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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?”


Tagged as:

Michael Thaddeus Doyle

I'm a NYC-native, Latino, Jew-by-choice, hardcore WDW fan in Chicago with an Irish last name. I believe in social justice, big cities, and public transit. I do nonprofit development. I've written this blog since 2005. Believe in the world you want to live in.

My Bio | My Conversion | My Family Reunion


10 replies

  1. I just found your blog from some other one. It’s really interesting.
    I get asked lots of questions, so apparently you don’t need a kippah to be the “group representative”. Lots of times I will be studying Hebrew at Starbucks, or something innocuous like that, and someone will come up and ask me if I’m “moving to Israel” or if “I’m a missionary”. (Actually happened.) Even my Geology teacher ended up asking me why I was converting, and I just plain old said “Because I love it.”
    You really do have to watch out for the evangelical Christians, though—including your friends! That’s something I’d never even anticipated!

    For what it’s worth, one good thing about being a convert is that you’re (hopefully?) not coming in with a bunch of baggage and bad experiences that might have made you apathetic about Judaism…

    1. I know what you mean about the proselytizing Christians. They always take me by surprise. Then again, so do the Jews who give me the fish eye for wearing a kippah on the Sabbath and then doing things they don’t expect a kippah-clad Jew to do…because they assume me to be Orthodox because I’m wearing one. (I always say, the Orthodox don’t own the kippah.)

      The only baggage I have about Judaism is my own surprise that I never considered it before. Honestly, the fit that I feel of Judaism in my life is hard to put into words. It’s just me, and I’m glad I’ve finally found out who I am.

  2. Sandra, good point.

    Dena, I get that question too. I still don’t have an elevator story for it. I usually feel a little sad to hear it. It’s usually asked by born-Jews with surprise, as if Judaism wouldn’t be worth choosing by a non-Jew. Of course, it is 🙂

  3. I don’t get Jewish questions from anyone. The only question I’m asked is why I want to convert and that’s usually being asked by someone at my shul. Of course, being female I won’t wear a kippah either so people can’t identity me just by looking.

  4. Heh. I get some odd looks with the last name Mort, too.

    Good comeback line, btw. I need to remember that one. Alas, the people who’ve said that to me would have very very seriously said that of course they do. Usually I just point out that obviously we predate Jesus, since He was Jewish Himself. I might go into more detail, but by then they’re usually just shaking their heads sadly. WHATevah.

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