My life in Columbia South Carolina has somewhat changed in the last several months.
When my husband and I moved here from N.Y. a little more than 10 years ago, we were expecting our first child. Our daughters came first followed by our boys.
When carrying out ordinary day to day activities by myself or with my children, we didn’t look overtly Jewish at all. After all, we all have blonde hair (“Are there even Jewish blondes?” I was asked quite a few times). My wig looks as natural as and more glamorous than my hair (What Devorah, that’s a wig?) and even though my girls and I wear modest clothing, we enjoy dressing trendy. With modest fashion making a comeback in the last number of years, I am pretty sure anyone who didn’t know us were not able to ascertain that we were indeed proudly observant Jews.
Out in Gymboree play with my baby, the post office or my weekly Trader Joe’s runs, unless my husband came along with us, we blended right in. My children were even called “Southern Belles” a few times.
But this changed last May, when my baby boy turned three. When he got his first haircut at his Upshernish ceremony, he began to wear a Kippah and Tzitzit every day.
And I noticed a change. A change in me and a change in how I was perceived.
When bringing him with me to run errands, I became acutely aware that I was different. I sometimes even felt self-conscious. I realized that people were no longer going to not notice me. They were going to see me as more than just a Southern American mom; I was now an observant Jewish mom. My Judaism was now on display for everyone to know, whether I liked it or not.
Now my errands and little trips around town are different than before.
When my son sits in my shopping cart in the grocery store, I almost always get glances first at his Kippah, then at me and back at him. I see a story forming about us in their heads. Mostly I get smiles and nods, and occasionally I do not receive the warmest vibes.
I now realize, that I have additional responsibilities to act as a mensch; a role model in integrity. My obligation to be a light onto the nations is my duty and making a Kiddush Hashem (Sanctifying His Name) became a renewed commitment.
In fact, I had all those responsibilities beforehand. Did I always feel accountable for it? If I am honest with myself; no.
Bringing my little boy along with me now gives me that deep consciousness and total awareness at all times of who I am. Particularly, in light of the recent horrific attack in a Pittsburgh synagogue, I feel an additional duty to proudly feel and display my Jewish identity.
As I walk on the streets of Columbia S.C.- a city whose country clubs not long ago prohibited Jews to enter, my Kippah clad son reminds me on a continuous basis that we have to wear and feel our heritage closely and proudly.