The Sore Thumb

The Sore Thumb

Imagine that they you are sitting in shul, minding your own business, when a kilt-wearing, bagpipe-bearing Scot enters the women’s section, and places himself and his bagpipes down in the seat right next to you.

OK. Now imagine something else.

Imagine you are a member of Baltimore’s Mt. Washington Swim Club. You are sunning yourself in your favorite bikini while your children are playing Shark in the pool when you notice a woman and a girl wearing what appear to be dresses made of bathing suit material. You watch the strange pair walk by, as does every other pair of eyes at the pool that afternoon.

Now tell me, which unexpected interloper is the sorer thumb here? Me and my daughter visiting my favorite childhood summer hang-out during our visit to my parents this week, or the shul-going Scot?

I’m not used to looking strange. I’m used to living in a city where my colorful headscarf and 3/4 sleeves and ankle-length skirt make me one of the crowd. In Israel I feel proud to look religious. In that scarf, sleeves, and skirt I feel like royalty, like a queen, like a daughter of God.

But that’s not how I feel when I visit my parents. When I’m here, I don’t enjoy looking like a frum Jew in a neighborhood where there are no other frum Jews. I wear a beret instead of my regular scarves around here. And even with that beret I feel as weird as that bagpipe-bearing Scot in your shul.

I had an interesting experience the other day, though, when my parents and I were waiting in the line for the train at the Baltimore Zoo.

I was standing there under the midday August sun in my too-embarrassed-to-wear-a-scarf blue beret and my long skirt and my long sleeves, feeling as sore-thumbish as I usually do here. And then I saw her…One of the most beautiful JewishMOMs I ever saw. She had lovely pale Jane Austen skin and sapphire blue eyes, and on top of her head she wore a dramatic poofy headscarf which was a swirling galaxy of silver and floral and ruby burgundy.

I watched that mom as she pushed her double jogging stroller onto the train, her head held high, until I lost sight of her.


Yesterday I asked my 11-year-old daughter Hallel whether any of the other children at the swimming pool have asked her about her “swimming dress.”

Hallel is a confident kid who swims like a dolphin, so on our daily visits to the pool, Hallel makes new friends quite instantly and then beats them at Shark.

I enjoy watching Hallel hanging out with her new American pool friends. Hallel is proud of where she comes from. She is proud to be a Jew. She looks so different from all the children around her, but I see that she doesn’t mind at all.

“Yes, all the kids like my swimming dress,” Hallel told me. “Three girls already told me that it’s so pretty that they also want to get one–just like mine.”

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  1. Psss: Those hot chicks in bikinis are too busy navel gazing to care what you are wearing. The ones who dress modern? Most are worried about who is looking at them. Think of your clothes as an invincibility shield.

  2. I am not one to like to stand out, but I always do anyway, no matter where I go, and especially on trips to the USA. Ever since my first son started wearing glasses at three months I’ve gotten used to people staring. So I decided to enjoy it instead of resent it or feel embarrassed. I am proud of my son and I know how adorable he his. In the USA, I feel like a beautiful, elegant Bat Melech in my headscarves, long skirts and below-the-elbow sleeves. A queen stands out in her surroundings too, doesn’t she?

  3. So weird that you guys say “In the USA, I’m PROUD to wear my headscarves”. It’s like the USA is all non-frum!! I grew up in MONSEY!! It’s as “Israel” as you can get here. Anyway, now I live in Seattle and most of the places I go to are Muslim infested. Most people don’t look twice at me, since almost everyone has their head covered. Once in awhile, someone looks at me strangely and says, “You’re not Muslim, are you? Well, what ARE you?!”

  4. Well, Chana Jenny, that beautiful Jewish Mom you saw was probably thinking the same thing about you …. and I bet Hashem sent her to you just so that you wouldn’t feel so alone, or awkward, and to show you that to Him, you looked just like her.

  5. In a place where people generally don’t wear hats/scarves to cover their hair, why not wear a wig?

    Scarves became popular in the 70’s with the baal teshuva movement and snoods were invented when I was newly married in the late 80’s. So yeah, if you’re gonna wear something unique to your insular community, it will look odd outside of it, even in another frum community.

    These two particular headcoverings, being new inventions, are not worn by women of other cultures. As for turbans, although they go way back in time, they have been men’s traditional head covering, not women’s, although they are worn by women in Chassidic communities nowadays.

    How about bringing back bonnets? 🙂

    I’m not a fan of snoods and scarves worn out of the house because I think that they, like housecoats, belong in the house with slippers, as opposed to berets which are meant to be worn outside.

    Frum women of yesteryear in Russia, Israel, the US often wore kerchiefs to cover their hair. I’ve seen them in photos. The bandannas of today are like those oldtime kerchiefs. Problem is that the bandannas/kerchiefs of today are often worn without covering much of the hair.

  6. I live in a a tiny Orthodox community on the West coast. I dress modestly, hair covered, and always wear my magen David on the outside and visible for the world to see. I want to remember who I’m representing and I want Him to notice my tznius in 100 degree weather. I want the world to know who I’m representing. I want to make sure the homeless person I give money to, or the crying woman I comfort at the Vet who just put her old dog down, knows I’m a Jew. I thank G-d I’m a Jew. It’s the best thing that ever happened to me. We should remember we work for the creator and we are his emissaries in this world.

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