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One Jewess, many hats

A small headband? A bulky turban-esque scarf? How much hair should I show? Can I wear pants? Should I ditch it entirely?

I stare blankly at my closet.

Ten scarves dangling neatly on a hanger seem to stare back at me.

At least I’m dressed already, I think, for some self-affirmation.

Flowy, short sleeved dress: check.

Brown leather “biblical” sandals: check.

Dangling bronze earrings from the flea market for embellishment: check.

In two minute’s I’ve completed my go-to look.

What’s holding me back is a small choice—a seemingly futile one—and it’s making me late for my job interview:

What do I put on my head?

A small headband? A bulky turban-esque scarf? How much hair should I show? Can I wear pants and a huge hair-covering? Oof. Should I ditch it entirely?

A drop of sweat rolls down my forehead.

It’s almost amusing how such a small part of my outfit could bring up a large existential question that begs an answer:

Where do I belong?

In a society comprised of communities that label themselves as haredi, modern orthodox, traditional, and secular, I have yet to find my place.

And despite the many growing sub-niches of the religious and secular worlds, Israelis pride themselves on their ability to categorize you in less than a minute into one of these neat, uncomplicated segments of society.

Because once you’re labeled you can “be understood.” Because your religiosity somehow also defines your political stance.

Because people tend to be lazy when getting to know one another.

And I don’t blame them.

I, too, stereotype or idealize members of certain communities, as if they aren’t human—with flaws and doubts and questions— but rather people who’ve found their way. Those who’ve found a path that suits them, one-hundred percent.

Lucky them, I think, while holding a thick, beautiful multicolored scarf that I know my friend from Bat Ayin would rock with pride. Because man, she’s a proud, religious, spiritually-minded Jewess.

But wait. So am I! I too want to scream to the world that I’m a married, religious jewish woman, continuing the sacred traditions of our ancestors.

I begin to wrap the scarf around my hair thats gathered up in a twirled bun.

I like the way it looks.

I finish tying the scarf and tuck the fringes below my bun.

I’m transported back to three years prior, when I started becoming more observant. I recall how deeply personal the process was. On the mountaintops of Tzfat, while watching the sun set into Shavuot, I felt this internal calling to be closer to G-d, to my people’s tradition. To my highest self.

The decision was effortless and pure, like a leaf taken by the wind.

Now, scarf on my head, I look at myself in the mirror.

I look like a religious settler from the West Bank.

Is this me?

I cannot help but wonder how this look will affect my job interview. How people will probably stare and comment when I order a sandwich from a place that’s kosher enough by my standards, but not by the Rabbinate’s standards, or by my peers sporting a similar head covering.

I quickly tug the scarf off my head, frustrated by the aggressive ping-pong match in mind.

On the one hand, I love that the hair-covering is an external display that says “I’m married and I want you to know it!” I love the physical reminder to uphold Jewish values: mussar and law: halacha. On the other hand, I resent the Talmudic grounding for this rule (look up Isha Sota) and the orthodox obsession with female modesty.

Back in our caravan, I compromise by stuffing the headscarf in my purse, to be worn—or not worn later.

And over the next several months, my headscarf journey would look similarly – on, off, on, off, on.

Sometimes the scarf would fall off, sometimes it didn’t feel right to wear it, often times it felt restrictive. I felt that my head needed to breathe! That my letting my hair free was a sign of my individuality, my freedom, my look.

Then shabbat would roll in. And the headscarf would find its home on my head, and I’d find my home in the synagogue, chanting ancient prayers, connected to my spiritual self—the self that found home atop the mountains of Tzfat.

Sunday would return me to the beach, where I’d let my hair down to absorb the saltiness of the sea.

Spirituality found in nature: I find it no less holy than spirituality found in synagogue.

And that’s where I’m leaving it for now—with the realization that I don’t need to swap one secular hat for a new religious one.

That integrating all parts of me is the goal, not denying the “old parts.” Because I gained a lot of insight growing up as a traditional/secular Jew in America. And I wouldn’t trade that for an upbringing in which wearing a hair-covering was assumed by peers and my community.

I am so very glad to have this choice.

Because I know that my faith is solid as a rock and my practice, fluid as the river—forever evolving as I take new turns and make new discoveries, onward and upward.

About the Author
New York expat gone Israeli lone soldier, Leora's heart was always in the East. She is an explorer of Judaism and mysticism, an observer of the human condition, a yoga enthusiast and a non-militant vegetarian. She enjoys weaving feelings into words and talking about all things Israel.
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