What Happened When my 3-Year-Old Wore his Kippah in Germany

What Happened When my 3-Year-Old Wore his Kippah in Germany

Following his first haircut a year ago, Yaakov wore his kippah every single day to gan and pretty much everywhere. He was a big boy, like his Abba and his older brother, and he was proud.

But this summer, during our visits with non-religious and non-Jewish family members in the US and Canada, Yaakov pretty much forgot about kippahs. In Baltimore he insisted on wearing his new Mickey Mouse baseball cap instead (sometimes with a kippah underneath, sometimes without), but by the time we reached Canada, Yaakov just walked around the cottage and lake and woods bareheaded.

And then, a funny thing happened on our flight back to Israel. For various reasons, we Weisbergs returned to Israel on 4 different flights, and I was travelling alone with baby Yonatan, Yaakov, and 11-year-old Moriah.

During our stopover in Frankfurt, I was poking through my purse when I noticed Yaakov’s forgotten kippah in a side pocket. I thought of placing it on his head, but considering the news reports about antisemitic incidents throughout Europe, instead of placing it on his head, I pushed it deeper inside my purse instead.

And then, mysteriously, for the first time since we left Israel, Yaakov said, “Eema, I want to wear my kippah!”

I hesitated for a moment. Should I try to talk him out of it? Then again, this is Germany, not France. We are inside the airport, everyone there had passed through security. A kippah at Frankfurt airport is unusual, but not dangerous, I reasoned.

So I took out the kippah, and placed it on Yaakov’s clueless head.

Over the next few hours, people representing a multitude of religions and nationalities walked by us, and every single one, I realized, looked at Yaakov and thought, “That is a Jewish child.”

Some of them thought “That is a Jewish child” with fondness.

Some of them thought “That is a Jewish child” with hatred.

Some of them thought “That is a Jewish child” with joy, that 70 years after the Shoah there is a Jewish child wearing a kippah in Germany.

Some of them thought “That is a Jewish child” with disgust, that 70 years ago Hitler didn’t finish the job.

But each person who saw Yaakov, I realized, saw he was a Jew. And that meant something to them.

What a heavy burden on the shoulders (or, in this case, the head) of my three-year-old boy, completely unaware that his kippah carries within it 3 millenia of history and heroism, peoplehood and Divine connection. 3 millenia, as well, of stereotypes and pain, persecution and attempted genocide. And through it all, supernatural tenacity and belief.

I once read about a Rebbe who wondered during the Holocaust if even a single Jew would survive the flames of Europe.

And walking with Yaakov through the Frankfurt airport, I felt so proud, so intensely proud, to be the mother of this single Jew. My Yaakov.

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16 comments

  1. Im guessing you looked pretty jewish too 😉
    For a frum boy i thought wearing a yarmulka all the time is just a normal fact not an option and therefore not something they make a fuss over so im surprised that you let him run around without one 😳

    • JewishMom

      I can hear what you’re saying, but I figure he’s only three, he didn’t want to wear his kippah, so i didn’t force him. I learned from my parenting teacher (based on the book Ohel Rachel v’Leah by Rabbi Shlanger} that until bar mitzvah our main parenting goal is to get our kids to LOVE the mitzvot, not to necessarily keep every mitzvah.

      • Chana Jenny, that sentence of yours regarding getting children to love mitzvot and not necessarily to keep all mitzvot before BM age rang so true for me. It has made me want to take a look at the book you mention…

        • JewishMom

          I think the book is quite widely available, only in Hebrew. I studied it for several years with rabbanit talia helfer

  2. What’s so interesting is that just as you pushed it deeper into your bag, he asked for it.

    Love the essay. Thank you.

  3. I want to be just as Yaakov is. I want to be me. I want to be brave and courageous. HaShem is my Keeper. He will watch over me wherever I go. Even when I walk among hostile people, I will not fear, for He is with me.

  4. Rachel F

    Giving me chills. What a tremendous responsibility!

  5. Beautiful! Recognize every single emotion you describe in this piece! Gut shabbes from Belgium

  6. Hadassah

    Interesting – my father (he should rest n peace) who had experienced some antisemitism growing up in Brooklyn in the 30’s and 40’s always wanted my brothers to wear baseball caps in public. Not having experienced any myself, I was never worried about my boys as they grew up – in various locations in California. The world seems more dangerous now.. not that I disguise my appearance but I can feel your fear. May Hashem protect your son and all Jews everywhere! Yes, B”H Hitler did not succeed – and we are here to show Am Yisroel Chai!

  7. I hear what you are saying about getting kids to love the mitzvos. Still, there is also the concept of kabolas ol, and by bar mitzva age its a bit late to start with kabolas ol when they are trying to become increasingly independent. Its part of why the Lubavitcher Rebbe started Tzivos Hashem because kids are raised with so much less obedience to “authority”. As with most things in life its not only chesses or only gevurah. If you only use chessed you are cutting off a part of creation- gevurah. For example my friend’s mother didnt make her sister wear skirts when she was a girl and now when she is older the sister doesnt want to and its too late insist on it.
    Im just trying to help, its great to show beauty of mitzvos, there are the chagim, shabbos etc etc. but to never insist on anything is not really a great path to take.

    • I once heard a Rabbi/educator say that when children are small, don’t make a big deal out of issues that they will do anywhay when they get older.
      There is no doubt that Yaakov will be wearing a kippah when he goes to school, and he will probably never want to take it off. So it’s counter-productive to try and get him to wear it when he’s a 3 year old on vacation.

  8. Ayalah Haas

    Chana Jenny, this is a lovely piece. May he (and all Jewish children) always make choices that give HaShem nachas.

  9. Em your words are irrelevant, Jenny is a rebbetzin and our great coach, and this beautiful -as always-text of hers just show her tremendous piety, emuna and love of Hashem and her family and am Israël ! Thank you chana ans welcome back home

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