Over the decades I’ve collected a handful of kippot. Which to wear to a service or event is typically a casual decision. However, for the October 14 service at Chabad of Bedford, NY, the first after the Simchat Torah pogrom, I knew which one I had to wear one: The Jüdisches Krankenhaus Kippah.
This kippah carries intense personal and historic meaning. I picked it up at the venerable Jewish Hospital (Jüdisches Krankenhaus) in Berlin in 2014. I had visited Berlin on a vacation where my partner Naomi and I traveled to Prague and Dresden. Far off the typical tourist agenda, the hospital had always fascinated me because my late friend Rena Frank studied nursing there in the 1930s. I met her in 1980 through Project Dorot in New York, which matches young and elderly Jews for friendship. Rena, who left Berlin for London in 1938, was proud of her training at the hospital, which led to a career in nursing. I inherited photos of the place and her treasured graduation pin after she died in 1994.
Found over 240 years ago, the hospital continued to operate through World War II, as detailed in the book Refuge in Hell: How Berlin’s Jewish Hospital Outlasted the Nazis by Daniel B. Silver. Naomi and I met with the public relations director, who gave us a tour. I left with a book about the hospital history and the kippah from the chapel. Velvety blue with a brocade edge, it was inscribed with “Chanukka 5763 (2002).”
I always revered it as a unique connection to history. Other kippot carry stories and associations, reminding me of weddings, bar mitzvahs and college (like an orange and black “Chabad on Campus” one from Chabad of Princeton) but the Krankenhaus Kippah is the one that delivers a physical sensation. When I wear it to shiva calls and memorial services, I can feel its presence atop me. A somber energy flows into it from past generations of Jews who lived and died and maintained their faith against gleefully genocidal attackers, from the Amalekites to Hamas on this very day, each name standing as a Kiddush HaShem—Sanctification of the Name.
After the Oct. 14 Shabbat service at Chabad of Bedford, on Parsha Bereishis, I gently tucked it into my pocket for safekeeping. At home I returned it to my kippot collection, most of them from joyful events identified by the notation inside:
- My Bukharan wedding kippah from 1989
- Emma’s bat mitzvah 2004
- Daniel’s bar mitzvah 2008
- Zach and Molly’s wedding 2015
I like to think of them as Jewish equivalents of Woody and Buzz Lightyear and all the crew from the movie Toy Story, suddenly animated and sharing their stories across years, tears and simchas. At this time of crisis, the Jüdisches Krankenhaus Kippah has a great deal to say, and I’m wearing it for the duration of the Simchat Torah War to remember the living and the dead. I hope I can channel something back to them.