A recent poster to soc.culture.jewish.moderated was soliciting opinions from full-time kippa wearers for a paper she’s writing. I contacted her, and submitted the following responses to her questions:
: Why do you wear a kippa?
I began wearing a kippa full-time about two years ago — it’s 98% part of my ever-deepening religious observance, and 2% politics. I started to become a “progressive ba’al teshuva” while working as a newspaper reporter, and took to wearing a kippa all during Shabbat. It felt too weird to take it off, so I wrestled with my commitment to Jewish tradition as well as to not spooking or distracting my sources. Then, in March 2000, a Jewish Petaluma businessman’s truck was graffiti’d and set afire. Not being a big believer in community invisibility, I donned a kippa and have been wearing it ever since.
: What does your kippa look like? How did you choose it?
I actually have about a dozen. Some are too small, which I discovered only after wearing them as “garments” instead of occasionally at services. I might rotate wearing eight or nine of them on a regular basis.
I favor the kippa sruga — crocheted or knit — to the velvet or suede varieties. I have a plain black one I wear while “on the job,” since I have dark brown hair and the black kippa isn’t very noticeable. But the others are of various colors and patterns. I’m vain enough to want to coordinate them with what I’m wearing, even though most of them don’t match my somewhat limited wardrobe. I do have two blue ones which I alternate for Shabbat, and a red-white-and-blue one which I reserve for Election Day and the Fourth of July.
As for choosing them, it was whatever was available at the local Jewish bookstore/Sisterhood giftshop/online Judaica store when I stopped/clicked through.
: What meaning does it have for you? What message, if any, do you think it communicates to others?
For me, it is a constant reminder that there is Something bigger than I am, as well as an ethical standard of behavior to which I should adhere at all times. Not being others, I couldn’t tell you their reaction. However, I have been aproached by more Jews than I can remember who are glad to see a “landsman” when they least expect it! I have also explained the laws of kashrut to an Egyptian man one morning at my local coffee shop, and discussed the differences between Hebrew and Aramaic readings of Genesis with the Samaritan manager of a nearby 7-Eleven. I have yet to encounter any animosity, G-d forbid, although I have had encounters with philo-Judaic types who want to tell me how awful the matzav is and how they stand with Israel because Jesus said to. I smile and thank them.
: What impression do you form of a stranger wearing a kippa? Does it matter what the kippa looks like?
My first reaction is usually, “Hey! Me too!” I’m not hip enough to the subtleties and nuances of kippot to be able to do more than that, although I’ve noticed that most neo-mystical vegetarian types go for the really big, loosely crocheted kippot.
: Do you feel any (special?) connection to a stranger wearing a kippa? Would your answer be different in Jerusalem vs. Podunk, USA?
I think I do, at least in a first-impression, superficial way. As I’ve not yet been to Jerusalem but live in Podunk about an hour north of San Francisco, I’ll have to plead insufficient data. I bet it would be, though.
: How do you feel about non-religious Jews who don kipot on certain occasions (e.g., in synagogue, at a brit or a seder)? Is it respectful? Hypocritical? Something else?
Personally, I think it’s kind of sweet. It’s hard for me to imagine it being hypocritical or disrespectful.
: What are your (kippa-related) opinions that I haven’t asked about?
I guess the only thing that comes to mind is that I am much, MUCH more careful with what I say or do when I’m out in public. It’s very interesting to wear one’s identity on one’s head — to know that someone’s first impression of me potentially isn’t “affable, brown-haired guy” so much as “JEW.” It has also made me more aware of the ways in which I am apt to (mis)judge others based on personal appearance. Much like life, wearing a full-time kippa is a continual learning experience!