Here I am, sitting in the Lufthansa executive lounge. A 25-year career as a business exec has its perks. For the first time in this setting, however, I’m self-conscious. I’m self-conscious as hell. This is the first time since I was 18-years-old that I’ve worn a kippah in a public setting outside of Israel that is not a Jewish event. I’m just hanging out in the lounge.
My kippah is rather large, a selection designed to be a bit of a decoy, a way not to identify my political or religious beliefs by way of head covering. Silly, me. Of course, the selection of a kippah has meaning.
Since making aliyah, I’ve been rather vocal about not wearing one, making the case that it’s really a mihag-induced gang sign. I made that claim here in an essay titled “My Kippah is (Usually) in my Pocket.” And I believe it.
The display of identity through head covering has taken on disproportionate importance in the Jewish world. It is also a valuable spiritual practice, a way to make a daily choice about identity. And so, I always wear a kippah in a synagogue, in the presence of a sefer Torah, when I engage in Jewish study and, of course, to pray.
But Limmud Conference, the annual festival of Jewish learning in the UK which has just ended, played a trick on me. Going from one Jewish learning session to another, it seemed much less complicated to keep my kippah on then it would have been to keep taking it off — and putting it on and taking it off and putting it on — as I moved between sessions.
For a week I put on my kippah each morning and wore it all day. By the fourth day I started thinking about how I’d feel about taking it off after Limmud. I started thinking about it would be not to wear a kippah in the Land of Israel, Eretz Kodsheinu.
So, here I am in the Lufthansa executive lounge feeling remarkably uncomfortable. Ugh. I’m uncomfortable with the story I’m telling myself about being surrounded by anti-Semitism. I’m even more uncomfortable that some dear Yid on the flight will notice that I didn’t order a Kosher meal or will ask me to daven mincha.
Yet, I also feel relief. I like this kippah. It’s quite lovely. It feels good to have it on my head.
I’m making no promises to myself — or God, for that matter – about this act. Bli neder, as they say. Just like when I started putting on t’fillin each day at the start of 5775. That also feels like an amazing act of renewal. For me, it’s all one day at a time. Each day, a choice to engage on my own terms with my Jewish heart and my Jewish soul.
Still, I’m also amused – and a bit bewildered – that Limmud did what Aliyah could not: break down my resistance to expressing my Jewish self, my Jewish journey, by wearing a kippah. Limmud. What’s the slogan? “Taking you one step further on your Jewish journey.”
Here’s a prayer I wrote after Limmud Conference 2014 called “For the Joy of Limmud:”
For the Joy of Limmud
G-d, we give thanks for Limmud,
For the joy of Jewish learning,
For the love of teaching and being taught,
When we share the fantastic expressions of Jewish life.
Film. Humor. Dance. Food. Drumming. Dreams. Sport.
Art. Science. Israel. Holocaust. Psychology. Biography.
Hebrew. Yiddish. Tikkun Olam. Poets, dreamers and prophets.
And we give thanks for the blessings that we bestow
Upon our lives
When we learn Torah together.
These are gifts that connect us to You,
To each other
And to Your Divine word.
Your wisdom is near to us,
In our hearts and in our mouths,
In our hands and in our lives,
So that we may teach it to each other
With enthusiasm, with love and with a bit of rock ’n roll.
Hear our prayer for those who teach and learn,
Bringing new light to Your people Israel.
Make our moments together a celebration.
Let heaven pour wisdom and strength through them
So that this time overflows with enthusiasm and wonder
Drawing others into Your service.
So that when we jump into learning with love
Our souls will turn back to You for wisdom.
Together, we offer this journey back to heaven,