Jews wear a lot of hats. I mean that metaphorically but also literally: from black hats to fur hats to little white tent-yarmulkes to doilies to the Jackie O cloches of the Modern Orthodox upper-middle-class, hats and headcoverings mean different things — important things — to Jews.
There’s the idea of covering your head to show modesty before God, and the idea of covering your head to shield it from other people. Observant men cover their heads whenever they make a blessing. And sometimes people cover their head-coverings — when entering a non-kosher restaurant, for example, or when you’re trying to appear inconspicuous for one reason or another. (Lest your mind jump to unkind judgments about people who wear yarmulkes, let me tell you: I spent nine months of my life wearing a tweed hat while living in parts of Eastern Europe where you didn’t want to be spotted wearing anything vaguely Jewish except an Uzi.)
What got me thinking about all this was Facebook. Two friends of mine, both amazingly talented performers, both from way different parts of the musical/social/spiritual continuum, and separated by thousands of miles, popped up next to each other on my friends list. Their pictures were next to each other — and, to be honest, it was hard to look away. If for no other reason than, well, this:
Insert here the jokes about how all Jews look alike. (It’s true.) But it’s funny how, aside from their finely-trimmed beards or their studiously artistic composure (Jon Madof, left, fronts the experimental jazz band Rashanim; Patrick A is the singer for Jewish punk band Can Can), both of them have singular headgear.
When I started wearing a yarmulke and hanging out with mostly Orthodox people — significantly guys, for the purposes of this post — I would frequently realize how often my yarmulked new friends were, well, not yarmulked. We’d go out on a Saturday night and I’d be wearing my new black velvet kippah, possibly still with the price tag on the underbelly, and I’d be accompanied by half a dozen guys in baseball caps, one in a ski cap, one in a Holden Caulfield hunter’s hat, and one, only the good Lord knows why, in a sombrero.