Simcha Rosenberg

What’s on your head? On not wearing my kippah post Oct. 7

Being recognized as a Jew suddenly shifted from a point of pride to something that could cause trouble

Since I started playing basketball competitively in third grade, I’ve always worn my kippah on the court. It wasn’t an easy article of clothing to wear while hustling – I can’t count the number of times it flew off during a play and I had to sweep it off the floor – but it was always a part of who I was.

When I was younger, the head covering frequently felt like a burden. Whether it was falling off my head or I was constantly being reminded by my teachers and parents to wear it, it always felt like a task.

But as I got older, the kippah started to mean more to me. As I put on the head covering each day, I felt the responsibility settling on my head, distinguishing me from the other kids in jerseys. The kippah transformed from an object to something that signaled my belonging to the Jewish people.

After October 7, that changed. On the way to my first basketball game after the war began, I watched the trees fly by my window as a jumble of headlines and photos ran through my mind. Posters of the hostages, half torn down; “Intifada” painted in red on the side of a university building; a menorah buried under rubble in one of the kibbutzim that was attacked.

I started to play out different scenarios of what could happen if I wore my kippah during the game.

Would it cause fights?

Would people trash-talk me?

Would I be judged for being Jewish?

The thoughts swirled through my mind like a tornado. With every new thought emerged a new fear. As I arrived at the gym, I made my decision. I wasn’t going to wear my kippah for the first time since third grade.

When I reached my internal verdict, I saw myself reach for my kippah, take it off my head, and put it in my pocket.

As I deposited my head covering into the depths of my pocket, I came out with something else: the guilt that I had for being embarrassed of who I was.

Along with my kippah went my pride and sense of identity; the outward symbol of my connection to my people. My most defining article of clothing crumpled, folded and wrinkled in my back pocket.

In my mind, being publicly recognized as a Jew suddenly shifted from a point of pride to something that could cause unwanted problems.

This newfound fear is not only affecting student athletes like myself. In pro sports, Jewish players have spoken recently about what it’s like to openly identify as members of the Tribe. For example, Washington Wizards star Deni Avdija, the only NBA player from Israel, said he struggles to act normal as he watches his homeland. “My mind is there,” he said in an interview with Sports Illustrated in October. Though he said he tries to keep it professional on the court, the war has made him realize that there are “really more important things than basketball.”

I wish I could say that I am at a point where I feel comfortable wearing my kippah anywhere in public, especially on the court. My kippah used to differentiate me from my teammates – it was tough to look different during a game, but it also made me proud. For the moment, my concerns about the reaction my head covering will elicit from other players have taken the lead in my internal mental battle.

But I want to get back to the place I was before the war broke out. I don’t want my fears about what others might say to dictate my actions. While I can’t act like nothing happened, I’m committed to building myself up again, like putting back together the pieces of a shattered backboard.

I want to work towards regaining the confidence to wear my kippah in a basketball game. I want the pride in who I am to overpower the fear of negative feedback. I want to get to a place where I’m comfortable being uncomfortable.

About the Author
Simcha Rosenberg is a student athlete at an Orthodox Jewish day school in Miami. He spends his days focusing on school work, basketball training, and developing his writing skills. He is passionate about health and fitness, Jewish identity, and exchanging ideas through writing.
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