The Kippah of Conversation


It’s a head bob I know well by now. I’ll meet a new person at temple or a new co-worker, or a friend introduces me to a new acquaintance. I’ll say, “Hi, I’m Michael Doyle.” And then I’ll watch the other person’s eyes whiplash up and down, as they (think I don’t notice as they) bounce their gaze from my eyes to my kippah and back. Yes, I know, Doyle’s not a common Jewish name. But in my case, a Jewish name it will be.

Personally, I don’t understand the confusion. Not just that a Doyle could convert to Judaism, but one could be born Jewish, too. It’s almost as if, armed with the information they’ve just learned about me, they’re trying to decide what not to trust–their own ears or their own eyes.

A convenient upside to the cognitive dissonance of a Yarmulke-wearing Irishman is that, if nothing else, everyone remembers my name at temple. When I show up for the Share-Shabbat dinner, there’s no fumbling to find my name on the RSVP list. Everyone knows to head straight for the D’s. Of course, forevermore they’ll also greet me with those two cheery words, “Hi, Michaeldoyle!”

It’s in encounters with new, non-Jewish acquaintances that the upside is harder to find. When I see that eye-bob outside of synagogue, I usually say a silent prayer that the person I’m meeting is already friends with a Jew. It isn’t that I mind sharing my knowledge of Judaism with others or discussing my conversion journey. After all, when you have a kippah on your head, you become a de facto cultural ambassador. I’ve explained the meaning of mitzvah to a stranger at Starbucks, the reason I wear a head covering to a new coworker, and the basics of kashrut (or kosher eating) to Facebook friends.

It’s the seeming “I’ve never met a Jew before” crowd I could do without. Mostly because I live in Chicago, as do the people who’ve asked some clueless questions in the past few months. I guess hearing “Happy Chanukah” a few days–or weeks–too late is fine. No biggie, and thanks for at least trying to honor my holiday. Telling someone on the eighth day of Chanukah you’re glad you don’t have to light any more candles and hearing back, “But what are you going to do for the other four nights?” is flat out dumb-ass stupid. It’s also (8 + 4 = 12 nights of) Christmas.

Hello? Is anyone home in there?

The real kicker was the bartender’s mother at a recent holiday party asking me between drinks, “You mean to tell me you people really, really don’t consider the Lord Jesus Christ to be your Savior?” I had to sail directly into the wind on that one. I put on my best shit-eating grin, puffed out my chest, and answered with gusto. “No we don’t. We really don’t…”

“Do you?”

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