Monday, November 23, 2009

Pluralism and Kippot

I have participated in and am participating in several groups that go in for pluralism and religious diversity within the Jewish spectrum. As the Itinerant Rabbit that I am, I am a wanderer amongst the many fields of Judaism. I grew up in a mainly secular home - very culturally Jewish and Zionist - but pretty much non-practicing. Went to Orthodox Day School - davenned at a Conservative shul with the grandparents, a shtetl like Orthodox shul with the great-grands, a Modern Orthodox shul of which my NCSY advisor was the Rav and my yeshiva/day school. I was searching for stability, for something to give balance to my life and help me understand the bigger picture. I found it in traditional Jewish practice.   Have been a ba'alat teshuva (born again Jew - sort of), fairly observant Conservative Jew and now am going to be ordained a Reconstructionist Rabbi. These days I feel comfortable almost anywhere and also no where. My practice is fluid at the moment - not sure where it will finally end up.

I try to be accepting of others and of differences. In our house we have our philosophy of choice - I choose to celebrate my Judaism this way, you choose to celebrate your Judaism that way. Just as I do not want to be judged, I will not judge; just as I want to be respect, I will respect.

It was only recently that I realized how truly post-denominational (whatever that is) that I am - I really try not to judge others in their religious practice or lack thereof. I feel my rabbinate calls me to help others connect, in whatever way works for them, with Judaism. I am blessed that I can find open windows and doors to let people in - and if I can help them move more deeply into Jewish practice/thought/culture once they are in, then all the better. If not, then I hope they can feel satisfied and connected where they are.

I do feel that while Jews are Jews - there are some that will always be "other" to me at some point - for the good or the bad. That's just the way it is. Doesn't mean it will always be that way though. I have difficulty when I am confronted with people who do not have respect for people who do not practice the way they do - whether they are more or less observant, I don't care - I still see the value judgement as plain wrong and destructive to our collective peoplehood.

So, I was wallowing in these kinds of thoughts on my way home tonight at about 10pm. I got out of the cab and began to cross the street to my building. In the middle of the road a guy in the 20s or 30s stopped me and asked if he could ask me a question. I knew it would be about my kippah, as I was wearing it openly instead of the usual frummie head scarf or jaunty beret that I have taken to wearing in Israel. Interestingly, the question was about my kippah, just not in the way I expected. He didn't ask about me as a woman wearing a kippah - he just didn't get the whole kippah thing at all. "Why does anyone wear a kippah?" he asked.

In a mix of English and Hebrew that gradually switched to all Hebrew when I realized he was Israeli and he realized I could speak Hebrew, I told him the history of the kippah. But mainly I told him why I wear one - for Yir'at Shamayim (awe/respect of the Creator) and Anava (humility). It reminds me that I am not the be-all and end-all of the universe. If I get too pumped up or proud of myself or lost in my own Arlene-ian world, all I have to do is remember this kippah on my head and what it stands for and I am firmly grounded once again. He thanked me, said he finally gets it, and we talked a bit more. We then introduced ourselves, wished each other an "erev tov" (a good night) and headed our separate ways.

And I was smiling again. Baruch Hashem.


  1. Thanks for sharing, Arlene - it's so "you" from the moment you begin discussing your background, to the choices you make to the sadness over our inability to accept the choices we all make individually. I love that the questioner sensed it was "safe" to ask you about wearing a kippah - and delighted that his question was not gender-specific. Thanks so much for sharing... it's gotten my day off to a lovely start. Miss you - Happy Thanksgiving and we'll welcome you home with open arms in just a little bit.

  2. I really enjoy reading your posts. Keep them up - you always have fascinating insights to share. Once you get back stateside you're going to have to come to the hill Friday and do a lesson on everything you learned while in Israel...or at least the highlights you can fit into an hour lunch on a Friday.

  3. Thank you for your kind words Mary. They made my night after a VERY long day. Happy day of Thanksgiving.