Several years ago, as I neared the entrance of the FedExForum, I felt a number of eyes staring at me. Perplexed, I surveyed my body in an effort to ensure that nothing was out of the ordinary. When I arrived at my head, I wrapped my hand around my kippah. I noted that it was the cause of those confused, unwarranted gazes. And, for the first time in my life, I felt embarrassed to be a Jew. I scrambled to take it off before any other passersby could find reason to perceive me as different. Without my kippah on, I could escape into the crowd; I could go unnoticed.
As time passed and I delved deeper into the more secularized Jewish community of Memphis, I continued to neglect my kippah at non-school functions. I had grown tired of the questions, the gazes, and the probing. I found wearing it to be both a physical and social hassle. I felt disconnected from observance, and I wanted my physical appearance to reﬂect that disconnect.
But, as I grew older and began to develop a more mature understanding of Jewish pride, everything began to change. Though I am admittedly not yet fully observant, and still grapple with fundamental issues of faith, I feel very strongly that wearing a kippah serves as both a personal reminder of how to act and as a symbolic gesture to signify the Jewish peoples’ distinction.
With the kippah on my head, I become so much more than Gabriel Goldstein. I step into the role of the representative of the Jewish nation. For those who do not regularly come into contact with Jews, my actions may serve as their only indication of what our people are like and how we interact with others. With that in mind, I behave in such a way that will create a respectable, admirable perception of our people. I no longer shy away from the questions or the probing; I embrace them because they give me a chance to establish the reputation of a strong, intellectually driven people who recognize that there is something greater than themselves.
When I look back at the night on which I removed my kippah to avoid embarrassment, I question whether the person who did such a cowardly thing was truly me. At that point in my life, I was engulfed by religious resentment. I knew not about the history of our people, and I saw us as mildly unique. However, after years of study, I have come to understand that our mere existence is the most unlikely, incredible, and miraculous thing to happen throughout the course of history. I no longer fear being pegged as distinct; I unequivocally embrace it. You better believe that I’m unique. You better believe that you’re unique. Despite pogroms, persecution, and the Holocaust, our people have thrived and contributed to the development of mankind in ways that no nation of even remotely similar circumstances have. We should be forever proud of our past and eternally eager to boast the fact that we belong to a people whose existence is so beautifully breathtaking and incredibly mind boggling.
I may never resolve my struggles to understand our faith, but I will continue to boast my kippah with immense pride. I want everyone to know who I am and what I stand for. I want the chance, with a kippah on my head, to treat others with utmost respect, for it will create a positive reputation for the entire Jewish nation.
The Star of David rests in the center of my white, knitted yarmulke, and it will continue to serve as a reminder that I come from a nation of tremendous resilience, might, and, above all, pride.
Religious or not, I encourage you to consider wearing your kippah as a means of expressing said pride. I encourage you to respond to those questions and confused gazes with dignity and respect. I encourage you to keep in mind how lucky you are to be part of a people with the most illustrious history of all the nations of the world. Do not escape into the crowd; be a shining light, a true role model, for all to marvel at.