A letter recently submitted by a Westmount Shul member (who works with many non-jews, in the medical field).
The Rabbi spoke to the congregation about a year ago, encouraging men to wear a Kippa to work. In the audience there were two camps: men who do wear a Kippa all the time, and those who don’t.
For those who do wear one all the time, at worst, this is a ‘been there, done that’ moment. For the rest of us, this is a time of uneasiness and fidgeting.
Some, I am sure, are just not even contemplating such a thing. It’s not on their radar, and they are probably on those first few wobbly steps down the Derech, where they have bigger fish to fry, such as figuring out what page we are on or when to stand or sit during the service…and what the heck are all those greetings they are saying over Rosh Hashanna and Yom Kippur?
Unless you are Frum From Birth, we have all had to negotiate those first few steps. But for those of us who have travelled further down the yellow brick road of Judaism, this hangs like a storm on the horizon.
You know it is coming, you know you will have to negotiate it and you know it is going to cause a lot of anxiety when it comes. You know that it’s going to come with questions, subconscious reaction, and maybe hostility from everyone that you see every day: extended family, co workers, clients, and staff that you have known for maybe years, and to whom you will now be ‘coming out’.
This is an excruciatingly difficult internal subjective experience. As you contemplate what you are about to do, the thoughts swirl around in your head like a twister tornado. People who have always looked at you a certain way will now be seeing you as someone completely different. Can you handle it? Should you even bother? Is it worth it?
At some point, it is. And when you are teetering, and almost there, all it takes is one little nudge from the Rabbi… and you are on your way.
He promises you that you are going over the rainbow, but it feels more like you are tumbling down the rabbit hole. I have taken that trip and at the Rabbi’s request, I am here to talk about it.
I had a lot of misgivings about this. In my line of work, I see a wide variety of people: Muslims, Christians and Jews alike, Liberals, Conservatives, and pretty much anything you can imagine, come through my doors. Even though politics and religion are my two favorite topics, I go to tremendous lengths to avoid them at the office. People can take offence to differing views far too easily.
I was expecting the absolute worst. I have four secretaries, two of which are Shiite Muslim and one wears a hijab full time. My office next-door neighbour, a Pharmacist, is a devout Christian who goes on Missions to South America to help the poor. All of them are good people, and I have no wish create a sense of uncomfortable tension with anyone. But hey, we are well in to the 21st century and individualism is ‘in’.
If you are different, ‘own it’ as they say, embrace it and things will be okay. Sure. Right. And if I am wrong? Well, it’s just my income and business on the line. However, when the time comes to make a change, you are ready to take the risk. In my mind, big change equals big reaction. At least, I thought, I could apply a little psychology and do this slowly to lessen the impact.
I had a plan. Start small, and just cover your head with anything that is generally acceptable. A baseball cap, a golfer’s cap or anything else that looks neutral. So that’s what I did for a full year. The comments and jokes came right a away… ‘ Your hat’s always on. Are you going bald?’ …’Got a golf game later today?’ ‘Take your hat of and stay a while- it looks like you are ready to rush out of here!’.
It was annoying, but no one took offense, and I didn’t mind the jokes after a while, as it often lightened the mood in the room. This went on for a full year. Then this past August, the time had come to put on that religious piece of fabric at the office. I put it on, said a little prayer, and walked in… and braced for it. And…. Nothing.
Nothing from my staff. They do however work for me, so what are they really going to say, right? Nothing from the pharmacist. Hmm. Maybe this won’t be so bad. And then, in comes the clientele. Well, there was a reaction, and from many people. To my complete surprise though, the reaction was overwhelmingly positive.
Here are just a handful of the comments. They were all completely unsolicited, spontaneous and unexpected:
A Jamaican Christian Woman:
“Is that why you have been covering your head? Doctor, you should never be afraid to be yourself, and be who you know your true self to be. Good for you!”
A secular Jewish man:
‘Hey Doc, I was talking with my friend Dave, who is also your patient, and we both think its okay, what your doing.’
( My thought: really? You guys talk about me on your time off?)
A Muslim woman:
“I am so happy that all of my doctors are Jewish. I only want Jewish Doctors!”
A secular Jewish Woman:
“I go to Synagogue on Rosh Hashanna, you know.
( My Thoughts: ‘Great, but why are you telling me this?)
A Atheist man:
“Hey Doc, Shalom Shabbat!”
(My thoughts: ‘Oh, so close’)
“I took a course in University on Israel Last year! Shema Yisroel, Hashem Elokaynu, Hashem Echad, man!”
He sang this very loud and with feeling in my waiting room! (My thought ‘They taught that? …and you nailed that one perfectly!… I certainly wouldn’t have the guts to do that in my waiting room!’)
And the one that really hit home,
‘Let’s hope that the Messiah comes soon!’
Me: ‘Umm, when he does, no one will be sick anymore, and I will be out of a job!’
‘ You will have a Job. You will be a King in Israel!’
( !!!!!! Wow. Better versed than me on these things.)
In any case, it led to many interesting talks, comments and insights from my patients, with acceptance and warmth from just about everyone. I think, in the end, I had been my worst critic, and the difficulty was within me.
I certainly cannot speak for any one else who has tried this, but with such a great reaction from so many people across the spectrum of humanity I believe that this step should not be met by others with fear or anxiety, but with a sense of self honesty and of pleasant adventure that I am sure you will also find as you travel down your own yellow brick road.