“I want to wear my kippah so everyone knows how proud I am to be Jewish.”
I faced this moment — one that I had been anticipating — with pride and fear.
My son is seven. He is proud of who he is and what he believes in. He is learning our beautiful history and faith. He is thriving at his Jewish day school. He comes home with new Hebrew words and wants to tell me about the holidays he’s learned about in school. His Hebrew has such a heavy Israeli accent that I have trouble understanding what he says. It reminds me of trying to understand my Hebrew School teachers, most of whom were veterans of the ’48 war or were Holocaust survivors.
He said a shehecheyanu after he slept naked for the first time.
This kid is living his best Jewish life.
I could not be prouder of him. Writing this is making my heart swell.
The kippah in question is a colorful knit beanie that he acquired at school, probably by picking it up off the ground under the jungle gym. He had been wearing it around the house for the first four days of winter vacation. He took it off to shower but not to sleep.
He is very dedicated to this particular yarmulke and wanted to wear it — for everyone to know how proud he was to be Jewish — on our trip to the Florida panhandle.
We live in an Atlanta suburb with a sizable Jewish population. Atlanta and its metropolitan area tend to be open to people of all faiths.
In short, my son has never encountered a person who may have words of hate for him because of his Jewish identity.
Rural Georgia and most of Florida are not widely known for their tolerance of minority groups.
I was afraid that when we stopped in rural towns that this 7-year-old boy would be accosted by bigots and antisemites and shouted at, or worse. I was afraid that his non-confrontational father would be put into a place where I was forced to defend my child and my faith to a stranger.
How would I know if that person was carrying a weapon? Would they use that weapon? Do I make the first move or wait for some racist to make it? All of this went through my head.
At each gas station and fast-food restaurant, I held my breath as he skipped through the aisles and tables, smiling and proudly showed off his kippah. I tried to change the subject when he was talking about his Jewishness with strangers at Whataburger and in the hotel hot tub with strangers. My heart felt as if it would stop when he corrected people who asked him what Santa brought him for Christmas.
Most people in this country are Christian and it’s okay for them to assume we celebrate Christmas. Just nod and smile back at people and say “thank you for wishing me Merry Christmas, I hope you had a nice one too.”
I spent three days in the Florida panhandle on edge waiting for my family to be swept up in the rising tide of antisemitism that so many American Jews are already navigating.
Antisemitism is on the rise across the world. Once again, we are being singled out for abuse and hatred. What do I, a secular Jew with a not-particularly-Jewish-sounding name, need to share with my children to prepare them to be adults? Nearly 80 years after the end of World War II, those who hate Jews are once again emboldened by enablers and indifference alike.
The kippah story has a happy ending. No one said anything — no slurs hurled, no mistreatment. Probably too much time in the hot tub.
But being Jewish in America today means that each time we pack up the van, for a road trip or grocery trip, I think about these things. I have to prepare myself for any possible confrontation. I have to confront myself with how far I will go to protect my child and my family.
For today, I have decided that I will feel pride in his pride. His happiness makes me happy. His love for our faith and our history gives me faith that we are not doomed to repeat history.
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