It was some time back, perhaps on my last trip to Israel, that I first saw a rainbow pattern kippah (Jewish ritual skullcap). I don’t know if it was meant to be a “Pride” kippah, but that’s how I interpreted it, and I bought it. My brother is gay. I performed his wedding to an Israeli man (a doctor! Sigh of Jewish pride).
So, when Pride Month rolled around this year, given the amount of push back people in the LGBTQ community have endured in the last couple of years, I felt like I had to represent. I could have pulled out my “Proud of my Gay Brother” T-shirt, but it was old, and now so am I, so I opted for the kippah, instead.
Now this is a little out of character for me. I am a Reform rabbi, and one of the reforms of Reform Judaism 200 years ago was the community decision a Jew need not wear Jewish-distinctive garb anymore. Being invited into modern life, Reform Judaism encouraged Jews to dress as modern people. Thus, few Reform Jews wear kippahs or tzitzit (ritual fringes, as commanded in Numbers 15:38) outside the synagogue anymore. This was true of me also. Thus, wearing my queer Pride kippah all the time was a departure.
And the responses to my wearing were intriguing. The first one came at a stop light. A woman in the car next to me started honking, frantically pointing to her own head, and shouted, “I love your yarmulke!” (Yarmulke is the old Yiddish word for a kippah). Nice.
My next encounter was a tad more cryptic. Sitting with my son at TexDPS, the fellow next to me muttered, “Are you a pruner of sycamores?” It took me a moment, but then I answered, “I am neither a prophet nor the discipline of a prophet.” This oblique exchange was from the Book of Amos). Then he said, “A son of Abraham?” “Yes,” I smiled. “Me too,” he said with some satisfaction. Nice. I handed him my business card, though he seemed a little baffled. We parted with a handshake.
A week later I visited a new Ramen shop. Normally, retail ramen doesn’t work for me, because every dish seems to have either pork or shrimp in it. But I saw online this one had a couple of chicken dishes in chicken broth.
No sooner had I sat down than one of the owners was next to me, bowing repeatedly and, speaking in broken English, telling me how honored she was I had come. Seems the Koreans admire the strong Jewish tradition of learning and love of education, so having a recognizable Jew drop in, well, it was a thing! She was so sweet, offering profuse praise. I valiantly tried to offer compliments in return, how much I loved visiting Korea, admired its spiritual culture, etc., but she was so beside herself with having this “celebrity” visit, I not sure how much she heard. Anyway, we had a moment of mutual admiration, and I got some edamame, gratis. Sweet.
And nothing ugly happened, all month. Sweet. Then, as Pride Month drew to a close, I made a decision. In this divisive environment, where people are singled out and harassed for being queer, or wear a hijab, or for the accent of their English, maybe I need to show some extra pride also. Should I wear one all the time? I discussed my experiences online with other rabbis, and one colleague wrote, “don’t wear it all the time because someone might hate you; wear it because God loves you.” Suddenly, U2 flashed into my head, “pride in the name of love.” Bam!
So now, I wear a kippah everywhere. Will all my encounters be as pleasant as those I had in June? Unlikely. The moment will come when my pride triggers someone else’s anger, but I accept that. It won’t be the first time. Moreover, “If God is with me, what need I fear?” Thanks LGBT community, you taught me an important lesson.
This article was published in the Denton Record Chronicle on October 30, 2019 originally.