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Ask Shifra

Something Different... Answering questions and making curious observations (online) since 2005.


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Tuesday, September 26, 2006

A Bloggers' Chat - Headcoverings, Being Normal, Tikkun Olam and Other Stuff

Today I had the pleasure of having a thought provoking email chat with Psychotoddler, the almost-famous blogger, father, rocker and all around nice guy.

In the hope of provoking yet MORE thought I will post it here- As usual all comments and opinions are welcome.

We'll pick up where things get interesting (I've cut and pasted a little to help make things a bit more clear.)

PT: ...BTW I wear a yarmulke to work. I seriously believe that of all the things I've done on this Earth, that is one of the most important. When I go to the Pearly gates (or whatever), and have to explain why I didn't spend enough time learning, or why I let my kids play video games, or why I didn't do this or that, I'm going to say that I wore a Yarmulke to work in the midwest and that I acted like a mentch and did a kiddush hashem.

Shifra: I'm grew up in the midwest and I know what that means.
My parents still live there and my father wears a kippa to work as well.

When I was kid my father lost his job and after months of looking for work and not finding any he stopped wearing his kippah to interviews at the advice of his recruiter.
When he did get a job he felt odd about putting back on so he left it off at work. A few months later we went to pick him up from his new job and my mom sent me into the office to get him (it was a surprise I guess.) When I saw him with nothing on his head I was stunned (I was about 11 or so at the time.) My father is a Rabbi and a very learned man, he even wears a kippah when he SLEEPS I'd never seen him without it. I didn't say anything but he could see that there were tears in my eyes - it was a real shock for me in a way that I can't explain. After that my father came in to work the next day WITH his kippah on and didn't say a thing about it- he's never gone without it since.
Years later he thanked me for it- even though I really hadn't done anything.

People really underestimate the importance of menchlachkiet - that's not a bad ace in the hole either
:-)

PT: I came from NY and guys wore yarmulkes everywhere when I was growing up. We even wore yarmukles to Midnight showings of Rocky Horror.
So it didn't occur to me to take off my hat when I moved to the midwest. Also, I got a shomer shabbos residency in Milwaukee, so it was part of my "persona" if you will.

However, when I went to interview for permanent positions, it was another story altogether. I got a lot of great offers--over the phone. But I'd show up with my kippah and suddenly there would be no openings. Or they would grill me about shabbos--would I come in even if I wasn't on call, etc.

I thought about taking it off. And then my superstitious side said, "Tell me, big shot, if you can't get a job with Hashem's help, do you think you'll be able to get one without it?" So I just persevered. I eventually found a real mentch of an interviewer who was sympathetic to the Orthodox community and hired me.

But there have been many times when I've thought my life would be simpler, my practice fuller, if I looked like everyone else.

Shifra: It's never simple though - there is always shabbos - the birthday cake you can't eat... whether your head is covered or not it's just not possible to completely fit in - and I think that's intentional.
If you live in a cloistered community where you never have to deal with anyone who is not one of your own it's not big deal but it's not so easy in the "real world."

PT: I think it is very much intentional. You can't go out to eat with them and you can't go drinking with them on Friday nights, and there's much less chance of you dating and marrying one that way. The laws of kashruth are meant to keep us separate.

You're right, frummies in NY have no concept of what it's like in "the real world".

Shifra: This modern integrated societal mix is a relatively new thing even on a global level and America is probably the most diverse cultural community on earth.
Then again Jews have always been the minority (even as they lived seperately in their little shtetlach) within the homogenious cultures that surrounded them...
Hmmm lots to think about. I wonder if I'm only making sense in my own head now...

PT: It's good.

Shifra: How are OJ's really supposed to live? As oddballs in the real world - making kiddushea hashem whenever possible - or in an insulated community free of outside rule and influence?

PT: This is the big debate, no? Sit in learn in Kollel all day or get a job? Live in the real world or stay in Lakewood? Read the Newspaper or stick your head in the ground? You probably can figure out where I stand. I believe we were put here to be a light to the nations, a moral compass, and we can't do that if we cross the street every time we see a goy coming our way. Some people believe that there's nothing to be gained from exposure to the outside world other than corruption. But to me, then, what is the point? Why did hashem make goyim? We're not like the Islamists, trying to convert the world. They belong here as much as we. We have a role. Some say that role is to sit in beis medresh and keep the fires of torah burning. I think that serves only us. Unless you think there's some "mystical" power to the beis medresh. But that's just too hocus-pocus for me.

No, we're here to mingle and yet maintain our special purpose.

Shifra: And yet it's amazing though how the whole concept of "tikkun olam" and "or la'goyim" have become such foreign notions among the Orthodox.

Where are all the normal Orthodox Jews? There can't just be two of us!

PT: Nope, it's just the two of us.
Feel free to write this up as a "joint post"

Shifra: Will do!

PT:
Just a word of caution:

The Psychotoddler Crossover post has been known to be the kiss of death to a blog: ask Dr. Bean or A Simple Jew. Hell, I almost killed Treppenwitz.

Shifra: I'll take my chances.

40 Comments:

At 11:24 PM, Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der Å¡teg) said...

i agree. we're meant to be living torah in the world. and i think us "out of towners" (hey, that's what all the people in upper manhattan call me!) generally have a much better concept of what that means than people who spend their whole lives in some parts of NYC or in completely Jewish environments.

One of the last Jews in my adopted Upstate NY community said the same thing the last time i was up there for Shabbos. Showing the world how to be a mentsh is what's important. Not having a kosher pizza and sushi place.

 
At 4:50 AM, Blogger mother in israel said...

There is another option you know!!

 
At 10:10 AM, Blogger PsychoToddler said...

NO! Kosher Sushi and Pizza ARE the IKKAR!

 
At 10:52 AM, Anonymous Essie said...

Love the crossover chat post. And I absolutely agree with you. I get so much respect from my non-Jewish coworkers for adhering to my faith and principles. I believe that is what G-d wants from us.

 
At 11:15 AM, Blogger Scraps said...

I used to horrify my friends at camp by telling them that we didn't have a kosher pizza store in my hometown. Oh, the shame. :-P

 
At 11:20 AM, Blogger Chana said...

Ha! I'm a normal Midwest Jew, too, and I actually know about the kippa-wearing/ non-kippa wearing refers to! Hurrah. Chicago's toned down, though, on a whole...I think..

 
At 1:43 PM, Blogger Air Time said...

Back when I was a midwesterner, way back in June, I always wore a kippa to work. I always thought that if I was going to not go out to lunch with the guys, and make them cover for me on Friday nights or saturday's during our busy season, I needed to be authentic.

And one of the best parts of moving to Israel and going to work, is being able to walk into the cafeteria with coworkers and team members. There are two dining rooms where I work, one meat and one dairy.

It helps build a team, and I always knew that there was something between me and my coworkers back in Detroit.

 
At 3:55 PM, Blogger PsychoToddler said...

I always eat with my co-workers. I just bring my own food.

Despite the fact that I'm dressed in the Pope's headgear, I think I impress them with how normal I am.

 
At 4:31 PM, Blogger kasamba said...

What a beautiful conversation!

 
At 6:00 PM, Anonymous seebee said...

"I cannot praise a fugitive and cloistered virtue, unexercised and unbreathed, that never sallies out and sees her adversary but slinks out of the race, where that immortal garland is to be run for, not without dust and heat." John Milton

 
At 6:02 PM, Blogger DTC said...

That's it. There's not enough room on this blog for the two of us. It's either PT or me.

(hey, someone had to call him on that line. :-) )

My father did not wear a kippa at work (and neither did my dentist too) and this was all in range of a large Jewish community.

Life was very different back then, but it's obviously still not so different outside the major metropoli.

There will always be some bad apples out there in the recruiting world. However, most co-workers will show interest if not "derech eretz" if you're sincere and consistent.

BTW, we always made fun of our cousins in Baltimore because our town had a kosher pizza store before they did.

 
At 6:11 PM, Anonymous Neil said...

On a practical note, I would think another good reason for wearing a kippa is that the more people are seen wearing one, the less it is noticed. As someone who has only lived in NY and LA, I find most people hardly blink when they see someone wearing one. And, like some other reader had mentioned, I would think others would be impressed that you care about your faith. The only time I really see it being hard wearing a kippa is when you are a teenager and have that overwhelming peer pressure to fit in.

 
At 6:31 PM, Blogger Shifra said...

To all the sushi and pizza lovers - I hear ya... both products can be produced at home but if your kids already know better (as mine do) its a tough sell!

I also eat with my co-workers but when we go "out" for lunch I feel like a total weirdo. I think there was even an "ask shifra" question about this topic last year. My advice? Always eat before you leave the office - nothing worse than starving while surrounded by trief food.

Kasamba - thank you welcome to the blog!

Neil - Im not so sure- I am an adult comfortable with being an Orthodox Jews and a and pretty secure in general and I still hate sticking out in my long skirt and tichel sometimes... Even adults sometimes just want to be "normal" at least I do.

 
At 8:17 PM, Blogger Shifra said...

Oh and See Bee - that is an AWESOME quote. I'll keep it around I'm sure it will come in handy :-)

 
At 10:09 PM, Blogger trn said...

This is a good post. I really appreciate the stories of young Shifra and her father and of job-seeking Mark and his "big shot" logic.

Of course, there's also the unfortunate situation of the yarmulke-wearer who is inconsiderate of colleagues and earns only their disrespect.

 
At 10:57 PM, Blogger Eliyahu said...

first prize, i say, for the last 2 posts!

 
At 11:00 PM, Anonymous the one who will soon become known... said...

Great Exchange Shifra and PT! I really enjoyed it. I wish I had stories like that one (changing the way a parent acted just by the look in my eyes).

I disagree with PT. I guess I fall somewhere in the middle. I believe that people in the beis medrash are doing something very important. How are we supposed to get Gedolai Hador and Posekim if there is no one learning in the beis medrash, sequestering themselves in a room, studying into the wee hours of the night, pouring over ancient texts? They serve a purpose. But we also need people going out there and making a kiddush hashem. I think that they are both necessary parts of klal yisroel.

But of course I agree... Down with NYers... *clears throat* I mean, They have no idea what the real world is like at all.

The thing that bugs me out about frummies is that they are so homogeneous. Sometimes it bores me to death. It's like there are 4000 different guys named Yankel who are all very similar. And before anyone says that I am generalizing (I am!) and I don't know what I am talking about (I do!), I was in a Yeshiva for high school, attended Beis Medrash for years post highschool and know hundreds of people who are "frummies".

Where are all the normal people?

 
At 11:14 PM, Anonymous SJ said...

Hooray for normal people! Hooray for "out of towners" without a pizza store! Hooray for being in the real world and standing out and making a kiddush Hashem! Finding the balance between holding firmly to our beliefs while still treating all people with derech eretz is one of the trickiest and most important tasks that a Jew has today. But don't despair--there really are a lot of us normal OJs out there. See?

 
At 12:37 AM, Anonymous the one who will soon become known... said...

(Sung to the tune of "If you're happy and you know it clap your hands".)
If you're normal and an OJ read Shifra's blog. If you're normal and an OJ read Shifra's blog. If you're normal and an OJ and you really wanna show it, if you're normal and an OJ read Shifra's blog.

 
At 12:40 AM, Blogger Ezer K'negdo said...

We HAVE a kosher pizza place, and chinese and they are GROSS. What obscure halacha is it that says, if you open a kosher restaurant, you MUST NEVER wash your floors, and MUST ALWAYS have horrendus service??!!

MR. EK and I joke that in our retirement we are going to open a kosher diner, clean, with excellent service and a killer hamburger on one side, and a killer tuna melt on the other ;-)

 
At 6:52 AM, Blogger Pleasingwomen said...

of course it is very complicated to be frum. Everyday brings new temptations

 
At 9:05 AM, Blogger eem said...

People in Boro Park also think that they are normal, and many people think that I (I am, of course, very normal:) am off the wall for wearing skirts when I go hiking, and covering my hair. Being normal is not the ideal we're looking for here-doing what you think is the right thing is. sorry if this is just semantics.

 
At 9:50 AM, Blogger LittleBirdies said...

I think we need a balance. Not everyone is a "learner". The torah learning definitely makes an impact on us and the rest of the world. But we also need Jewish doctors, lawyers, business men, etc. People who understand the Jewish way of life.
I have seen if you are firm in your beliefs, the non-Jews respect you. Without saying anything, people at work tend to be more careful with what they say or do around me (though being a woman could be part of this)

 
At 10:18 AM, Blogger dilbert said...

Coincidentally, we learned the last mishna(and its attendant gemara) of Yoma last night. It includes an opinion that chillul Hashem is not overcome by teshuva or Yom Kippur. The definition of chillul Hashem there is anything that makes someone watching you say 'shame on you and your teachers.' Interestingly, this means that chillul Hashem is somewhat dependant on community norms and behavior(a point explicitly made in the gemara). The bottom line though(to paraphrase) is that with great hat(kippa, tichel skirt, or whatever badge of Judaism you are wearing) comes great responsibility.

Interestingly, there have been a number of articles recently on the obligation of men in wearing head covering(most recently in edition 1 of Milin Chavivin-the journal of YCT, available online somewhere)

 
At 12:15 PM, Blogger Jack's Shack said...

That was interesting. Here in LA there is no lack of options for Kosher food.

Although I am not Orthodox I have worked in several jobs in which I was the only Jew, or should I say that I was the only one who did anything.

And with that came the responsibility of explaining everything. It never bothered me to explain it all, but sometimes the questions just really surprised me.

 
At 1:56 PM, Blogger Elie said...

Great conversation, Shifra and PT. You can count at least one more "normal" OJ in your small but growing club. Well normal in my hashkafa, anyway! :-) (or at least I like to think so! :-))

At a high level I definitely agree that it is better for each of us to mingle in the real world and set good examples, to be a living kiddush Hashem, than to be cloistered and sheltered. On the other hand, the way I've seen some obviously "frum" people act in public, it would have been better for them to stay hidden, or else to not be identifiable as Jewish. That topic is worth several posts in its own right.

Finally, about kippot on the job, my father didn't wear one either, though I myself did from the time I started working (mid-80s). But I don't we should judge our parents generation harshly on this one. In those days (my dad started working in the 50s) being conspicuously Jewish in public was much less acceptable and much more difficult than it is now. And as my father always pointed out, the custom of men covering their heads at all times is fairly recent, historically. For example, the Gemara praises one Amora for never walking 4 amos without a head covering - which means that in his colleagues (let along regular folks in those days!) did not do so! So this is not at all comparable to those who dropped Shabbos or Kashrus observance for work.

 
At 2:06 PM, Blogger PsychoToddler said...

OK, I was going to say basically what Little Birdies just said. I don't think there is anything wrong with some people learning in Kollel. But not everyone, and I resent an educational system that more or less pushes everyone into that one career path and if you don't fit, you're a "misfit."

So yes, we need Kollel rebbes, but they should be people who have some aptitude for it. We also need doctors, grocers, mechanics, soldiers, etc. But not lawyers.

I also agree with the people who said that being a visually definable Jew carries great responsibility and is a double edged sword. There are plenty of evil frummies out there who spoil it for the rest of us. We need like a Frum Spiderman or something to combat them. I wrote a rant about this a while back. I think the yarmulke (or tichel) reminds you of who you are and what your responsibility is.

seebee: I have no idea what you said but it sounds profound.

DTC: Care to take this outside?

 
At 5:17 PM, Anonymous Yocheved said...

I am a former "real worlder" (NE, IA, AZ) turned Los Angeleno. Let me tell you, this has been such an exciting transistion. Three years later, I still call my ima when I find out that my new dentist is frum. I have such a non-jaded sense of Jewish Identity, compared to my native roommate...who is like, so what? Kosher Sushi? Let her live in Sioux City for a week and get back to me! :)

 
At 12:49 AM, Blogger MC Aryeh said...

Great conversation. Can this be a regular feature on Ask Shifra? Would be very enlightening....looks like you have broken the "PT on blog=death knell" curse...

 
At 5:46 AM, Blogger Shifra said...

McAryeh -
What would you like to see more of - crossover posts in general or ones featuring PT?

 
At 12:41 PM, Blogger PsychoToddler said...

Do not tempt fate yet again!

 
At 3:43 PM, Blogger MC Aryeh said...

While PT is always entertaining (and I would be happy to see him featured again), I did mean discussion posts in general....always interesting to read thoughtful exchanges of ideas.

 
At 2:19 PM, Anonymous Ariella said...

This gave me an idea for an additional shidduch question. "Would you interview for a job not wearing a yarmulke?" But it is, to some extent, more symptomatic of socio-cultural expectations than religous ones. Many older Yekkes who are quite frum do not wear yarmulkes to work. It might be different for the younger generation, as perception have changed, and you may appear odder not to wear it if you then have to leave early on winter Fridays, etc.

 
At 9:48 PM, Blogger Ayelet said...

I'm pretty late to the party but I had a few thoughts while reading through the post and comments.

Firstly, at work, I'm the only young (the other is a grandmother) Orthodox Jew. There are lots of non-religious Jews and lots of non-Jews. I maintain a very friendly relationship with virtually everyone. I most definitely feel a responsibility to be "a light unto the nations". I am looked to as an example of someone living with high moral standards. They see me as a person who deliberately avoids the decadence and immorality and perversity that is obviously promoted by pop culture. Their first reaction when they hear I don't have a TV in my home is "but, you're so normal". This despite the fact that I wear the "uniform" - long skirt, tichel, long sleeves - and talk the talk and walk the walk. Even in New York, many people still believe there are "horns" somewhere. So, I think part of my role is showing that religiosity and normalcy are not mutually exclusive. And that earns me great respect and it is my hope that it serves as a kiddush Hashem.

As for the responsibility that goes with wearing the "uniform" (kippa for the guys), I always remind my husband of that on the road. Whatever we do, we're not just some anonymous driver, we're identifiably Jewish and are constantly representing Hashem and His Torah. Same goes for the neatness standards to which I believe yeshiva guys should be held to. Tuck in your shirts, shave and shower!

In terms of keeping the kippa on... there's a girl who teaches at my school who is Muslim. She always wore the traditional head scarf. Shortly after 9-11, she uncovered her hair for good. Now, I'm not here to judge and I certainly don't claim to understand where she was coming from, but I did lose some respect for her.

Last thought: A co-worker with whom I am very friendly will sometimes insist we go together for lunch to a kosher place (which is obviously more expensive and is also quite a distance away). Although there is no issur involved, each time we do go out together for lunch, I feel that somehow I've shed a layer of boundary that chaza"l intended. I wonder if I've trangressed the spirit of the law...

 
At 10:31 AM, Blogger PsychoToddler said...

Ayelet: I hear you on the road trips. I always make it a point to remind the kids that they are representing our whole nation when we're at truck stops or museums, or even when we stop at kosher restaurants. Even then, we're representing Milwaukee Jewry and we have to make a good impression. Especially as there are so many of us and people often are prejudiced against large families. I try to show that it is possible to have a lot of kids and still raise them to be respectful and well-behaved.

 
At 3:49 PM, Blogger Shifra said...

Great comment Ayelet - I wanted to email you about it but I couldn't find your email online anywhere.

The last two paragraphs piqued my interest in particular.
I'd find it hard to judge a woman in that position - I'm sure that for her UNcovering her hair would be as hard (from a communal standpoint) as it would be for you or me. Not to mention that she probably started it far younger than we did. The amount of persecution, panic, and hatred that her religion generated among intolerant or traumatized Americans in 2001 would have made me want to hide my identity as well.

As for your last paragraph I'd like some more information if you don't mind...
Is your dicomfort because your co-worker is male or just because they are not one of the tribe?

I wouldn't guess that eating a kosher lunch, in a kosher establishment with a non-Jewish coworker is in violation of anything - unless it's full of wild frum kids making a chillul Hashem in front of the coworker.
If you work and live in the "real" world it's all part of the package. By showing yourself to be sincere in and out of the workplace you can create a kiddush Ha'shem everywhere you go!

 
At 12:27 AM, Blogger PsychoToddler said...

I usually just feel bad about making them eat the crappy, overpriced kosher food.

 
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At 11:53 PM, Anonymous Dovid said...

I work in Midtown Manhattan. I've been told by people working at some of the Fortune 500 companies in Midtown that wearing a kippah at work is not necessarily taken in stride by their co-workers. One was told by a co-worker that his kippah is a distraction, meaning, I assume, that they cannot concentrate on their work if they see him walk by their cubicle. Another has gotten comments from people along the lines of they don't wear a cross to work, so why does he wear his religion on his head? Another guy at minyan said that he was told by a supervisor to tuck in his tallis kattan. I also grew up in the Midwest, so I know it's worse than Manhattan but not all Manhattan workplaces are that understanding.

 
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