Friday, November 8, 2013

Yarmulke Tales!

If you've ever seen me in person, you know that I wear a yarmulke on my head. Here's how that's impacted my life, lately:

  • One of my 4th Graders pulled on my arm during dismissal. I looked down. "Mr. Pershan! Mr. Pershan!" She pushes a tiny girl in front of me, and there's pen doodles all over her hands and face. "This is Sarah. She's not Orthodox, but she's Jewish. And she's really weird."
  • During lunch duty, some kid who I don't know wished me "Shabbat Shalom!" on his way out of lunch.
  • A bum threw a penny at me on the subway.
  • A 2nd Grader who I don't know (standing in line, waiting to get into the music room) asked me why I was wearing a yarmulke on my head. I shrugged. He said, "It's because you're Jewish!" Bingo!
  • A 3rd Grader who I teach ran up to me before class. "I KNOW WHAT YOU BELIEVE" he said as he pointed and grinned at me. I asked him what he meant. "I KNOW WHAT THE THING ON YOUR HEAD IS!!!!!"
OK, and this last story is from the beginning of the school year. I had to miss a day for a Jewish holiday (Sukkot) and I told my 4th Graders that they could expect a sub the next day. This was on the second week of school, so I told them that I was a religious Jew and that the thing on my head, etc. Then I told them if they ever wanted to ask me questions about it that they should totally feel free to. 

Yeah, of course they had some questions. "Do you always wear it?" "Do you wear it when you shower?" "What happens if you take it off?" "Is it something that gets passed down from generation to generation in your family and it's actually really old?" (No.)

I had been teaching at a Jewish school for the past three years, so none of this ever happened. It's weird, but pretty adorable.


  1. Love these stories, Michael. I often get this kind of thing at the beginning of the year. I'm absent for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, but I wear a mala on my wrist. Some kids always ask, How can you be Jewish AND a Buddhist? I always shrug and tell them, You'd have to ask my mother. :)

    - Elizabeth (@cheesemonkeysf)

  2. I love the questions kids ask--and the comments they make. My high school students probably have the same questions, or at least similar ones, but they would probably never ask them of someone wearing a yarmulke...and for whatever reason we don't have anyone in our school who does, though we do have a fair amount of Jewish students. Hadn't really thought about that much. We do say "Shabbat shalom" every Friday at the close of morning meeting though.

    1. Yeah, not a word out of any of my high school students about that weird thing on my head.

      If we wanted to take this all a little bit too seriously we could be concerned that my high school kids haven't commented on it. It's part of a larger trend: kids often learn to navigate diversity by making diversity invisible. They'll say thing like "I'm colorblind" or "Everybody's pretty much the same." This means that they're unable to talk about and recognize legitimate differences in the lives that people lead. But recognizing these differences is a prereq for recognizing that differences matter, and one way or another, they do.