Kippah

by Mayrav Saar | December 2013 | 1 Comment »

When someone is particularly good at creative problem-solving, we generally compliment him by saying he has a Yiddishe kop.  The term literally means a “Jewish head,” and when I go to my son’s Jewish day school, it amuses me to no end to see so many Yiddishe kops adorned with taqiyahs from Pakistan.
Sometimes called a kofi or a topi, the taqiyah is the often white but sometimes colorful and beautifully adorned cap worn by Muslim boys and men.  It fits over the entire skull, the way the “skullcap” kippah never really does.  Most importantly, the taqiyah stays on through rigorous basketball games and doesn’t require a single barrette.
Because Zev’s Jewish day school requires that boys wear a kippah everyday – and because the standard Ashkenazi kippah is just asking to end up in the Lost and Found, the taqiyah has become in vogue among the elementary school set.
Of course, nobody calls it a taqiyah; we all call it a “Moroccan-style kippah.”
But we’re all deluding ourselves.  Just as hummus did not originate in Israel, the “Moroccan kippot” our kids wear do not come from Morocco – nor are they kippot.  Instead, most were hand-embroidered by Pakistani and Afghani women with every intention that they’d be worn in a madrasa.
I know this, because every year I buy Zev a new kippah at our synagogue’s Chanukah boutique from a man who speaks with a Middle Eastern accent that is decidedly not Israeli.  To find these unique skullcaps, the man says he travels regularly to Afghanistan and Pakistan.  I’m not that well-versed in the mercantile trends of the Middle East, but I’m guessing the kippah market is not exactly booming under the Taliban.
I can’t imagine what the Pakistani and Afghani women would say if they knew their fine stitch work ended up in a shul in Southern California, but here’s what I wish they would say: “Oh, good.”
I’m one of those Lysistrata-reading feminists who believes that war is the invention of men.  I don’t think women of any culture raise their children to strap bombs to themselves, and I would be willing to bet that the whole “72 Virgins thing” is not something a Muslim mom mentions when tucking her baby boy into bed at night.
If I’m right, then maybe one of those seamstresses would be as amused as I am by the cross (cultural)-dressing I witness at Zev’s school everyday.  And maybe she would even be heartened.
Maybe she’d even marvel, as I do, at the strangeness of globalism and the power it has to make a half-Irish Jewish boy from California look totally normal in a Pakistani hat.  Maybe she would secretly wish, as I do, that this small bit of symbolism could snowball into something far more powerful.
I know it’s asking too much to assume that a Jew wearing Muslim garb sold by a guy who’s probably Christian can change the world.  The hate is too strong and the politics too thorny.  But I do believe there is an answer to the years of war and destruction that have laid waste to people of different faiths.  I am optimistic that there will be a solution.
And I’m hopeful that whatever the answer, it is percolating now, perhaps beneath a taqiyah in a very Yiddishe kop.

One Comment to “Kippah”

  1. Larry Polsky says:

    Let’s make a global statement, I would like to forward this article to Imran Ahmad, who wrote the book “Unimagined” a Muslim boy meets the West. author@unimagined.co.uk.

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