Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Searching for authenticity-- and a way to express it

I've finally bit the bullet and started wearing a kippa full-time. Yes, even at work (hooray for summer school-- an easy way to take baby steps). Initially all my co-workers kept asking me if it was a holiday (previously I only wore on on holidays). I had wanted to have a good answer (and I'm still working on one for when school starts), but the first time someone asked me about it this summer, all I could come up with was, "I'm practicing." (Technically true, and slightly witty, but hardly the clearest answer.)

My friend Avraham, who has been wearing a kippa full-time for years and was my inspiration that I, as a "not perfect, and not Orthodox" Jew, could still wear a kippa if I wanted to, works as a scientist, so after the first few times he was asked about it, everyone at work knew he wore one and just moved on.

One of the challenges of deciding to wear a kippa at work and being a teacher is that every year my class turns over, which means I will need to re-explain myself. I don't mind this, but it's something I need some time to mull over to decide how best to do it. I've spent several years worrying about how people would react to me wearing a kippa in public-- and while it's true, as Avraham said, most people either ignore it or have reactions ranging from neutral to positive, I still worry about the perception of either pushing Judaism on my students, or of simply being "too Jewish." Though I'm about 95% sure that most of this is due to my parents' reactions and baggage (especially Abbot Yid's) and my own personal anxiety, it's still something to work through.

That said, so far it's gone well. My new students in summer school (4th graders) asked me about it the first few days and I presented it as a family tradition, which they seemed to be fine with. Now they've made a game of counting how many kippot I own.

Looks like I'm going to need to go on a trip to the Judaica store. :)

Another thing that's come up this summer is Tisha B'Av. Last year I was off so it was easy to observe Tisha B'Av. This year, I'm working and so I needed to arrange for a substitute. As someone that struggles with excessive anxiety, especially relating to work, I really hate to take time away from work, particularly when I know it will impact other people. Every extra step I have to do, calling a sub, writing up plans, negotiating lessons with my partner teacher, adds another layer of doubt as to whether it's worth it to take off.

But because I had decided to fast, I knew it would be better if I wasn't at school. So I went ahead and took the day and now I'm home writing this.

When my colleagues knew I was taking a day off, everyone wanted to know what the holiday was. The trick here, as some of you who work with non-Jewish co-workers know, is that Tisha B'Av is a holiday that doesn't have a very simple summary like "New Year's." It's a very specific, very Jewish-focused holiday, and on top of that, it's post-biblical. (At least for Shavuot I was able to tell my Catholic supervisor, "I think you call it Pentecost.") When I told my partner teacher, "It commemorates the destruction of the Jewish temple," her eyes just glazed over. "Well... have a happy... holiday?" Bless her for trying.

Luckily when I told my students I'd be out they didn't want to know why there was a holiday, they just wanted to know the name. One had a great reaction:

"Tisha B'Av? That's a fun sounding name! When I see my neighbors this afternoon, I'm going to wish them a happy Tisha B'Av!"

This is why I teach.

Of course, it wasn't until after school was over that I realized that there's a very recent analogue that my students (at least my older ones) would definitely understand: Tisha B'Av is like the Jewish 9/11. Not literally, of course-- but as a conceptual bridge to understand national mourning and commemoration, I think it works rather well. Will have to chew on this more.

Anyway, all this is to say that even though things are still a work in progress (like Shabbat, and making it to services more than a couple times a month), I still find a lot of value in trying-- and even though my parents don't quite understand where I'm coming from, I think they're finally respecting me for wanting to claim the tradition as my own and to work to make a meaningful practice for myself and my family. I don't want readers (you still exist, don't you?) to think that I spend all my time worrying about what other people think; rather, it's that my decision to start living more openly and publicly as a Jew means that I also want to be able to articulate some of those decisions to others-- both because I think the questions are legitimate, and because, as part of that discussion process, I'm not just explaining to them, but also to myself.