After almost nine years, I’m done wearing a full-time kippah. Over the past year, I’ve kept my kippah off my head about as often as I’ve had it on. Better known to non-Jews as a yarmulke (its Yiddish name), wearing one full-time is primarily a custom for men in Orthodox and Conservative Jewish communities. Liberal Jews rarely wear them outside of synagogue.
Yet even before I converted in 2011, the little Jewish kid in me demanded that I wear one. It made me feel better connected to my new, worldwide religious community. Better connected in the Jewish sense of peoplehood.
But not so much anymore. One reason is vain as the day is long. Over the past year–and for the first time in my life–I’ve grown out my native-Hispanic curly hair and come to enjoy the look I’ve avoided since the childhood days of my mother cutting my air like a little shaggy poodle-boy. (I had issues with my family for reasons.) The more I learned how to wear my very own ethnic hair, the less I felt comfortable covering it up again.
Another reason is that familiar liberal Jewish discomfort with the knee-jerk, Israeli flag-waving status quo of American Jewish institutions. (No, AIPAC, you really don’t represent very many culturally and ethnically intersected Jews, no matter how many “Jewish and” hyphens you run in your web ads.) The only Jews who really care that I wear my kippah outside of synagogue are the same ones whose anti-liberal, anti-gay, anti-woman, anti-convert, anti-Arab, (anti- and on and on) politics I find offensive.
And that little Jewish kid in me is also a little Hispanic kid. And he’s learned he happens to like his hyper-curly Hispanic hair.
I’ve been on the fence about it for months. Carrying my kippah in my pocket to work, to lunch, to Disney. Sometimes it’s on, but usually I’m more concerned with continuing my decades-delayed journey of learning how to properly be a Puerto Rican-Venezuelan man from the forehead up.
And then the American Jewish Committee deliberately scheduled the anti-antisemitism #JewishandProud protest day on January 6th. Otherwise known to tens of millions of Hispanic Christians as Día de Los Reyes…Three Kings Day. “Little Christmas”, as my mom used to call it. Epiphany for all you anglos. The giant festival day that closes the gift-giving Christmas season for little Hispanic kids around the world.
If you’re not Jewish, you probably have no idea how immeasurably pissed off Jews get when people thoughtlessly schedule activities on our treasured holidays, forcing us to choose sides between religion and work or social activities. Or assume our holidays work just like Christian holidays. (No, Chanukah really has nothing to do with peace on earth or goodwill towards men.) Or just ignores our holidays are there at all.
I guess until a status quo national Jewish institution decides to have a big media day. Then it’s ok to spit in the eye of the millions of Hispanic Christians that so many of us know and love in our deeply intermarried, intersected, interrelated family, friend, and professional networks.
I thought the scheduling decision was absolutely disgusting and disgraceful. Our institutional response in asking the world to join us in standing up to the growing wave of antisemitism gets literally built around jacking up a holiday beloved to millions of non-Jews? Why yes, as a Hispanic Jew with a Christian family, I would love to stand up on Three Kings Day and tell little Latino kids to drop dead because today is all about being a Jew.
Fuck off, AJC. Fuck off, and when you get there, fuck off from there, too. Then fuck off some more. Keep fucking off until you get back here. Then fuck off again.
The status quo Jews who think none of this is a problem are the same ones who are always thrilled to see a fellow Jew wearing a yid lid in public. And after this, I just don’t feel like providing them with casual cultural reassurance anymore. So from now on, my Jewish scalp will be unapologetically naked.
From my Hispanic roots, right on up.
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.