...

Ketura said...

So funny that I stumbled across this today!

I have decided my new mission in life is to spread the gospel of kippah-wearing among young girls. To that end, I just ordered S a pink-suede one with hearts all around, with her name on it. Her older brother's kippot were not fun enough to convince her she should be wearing one in shul when none of her peers are (or, as one girls said, "Girls aren't supposed to wear kippot!")

In fact, I think one could argue that kippah-wearing is an extremely interesting and vexed issue -- enough so to draw this feminist out of the closet for the first time in many years.

Be well and we hope to see you on these shores.

Jane Calderwood Norton said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jane Calderwood Norton said...

Rebecca! This is hilarious!

MiriyaB (Becca) said...

Keturah -- a pink suede kippah with hearts & your daughter's name sounds delightful! I don't like head-doilies, but I do like having some playful and/or "girly" kippot (I'm wearing a white-and-lavender one right now, from a friend's adult bat mitzvah), as well as my more standard/unisex ones...

Mike said...

Funnily enough:
a) I'm only reading this NOW;
b) I had never heard the details of Aggressive British Dude's Name OR his kissing of my fair wife's hand! He sounds stranger (and more interesting) by the minute!

Let the record show, however, that I am utterly proud of Becca for being her usual friendly but firm self. I'm kind of sorry that I missed this exchange, though chances are I would have gotten cross pretty fast!

Wil Roepke said...

It, uh, takes all kinds?