Today, I shaved my best friend’s head

She has no choice, I do, and in putting a kippah on my head, I am choosing to be visible
Illustrative: Berlin residents wear kippot in solidarity with a local rabbi who was brutally attacked in August 2013. ( AP/Michael Gottschalk)
Illustrative: Berlin residents wear kippot in solidarity with a local rabbi who was brutally attacked in August 2013. ( AP/Michael Gottschalk)

Identity and gevurah (strength).

Today, I shaved my best friend’s head. As a result, I choose to address my own identity by wearing a kippah.

Visible signs of faith are tricky. In Orthodoxy, it is separated first and foremost by gender. For women, there is the question of covering their hair. And how to cover their hair, a hat, a sheitl, a snood? Similarly there are considerations for the men: what are you declaring by choosing that particular kippah? What religious, or political statement, are you making?

My friend’s journey is her own, but being part of it, and blessed to be in her inner circle, I had no choice today but to come face to face with certain realities. Our identity and so much of who we are is embodied by our outward appearance, by what we share with the world. And yet sometimes, we don’t have a choice. When treatment causes hair-loss, you cannot hide. Sure, you can buy a wig, a hat, hide it if you can. But in reality, the world can see you are experiencing something, some illness or treatment. You lose the privilege of choice. And suddenly, all bets are off. It’s no longer a question of whether your outfit makes you look fat.

I have been fearful of wearing a kippah, my Orthodox upbringing often making a mockery of egalitarianism, I felt exposed whenever I put a kippah on my head. And I struggled. Not that I loved covering my hair when I was more Orthodox in my tradition — to be honest, that never called to me. However, for over two years I have played with the question in my mind, been my own chevruta, arguing both sides. Judaism is deeply and irrevocably intrenched in my soul. Every day, every thing I do, every choice I make is as a result of my faith. I work and am a role model in the Jewish community. Should I be wearing a kippah?

Today, I was sternly reminded that I get to choose what face I portray. And although I still have the privilege of anonymity, by choosing to be visible, I will try and create a safe space.

For those people who will recognize my kippah as a symbol of Judaism and want to strike up a conversation or have a question, I will share and answer as best I can. For others who are minorities in their own right, my kippah will show solidarity.  My visible sign of faith bringing me closer, visible vulnerability, as I live in a place where wearing a kippah is not the normal practice.

I will wear my kippah when I am performing kedushah, in services, and even in my place of work, as I am a Jewish educator through and through, and well on my way to being a rabbi. Today, I choose to transcend and ignore the discomfort of my childhood experience and teachings. Today, I embrace this identity. I am a post-denominational Jew, I am in rabbinical school, I am a woman, and I am going to wear my kippah.

About the Author
Abi Taylor-Abt is an outstanding Jewish Educator and Curriculum Developer who has worked in the field of Jewish Primary and Secondary Educational Curriculum Development for over twenty years. She is the author of Lessons in Jewish Learning - a grab and go curriculum for communities and Jewish schools. Originally from London, Abi spent time living in Israel, South Africa, England and the United States. After working in Boise, Idaho, Abi spent 5 years in Israel for the second time whilst her children served in the army. She is currently Director of Education for Yachad a combined educational endeavour between the conservative congregation of Beth Shalom and the reform community of Temple Emanu-El in Michigan, USA. A 2018 recipient of the Klein/Grinspoon Award for Excellence in Jewish Education, Abi is also awaiting the video version of her recent ELI Talk Detroit Speaker Fellowship.
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