Monday, August 18, 2014

If the Hat Doesn't Fit- Being real with myself

Throughout my time in Israel, I did various things to overcome fears that I thought were not good for me. I jumped from 15 feet into the water. I rappelled down the face of a cliff, and jumped from the upper deck of a boat into the water (that one didn't go so well, but still...). What I was really chipping away at was not a fear of heights, or even a fear of trying new things, but my fear of being authentic and real. Dancing freely to soulful music while in Tzfat, told me that I was on the right track.

For nearly 17 years, I wore a hat on Shabbos. It started as an attempt to fit into the yeshivish world, but at some point, that desire dissipated. I came up with various reasons for why I still wore it, including Kavod Shabbos, communal norm, and what my children might think if I stopped. Of course, none of these things kept me wearing it. Wearing the hat gave me a lot of things. I could walk into a shul and instantly be accepted as frum. I could tell myself that I was not changing religiously, even as I knew that to not be the case. I could fit in, which was strange, because I knew that I no longer fit in in my community.

It’s not that the people in Passaic are not nice. I have some wonderful, kind and generous friends. There is a tremendous amount of chessed and learning that goes on here, and there are many shuls where the davening is serious, if not joyous. Passaic hasn’t changed, but I have. Shuls in which I once felt engaged, and even inspired, no longer speak to me. Through taking risks and discussing certain controversial topics, I have been able to find others who also do not fully agree with the philosophical outlook of the community, but individuals do not make for a community.

Two years ago, when I started travelling for work, I started to leave my hat home when I was away for Shabbos. I told others that I was not bringing it because it was a pain to carry another piece of luggage, but in truth, I enjoyed the time off. Still, I once again wore it, the week I returned.

Being away for seven weeks this summer meant that I got used to not wearing my hat. I spent times in communities where wearing a hat was, at the very least, not the norm. I began to think about whether I would keep it on the shelf when I got home. What finally did it was when, during the last night activity of camp, which required dressing up, one of the counselors gave me his hat and jacket to wear as a costume. If it was so clear to everyone that I was not the kind of guy who wears a hat, why was I still pretending? I talked it over with my wife, and in her classic style, she told me that she was fine with whatever I decided and to do what made me comfortable. Shabbos morning, I left for shul without my hat.  If anyone noticed, they didn’t say anything (if only it was the same with my weight gain from this summer). My davening didn’t change. Neither did my learning. Still I felt more than the weight of the hat come off my shoulders. I had not outgrown my hat, but it most definitely no longer fit.


  1. Wow, I could have written this entire article myself... except instead of the "hat" for me it is the shoes. Search and replace hat with shoes and this is my article!

  2. This is my exact experience. To me the hat isn't something that represents my ideology, but a specific cultural representation of that ideology. I still believe in the same Judaism, in the same torah, the same halacha, I still keep shabbos, kashrus, I still put on tefillin, but the culture I used to subscribe to built around the observance of these laws is not the same culture I currently subscribe to. The hat to me is representative of that culture, and wearing it made me feel like a liar, like I was wearing something alien, something that misrepresented me horribly. I hated wearing it. I hated the culture it represented.

    Like the author, I began not taking it with me when I traveled, then I stopped wearing it around friends, then I switched to a shul that didn't care which cultural symbol I wore on my head, as long as I wore something. Then I stopped wearing it around my family. And now I feel like I'm accurately representing the kind of jew that I am, and I'm so much happier.

  3. As far as I am aware, hats are not required in Passaic, and plenty of people there don't wear a hat. Am I incorrect about that?

    In my case, I don't like wearing pants and shoes. I much prefer shorts and sandals (which ironically, Avraham Avinu and Moshe Rabbeinu also wore - well maybe not shorts, but a kind of wrap-around garment that reached the knees or thereabouts), especially in the heat (most of the year around here). And the only times I wear a hat is to protect my bald head from the sun, and it is invariably a baseball cap of some sort.

  4. I've seen guys in Passaic in flipflops on Shabbos. Not in shul, but hanging out in the afternoon. Must have been visitors from out of town :)

  5. Again, not saying anything about Passaic, other than that it has a strong yeshivish community and that I have changed. Plenty of people don't wear hats, and in some shuls, it is the majority who don't.