Billboard Judaism

Required reading:When a Kippah is not just a Kippah

Background story: It’s 1999. I’m fifteen years old and in grade 10. At the NFTY Northeast Lakes Debates event, I’m dressed in a suit and speaking as eloquently as a geeky fifteen-year-old with a cowlick can. I don’t remember what the topic of the debate was, but I distinctly remember one of my arguments. It went something like this:

The Oxford Dictionary defines religion as ‘a specific fundamental set of beliefs.’ Therefore, religion is based on what you think, not what you do. Judaism is a matter of personal beliefs, not actions…

Oops. I’ve learned a little bit since then. Like not to use dictionaries to support your theological arguments. Fast forward a few years to the 21st century, and I’ve embraced the notion that Jewish religion is based almost entirely on actions, not catechisms. I’m repeatedly struggling with the action of wearing a kippah full-time. It’s quite literally an on-again off-again love affair.

Two years ago, I commented on this blog that if you’re going to wear a kippah (or really any religious article), you need to accept the fact that you’re essentially erecting a giant billboard on top of your head with an arrow pointing down that says “JEW!” Moreover, I argued that if you’re going to put up a billboard, you damn well better know what you’re advertising. While Chabad’s outreach efforts may sometimes make you think otherwise, Judaism isn’t an infomercial – you can’t just spew out as much advertising as possible with the hopes of catching someone’s attention. I would argue that – borrowing some more advertising parlance – if you’re going to wear a kippah 24/7, you need to have a pretty comprehensive marketing plan. You need to know what message lies behind the “JEW!” billboard. Why do you wear a kippah? What does it stand for? What do you hope to gain by wearing it? What does it mean to you to wear it? How does it fit into your life’s mission/vision? What do you say to others who ask you about it? With whom are you casting your lot by wearing it?

And on that note – my struggle has primarily been with how to deal with the Orthodox hegemony vis-a-vis the small, round, knit item. When a non-Orthodox Jew wears a kippah 24/7, it can be like Reebok switching their logo to a swoosh. How can I take part in an important Jewish action without getting lumped in with an ideological group that I have no desire to be conflated with?

Tough questions. Important questions. I don’t have the answer to them yet, but I’ve recently realized that I’m not going to find the answer to “what’s on the billboard?” if I don’t even put the billboard up. In that light, I’m giving myself a new project:

The challenge: Billboard Judaism. This weekend, after leaving shul on the second day of Rosh Hashana, I’m going to keep that kippah slapped on my head. For at least a whole Jewish year. And I’m going to use this blog to record all of the shit that will inevitably roll around in my head by doing so: What I feel like when people look at me. What I think of when walking into a seedy bar. What I think of when I need to remember one more thing when heading out in the morning. And so on and so on…

What I hope to get by the end of this is my Jewish marketing plan. And I hope to be able to distill it down to one simple thing: the answer to the question, “what’s on your Jewish billboard?”

Musings forthcoming…


  1. Great new title! More on this topic at this week:

    Be sure you read my indignant comment.

  2. Karen P says:

    Being in the marketing biz, I find your decision to wear a kippah for (at least) a year to be an interesting variation on the “run it up the flagpole and see how it flies” approach taken by many marketers/advertisers. It strikes me that that’s just a variation on “Na’aseh v’nishma,” so you’re in good Jewish company! If all else fails, it’s a way to keep that cowlick under control.

  3. Dawn says:

    Not to diminish your decision in the least, which I find to be fascinating and can’t wait to read the follow-ups, but I wonder if the impact is not a touch subdued by the fact that you live in two of the most “Jewish” cities on the planet-NYC and Toronto. I would be curious to see how the new you is met in places not so “Jew-involved” like small towns and outlying areas. Not only that, it might seem that a man wearing a kippah in NYC is so common an occurrence as not to warrant a glance. But if you are out with a woman friend who wears her kippah (not a hat or other head scarf!) on a regular basis, that might illicit some stares. Recently I led a shiva service in a very frum area and I forgot to remove my kippah as I left the house. I walked home the short distance and was met by some burning looks from the neighbours. That said, I will be reading with interest.

  4. EdibleTorah says:

    David outed me and my recent post on this before I could get here. (and for the record, I didn’t really think his response was all that indignant.) Before posting my essay, I really did check to see if there was much else “out there” on the subject and didn’t find anything. So it’s another funny coincidence (which I don’t believe in) that we both wrote about this at about the same time.

    I’m glad to see I’m not alone in my little drama on this issue. I’m excited to hear how your journey goes, and hopefully you’ll check up on mine as well.

    L’shana Tova
    – Leon

  5. Mylegacy says:

    Whether a Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Christian or Whatever embrace only the good and kind parts of your mythology – NEVER pay any attention to the discriminatory, sexist or racist parts.

    Anyone that takes religion as a “goalpost” rather than a “guideline” goes past mere delusion. Further than delusion is the road to bat-shit-crazy.

    Peace, Namaste, Shalom, Salaam or whatever greeting your particular Invisible Spaghetti Monster whould rather you say.

    1. jepaikin says:

      Mylegacy, I’ll respond to your second argument first. If you read through my posts, I’m sure you’ll see that both this kippah experiment as well as my Judaism as a whole is certainly more about the journey than the destination. If you could ever get to the “end” of religion, wouldn’t that defeat the whole point? I disagree with your evaluation of religion as being a delusion, but that’s certainly fine that you hold a different view. And while I’m a self-assesed nut, I would not go as far as saying I’m “bat-shit-crazy”.

      To your first point, I do not subscribe to or follow what you label the “discriminatory, sexist, or racist” parts of Judaism. I’m not sure what racist parts of Judaism there are… if you’d care to expand on that point, I’d be interested. Certainly I acknowledge on the surface some elements of Judaism may appear to be somewhat discriminatory or sexist at times (not to all, however), but to outright not pay attention to these parts is a little naive. If we want to become enlightened through religion, we can’t just sweep under the carpet the parts we don’t like. We can’t overcome discrimination or sexism – in religion or elsewhere – unless we acknowledge its existence and learn how to move past it.

      And to your last sentence – I appreciate the attempt at humour, however I don’t presume to know what my God wants me to say. Were I to make an educated guess, though, I would think that my God would rather I work at achieving peace in all languages. So you hit the head on the nail. Nicely done.

  6. Pingback: My resolution «
  7. Movie/TV Quote
    Judge Flatt: Ollie, you know my feelings about arming morons: you arm one, фильмы бесплатно you’ve got to arm them all, otherwise it wouldn’t be good sport.

  8. Finding the right sports books and bookmakers to use for your arbitrage sports betting can be a daunting task with the internet now they are everywhere. The list of crooked bookmaking sites that have helped part people with their money and robbed them of their winnings grows longer every day. Being enlightened about this all sports bettors should do their due diligence before signing up with any bookmaker and be sure of their reputation as well as their guarantees on return of winnings. Almost all sports betting sites will have reviews so read them before making your decision on which one you go with.

    Still, there are tons of bettors looking through rose colored glasses for the holy grail of betting systems that will let them make money without risking any. Well, there is a way to do that and it is called work! Gambling is called gambling for a reason, it’s risky. Let’s take a look at some sports betting systems.
    bet on sports
    Overall, the majority of people feel that the United States is missing the boat on this matter. Instead of simply regulating the industry like the rest of the countries in the world, they are trying to get rid of it altogether. This may have some benefits, but for the most part there is a chance that it could end up back firing. It will be interesting to see what the Senate decides to do in the upcoming months.

    And finally, in the first article in this series I mentioned being honest with yourself, because one of the biggest lies I have found that a tremendous number of Bettors are guilty of is denying to themselves how many times their Base Bank has been busted! If you too are guilty of this, please remember that until you face up to the truth with the determination to do something about it, you can’t expect to turn the situation round in your favour.

  9. Great article Thank

    you so much!

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s