December 27, 2007: The Green Velvet Kipah

In Israel your choice of head covering is a political statement. If you decide to wear a black, velvet kipah and throw a hat on top, people may draw conclusions about where you live, if your kids will serve in the army, and whether you will have matzo ball soup at Pesach. You actually are telling the world a whole lot about your personality that may or may not be correct by wearing a “black top.”

On the other hand, wearing a big, white, knitted kipah could lead observers to conclude that you must believe the only solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict is to find lots of air-conditioned buses, play the movie Shrek Three, and bus our cousins over the Jordan. Again, this may or may not be true, but it seems that one of the few things that we can agree on here is that head coverings are the religious form of personal bumper stickers. Since dati people must wear something, even if you don’t really belong to the “black hat” or “kipah sruga” crowd, you must make a choice and accept the label that comes with it.

Of course, serious observers of Judaism will know that there are huge differences within our major hat groups. Within the “black community,” there are different streimals, homburgs, and Borsolinos that amount to a basic uniform. Chabad and Satmar have some huge, philosophical differences. But without the hat, you would be hard pressed telling them apart. (Important note, if you are mountain climbing in Tibet and need a Shabbos meal, you need Chabad, not Satmar. Find a guy wearing a hat, not fur.)

On the kipah srugah side, I have been told that white with a blue border makes you slightly more right wing than the rest of us, and an orange kipah is making a very obvious political statement. Black knitted is a sign that you want to be considered as frum as the haredi, just without all the mishagas.

So when I showed up in shul wearing a green, velvet kipah – many people started wondering what sort of political statement I was trying to make. Was I letting people know that environmental issues were now a priority for me? Perhaps I was looking to start up a new Jewish movement that mixes bicycling and Torah? Was I hoping to find some lost souls willing to become Yardener Chassidim and eat fish out of my hand?

To tell you the truth, I had found it in the back of a closet. Seeing the green, velvet kipah for the first time in years, I decided it could use a spin around Neve Daniel. The kipah was the last one left from my Bar Mitzvah. When I read my parasha back then, I didn’t know too much about Israel. In 1980, there were no Oslo Accords, no Neve Daniel, and everyone considered Yasser Arafat a terrorist rather than a Nobel Peace Prize recipient. The Camp David Accords had put the Arab-Israeli conflict to rest and there would finally be many years of peace.

Yet I was not thinking about any of that when I picked out my personalized Bar Mitzvah kipah. I was not thinking about how religious I wanted to be or my feelings about giving the land of Israel away. The only political statement I was trying to make was simple: “Hey, I like green.” And while many things have changed in the last twenty-seven years, I do still like green.

Don’t judge a book by its cover or a Yid by his lid.

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