Tag Archives: Kippah

Kippot and my commute, part II; New Jersey Jewish News, part II

Kippot and my commute, part I

New Jersey Jewish News, part I

This morning, as I emerged in Penn Station from my New Jersey Transit train from South Orange, a woman and her grown son stopped me and said, “Excuse me, are you the guy from the New Jersey Jewish News?”

“That’s me,” I said.

We had a rambling conversation while I was on my way into the bowels of Penn Station to hop on the subway. At one point, the woman told me that she’s a scout leader and that she was recently leading an all-Jewish troop on a trip at some camp. At the same time they were at she was there with her all-Jewish troop, there was also a group of Messianic Jews Jews for Jesus Christians at the camp. Some of them wore tzitzit, but no kippah. As I do. And as the article in the New Jersey Jewish News described. She had to explain who these weirdos were to her scouts.

Yesterday, she told me, they saw me on the train and wondered if I was another such person. Later that day, however, they saw the NJJN and figured it out.


I need teddy bears on my kippah

This morning, on the 2 train, around Park Place:

A younger guy with his 3- or 4-year-old kid got on the subway, both wearing solid black kippot, tzitzit hanging out, payot tucked behind their ears, etc. They came to sit next to me and I noticed that the little boy’s kippah had four plastic teddy bear buttons sown on around the edge.

I told the dad I thought the teddy bears were great.

He passed to compliment on to his son, “Hey, he likes your yamukkah.”

Then he turned back to me and said, with a little smirk, “It’s the only way we could get him to wear it.”

“They still can’t get me to wear one,” I said.

His reply: “Maybe you need teddy bears on your yamukkah.”

Pros and cons of two kippot

And one more thing about this whole kippah thing that I just posted about.

Since my Bar Mitzvah, whenever I’ve had to wear a kippah, I’ve worn the one that my dad had made for my Bar Mitzvah. It’s a knitted kippah, but not as small, lightweight and flexible as your classic Modern Orthodox kippah srugah sort of thing. In short, it’s hard to forget that it’s there. I can always feel it, bearing down on me. (I put those words in italics to give you a sense of the little involuntary curl my lip developed as I typed them.)

But I recently came into possession of an assortment of the smaller ones that are so common among habitual, non-Chareidi kippah wearers. So far, I’ve been wearing one of those to services.

Pros of wearing the bigger one

  • Forgetting it’s there: It’s become an issue of identity: I don’t wear kippot and I’ve made a conscious chose not to. So it’s good to wear one that’s slightly uncomfortable. It means I can never forget it’s there and accidentally become accustomed to wearing one or forget to take it off when I leave.
  • It’s green, which is my favorite color.
  • It’s a slightly odd shape and it’s a brighter color so it stands out. It lets people know that I don’t usually wear one.
  • My dad got it for me. He has a matching one in blue.

Pros of wearing the smaller one

  • It’s more comfortable. What I said about the pros of wearing the bigger one aside, it might better to wear something that allows me to be relaxed about it than to wear something that reminds me I’m doing something I object to doing.
  • It’s more innocuous in size and color so I look less like some uncouth loon who doesn’t know what he’s doing. But I kind of like being that guy, so maybe this is a con? Damn.

Whatever. You get the point.

Your inevitable suggestions that I’m over-thinking this are not needed at this time.

Stowing my pen and covering my head

If you’re a regular reader, you know two things: First, that I hate putting on a kippah and, second, that I like to take notes in my siddur during services.

It has become increasingly clear to me that these preferences of mine are not well received in some communities. As the range of places I’m willing to daven has expanded–or drifted to the ritual right, as it might be more accurately put–I’ve had to deal with this issue more and more.

My first attempts at dealing with this involved complaining about it to people I know a lot and complaining about it even more here on this blogOne such blogged complaint in particular didn’t turn out so well. That blog post turned into a minor fiasco–which was, in the end, entirely of my own making.

Then I started trying this thing where I’d walk into a place where I suspected they’d want me to wear a kippah with my head uncovered and wait for someone to correct me. I’ve only ever met with success using this method. Either no one tells me to put one on or they do. It’s not like I’ve ever been ejected for this. (It hasn’t even cause a blog post fiasco. Yet.)

While I was using the better-to-ask-for-forgiveness-later-than-permission-now approach to covering my head, I was using a similar approach to note-taking. I’d keep the pen in my pocket and try to take notes really discretely. Now that I’m actually writing this down, it occurs to me that I’ve never actually had bad luck with this method either, though I’ve only tried it in pew seating situations where it has some chance of success.

The risk associated with taking notes during services is that it has become compulsive. If I have a pen on me, I will make note of every little thing–when they switch leaders, what tunes they do for everything, liturgical oddities, the presence of other people I happen to know, the date, various architectural features of the space, etc. I could go on. It is this compulsion that has made posts like this exhaustive catalog of the minhag of one community possible.

Which means, as many–Rabbi David Ingber of Romemu, most prominently–have pointed out to me, that I risk not noticing the forest because I’m taking a rubbing of the bark of every damn tree. I’m like those hordes of Japanese tourists that can’t possibly have seen one inch of Europe until they go through their photos once the vacation is over. I have pretended that this problem doesn’t bother me, but it has begun to–though this is certainly the first I’ve mentioned it here.

Now I’ve moved to South Orange and I’ve found Beth El, a nice shul that makes me want to stick around. I’m fairly mortified to find myself on the verge of considering the possibility of maybe eventually inquiring about membership at a *gasp* Conservative shul. And I want these people to refrain from ejecting me from the premises.

Which means that I have been leaving my pen at home and putting on my kippah before I go in. Of course, I wait until I’m at the door to put it on. And as soon as I’m out the door, I take it back off. But still.

(“If that’s the case,” you’re wondering, “how did he produce this blog post about services at Beth El?” My new method is to fold over the corner of any page in the siddur on which I want to remind myself that something of note happened. So far, it’s seems to be working.)

I feel, on the one hand, like this is all probably pretty good for my problems with ego and humility. On the other hand, I feel like I’m losing some battle. Being that asshole who takes notes in services has become and identity issue for me.

And, just as an aside–and maybe as a last word of protest on the issue–I have noticed that Beth El refers to itself as a Conservative egalitarian congregation. If that’s the case, why don’t the women have to cover their heads? I have noticed that many women, probably more than usual, do cover their heads, but the sign on the bin-o-kippot does say “all males” must cover their heads.

And, just as a final complaint on the topic in general, I don’t know why it matters to anyone else what is or is not on my head. I have to wonder what would happen if I went to Beth El for shacharit and failed to put on a talit. Would that matter? Or only on the bimah? Would anyone chastise me if I showed up on a weekday and didn’t wrap tefilin? Why is everyone so bizarrely attached to this one little minhag?

Alright. That’s all. I meant for this post not to turn into a rant, but it’s only been like a week so far. I’m still working on being over this stuff.

LimmudPhilly: Shabbat morning at BZBI with a weird-ass Musaf thing

I went to LimmudPhilly and wrote a bunch of posts. Here’s a guide to them.

I was gonna go to Society Hill Synagogue, which the LimmudPhilly program book described as “Unaffiliate, Conservative-style” because I wanted to know what that means. According to one person I asked, there are readings. Gah.

But Desh–a regular Jewschool commenter who I had met for the first time in person the night before–said he was going to Temple Beth Zion-Beth Israel–which everyone calls BZBI–because it’s much closer to him. Turns out, it was easier for me to get to as well and it seemed better to go somewhere with a friend.

Plus, I figured, it would be nice to go somewhere predictable and not feel like I have to write a review. Wrong on so many levels, was I.

First of all, at a Conservative shul, I expect a kippah patrol. I arrived with my kippah at the ready, but did not put it on. Eventually, the honors patrol came by and offered me gelilah (this story starting to sound familiar to anyone?). I accepted, certain that he was also about to tell me to cover my head. Instead, he handed me the card–intricately detailed instructions, by the way–thanked me and told me we’d have to find a kippah to wear on the bimah. I told him I had one with me and he said OK fine whatever and moved on with his honor-distribution duties.

I consulted Desh–quite the regular at BZBI and thank God for that because I ended up sitting in a rather snarky section of regulars, just my type!–and he said that at BZBI, men are expected to cover their heads in the sanctuary (so much for that), but everyone is expected to cover their heads on the bimah. Given that, I felt fine putting a kipah on for gelilah. The cantor (more on her shortly) told me I was a very skilled Torah dresser, by the way.

(As an aside, there were way too many women whose doily-laden heads looked like they might take flight at any moment for my comfort!)

Anyway, notes (mental, I mostly refrained from notetaking) from BZBI:

  • The cantor and the music: Despite being very appreciative of my Torah-dressing skillz, the cantor drove me berserk. All of the melodies in the service were familiar to me and none were unusual for the Conservative setting. However, this cantor–one of those cantors who closes her eyes while emoting her way through every other note–was all over the place with this melodies. In some, she was putting the emphasis in funny places, in others, tweaking the melody ever so slightly. It made it impossible to sing along. I also think I was sitting in the only section of singing along types in the whole place.
  • Am I done with rabbis and cantors on bimahs? I’m beginning to think I’m never gonna be happy with a rabbi-and-cantor-on-the-bimah arrangement. I hate it more every time.
  • Begin with Ps. 92? BZBI is apparently trying something new. Their services used to begin at 9 and end at 12:30. The new plan is to being at 9:30 and end, still, at 12:30. [EDITED: I got those times way wrong. Here are the correct times.] There are variety of strategies for doing this that are currently undergoing testing. One of them is to skip straight through Pesukei Dezimrah. So they begin with Psalm 92 and then it’s straight on to Kaddish Yatom and then on to Shochein Ad straight away. Given that the Kaddish that’s at the beginning of the service can tend to migrate anyway, this makes some sense. And there is, of course, a devoted corps (mostly just Desh and some old dudes) who come early to go through PD on their own.
  • No Imahot? I was surprised to find a Conservative shul with a (relatively) young Shabbat morning crowd and relatively (like, really relatively in the case of the rabbi) young rabbi and cantor that still isn’t doing Imahot. Desh and others explained to me that the rabbi and cantor are in favor of doing Imahot, but there are some very strident anti-Imahot people who are quite old. I guess they’re just waiting it out…. Anyway, it was odd.
  • The nusach massacre continues in Kedushah: This is getting grotesque. Kedushah took like ten minutes. *face-pew*
  • The hakafah crisis: The sanctuary has an aisle up the middle and one on each side and both are connected in the back and front. Normally at BZBI, both hakafot proceed all the way up the middle and down both sides. But this week, in the interest of saving time, the rabbi announced that the first hakafah would only go up the middle aisle and that it would go all the way around–skipping the middle aisle–the second time. There was a lot of discussion of how much time this might actually save from within the snark-zone I was sitting in.
  • Thank God for the Torah readers! One of the reasons BZBI needs special strategies for shortening the service is that they’re still doing full readings of the Torah! No triennial here, friends. Yet, the Torah reading is about the coolest thing ever. There’s a retired Baghdadi Sephardi rabbi in the congregation who reads Torah. He does it about as slowly as I’ve ever seen it, but it’s damn cool to hear him doing it. He differentiates in pronunciation between Chet and Chaf and I can hear him vocalizing his Ayins from time to time. His wife then does haftarah, which is also great!
  • And then the second hakafah: They almost forget that they’re not going up the middle aisle. They go up one side, halfway across the back and then turn to go down the middle. They a good portion of the way down before they get the message from the rabbi, gesticulating wildly, to turn around and go back to the back and then come back down the other side. The snark-zone is in stitches.
  • And then the little kids started singing! Good God. There’s nothing worse than accidentally showing up to a consecration service! They do religious school on Shabbat at BZBI so the consecration kids (third grade or something?) emerged and joined us in the service toward the end of the Torah service. They sang  (!), of all things, “Yachad Lev v’Lev”–and Israeli pop song–and something I’d never heard of. And then. Shit. Got. Weird.
  • Then they started singing Avot… v’Imahot. At the point in the service, I didn’t know any of the stuff I wrote earlier about how Imahot works (or doesn’t) at BZBI. The kids sang Adoani Sefatai Tiftach and then they actually started singing Avot v’Imahot. In the snark-zone, there was a lot of uncomfortable glancing about and hiding behind pews. We weren’t sure if this was meant to be musaf or what was going on at all.
  • It was musaf. But there was a poem with some remarkable rhyming. One of my new snark-zone friends said of me to Desh, “He’s never gonna come back, is he?”
  • Eventually, it was over. And we did real Musaf. And then we all moved on with life.

Rating: The Five Ballpoint Pen Rating System is explained here.

Music and Ruach: One Ballpoint Pen

I didn’t like the music at all and there seemed to be very little ruach of any sort in the room.

The Chaos Quotient: Four Ballpoint Pens

I’m gonna go ahead and count whatever those kids up to toward this service’s tremendous Chaos Quotient. Between that and the hakafah, this shul is to be congratulated. On the one hand, I didn’t like the service too much. On the other hand, the chaos was excellent and made me feel very much at home.

Liturgical Health: Two and a Half Ballpoint Pens

On the one hand, I don’t like having the beginning of the service so truncated and the reason they don’t do Imahot is silly. On the other hand, it’s nice to find a shul making conscious, but practical choices about liturgy. And the full reading was pretty spiffy. On the third hand, I didn’t see anyone using anything other than Siddur Sim Shalom.

Welcoming Community: N/A

I arrived pretty early, had friend there already and bolted when the service was over so I’m not gonna try to rate them on this one.

Overall Rating: One and a Ballpoint Half Pens

And they’re only getting that half because the chaos was so good.

LimmudPhilly: “Hey, Nakedhead!” guy strikes again

I went to LimmudPhilly and wrote a bunch of posts. Here’s a guide to them.

The same deranged jackass who inquired of me, “Hey, Nakedhead! Where’s your kippah?” at Limmud NY struck again at LimmudPhilly.

Not only was he lurking about all weekend, but he came up to me at one point, looked at my tzitzit, pointed at them and then asked, “What? No petil techelet?”

What is wrong with people?

Black Israelites!

I’ve heard of the Black Israelites before, but this article in The Forward from a couple of days ago is the most in-depth piece I’ve ever read about them.

Here’s the video that goes with the article:

The lost tribes of Israel…in the Bronx from Yardena Schwartz on Vimeo.

I also met one who was working in the men’s department at Century 21 in downtown Manhattan a few months ago. We had a nice chat about wearing tzitzit, but no kippah, if you can believe that! He was very knowledgeable and knew at least as much Hebrew as I do.

If y’all fortify me with some courage, I’ll go to their [shul?] and review a service….

Hey, Nakedhead! The David A.M. Wilensky Story

I went to Limmud NY 2011 and wrote a lot of posts about it. Here’s a guide to them.

While at Limmud NY this weekend, I did a lot of hanging out with Mixed Multitudes blogger and author of the forthcoming dirty children’s book “There are no Baths at Camp” Tamar Fox. (Her posts at MM about Limmud NY are here and here.)

Tamar is on this kick–and I am now too–where she likes to take things said about or by a person and assert that the phrase should be the title of their biography or whatever.

The best one this weekend came in the middle of the Traditional-Egalitarian Shabbat morning service. I stepped out into the hallway for a minute in the middle of the Haftarah to get some water. When I came back, a rather deranged looking, older gentleman with tremendous eyebrows said to me, in a rather deranged sounding voice–mind you, in the middle of Haftarah reading and a normal volume–the following:

“Hey, nakedhead! Where’s your kippah!?” Not in the mood for this conversation at this moment, I walked right past him and said, quietly, “I don’t wear one.”

“You don’t wear one!?”


Then he stood behind me and made gross mouth noises during the entirety of the Prayer for the State of Israel.

I later saw him harass a teenage girl about the strands of techelet in her tzitzit–still in the middle of the repetition of Musaf.

For the rest of the conference, he kept puttering around near me, making occasional eye contact with me like he wanted to continue the charming conversation I had so rudely ended earlier. I just gave him threatening looks and he moved on.

When I told Tamar about this, she immediately said, “Hey, Nakedhead! The David A.M. Wilensky Story.”

I’ve been seriously considering changing the name of this blog lately. It has served me well, but it’s rarely about Reform anymore. Hey, Nakedhead! is definitely a front-runner.

Also in the running is a suggestion from an upset Jewish Christian (…!) who wants for the URJ to accept her (…!). When I told her she’s not a Jew in this comment thread on an old post that has suddenly become quite lively again, she told me I was being intolerant and that I should call myself “The Reform Schmuckle.” So consider The Reform Schmuckle in the running for the new title of this blog as well.

Annual Tzitzit check-up

It’s been four years and one month since I started wearing tzitzit daily. A few times a year, I do a little check-up on my tzitzit practice here at The Shuckle.

The latest is actually a comment that I just wrote in response to a comment on this recent post about the TSA and tzitzit.

Isak BK Aasvestad asked:


Why do you refuse to wear s kippah?

Don’t you get weird looks from other Jews trying to figure out a guy who wears tzitzit out, but goes bareheaded? (I’m not saying that avoiding weird looks is a reason in itself to wear a kippah, but to me the two goes together like a horse and carriage…)

And my response was:

Reason #1: I hate being told what to do. No one will ever tell you to use this siddur, not that one you brought with you. No one will ever tell you that you can’t daven in this community or that community if you don’t have tzitzit on. There is no reason I can find as to why this ritual, out of all of the Jewish rituals out there, has become a line in the sand. Yet, kippot have come to occupy a bizarre emblematic place in Jewish life, which leads me to the second reason….

Reason #2: The kippah seems to occupy a mere symbolic place in Jewish life. Despite what everyone says about being reminded that God is above you, there is no consensus on the historical reason for kippot. I don’t like doing things for no reason. And if the only reason we can come up with is that kippot symbolize God’s location at a higher altitude than us, then I am not interested in engaging with this ritual. It becomes a theological absurdity.

And as for the notion that kippah and tzitzit are a natural pair, let’s consider first that they have no relationship whatsoever, except that both are articles of clothing. One is a biblical injunction, the other a minhag–albeit a minhag with tremendous traction. (But, given my distaste for the literal application of minhag hu halachah, I’m not interested.)

Isak, it is interesting that you think the two articles of clothing are tied together. Most Jews I meet think it’s totally ordinary–whether they think it good or not–to wear a kippah, but not tzitzit. So it’s normative, in the collective Jewish consciousness, to engage in a particular minhag, but to ignore a full-fledged law that bears a resemblance to the minhag. That brings me to my third reason….

Reason #3: Not only do I not think that there’s a whole lot in the discussion of tzitzit and kippot that makes no sense, but I also think that people have an obligation to point out things to make no sense. So, in wearing tzitzit, but no kippah, I am a living testament to why the whole thing makes no sense.

As an aside, on this historic occasion of my four-years-and-a-little-more-than-one-month anniversary, here is the best of my tzitzit-related blogging, starting with the post I wrote on the first day that I wore them: Continue reading