Twenty-four years ago I had a dream that Rabbi Zari Weiss, my beloved rabbi at the time, offered me several kippot to try on. I didn’t remember much more about the dream, but when I woke up I was happy. I knew my life was over as I knew it and my head would be covered from then on. Not just when I ate, or studied, or prayed, but every day. On the BART. As a chaplain where I visited patients and families in the hospitals from all religions and no religions. Sometimes there is a knowing, just a knowing, and that’s it. There is no why, or a dissertation on the halachah (Jewish law) of women wearing kippot, or what it symbolizes. There is no waiting until I earned the privilege by being a ‘good enough Jew’. There is only a complete knowing. Listening to this knowing is the heart of my spiritual life. And when it happens it takes my breath away. I cannot turn away even when I know it will change, complicate, and question my life.
After the dream there was also the knowing it might be “distracting” to some, or “awkward” or even “offend” someone for me to wear a kippa in public, or in synagogues where women don’t normally wear one. There was the knowing it also would open hearts and conversations. And even for some, I knew it would feel like they had been wrapped in a blanket when I approached. None of this stopped me or encouraged me, because I had been invited by a source beyond my understanding to cover my head, to connect to our people and our traditions in this way. Ever since I began this practice, I have felt the Shechinah with me. And even now, when I can’t feel her, I feel the yearning for her and know she is close by waiting for me.
This practice keeps me from yelling at people on the street, or going into a bank on Shabbat. I don’t take off my kippa, I just don’t go into the bank, and I try not to yell. Wearing a kippa reminds me to pray, it helps me hear the voices of the ancestors, and it offers joy. It is comforting. It makes me proud to be part of our people, even when things may feel “awkward”.
There was a moment in a patient’s room when I was rejected as a spiritual care provider because I was visibly Jewish. They didn’t want my spiritual care because I was not a “believer”. I was disappointed because I knew that if they gave me a chance, I had the neshama (soul) to accompany them with grace and love. Yet I also related to them wanting someone to walk with them who they didn’t have to explain their spiritual life to. I respected that a great deal. As I was about to leave, they asked me for my scarf. That’s what they wanted. My beautiful purple scarf. In a complicated response of, “See, I’m a good Jew and you are missing out” mixed with compassion and generosity, I took the scarf from my neck and gave it to them. I left the room and cried. For my desire to prove that Jews are good and worthy. For my sadness that they couldn’t feel comforted by me. For segregation among humans that creates boundaries. For being attached. Yet, my kippah did not come off. The “knowing” that this is my practice includes the knowing of facing all that comes with it. The ways I will connect with others more because of it, and the ways it will be uncomfortable at times. And the ways it will keep me from acting like a fool.
This knowing has always guided my life as I deepened into Jewish practice. I remember the days when I studied and studied the laws of Kashrut (Kosher) and still fought the practice, even through rabbinical school. Then one day I just knew it was what I needed to do. There was no why or how, just a knowing. Just as now, I know that if I stop covering my head or start to eat treyf, or milk and meat together, I will no longer be anchored to my tradition. I will know that my tether is way too long and is about to break. Maybe it will already have been broken.
These experiences of knowing have helped me expand my concepts of God. Sometimes God is what shows up in a dream, or in a surprise, or the knowing that is beyond the rational. I give thanks for having the ability to listen and to act.
What practices do you just “know” you have to do? How have they guided your life?
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