The Badges We Wear

On my way to my second full day of Chaplain Pastoral Education (CPE), I realized I needed to get some gas. While pumping gas I was wearing my chaplain intern badge and my kippah, which made me think about the badges I wear and have worn in my life. It made me smile and think about how sometimes the more things change the more they stay the same.

As a chaplain I will wear a badge, and a beeper and a kippah. At times I will be on call, and will have to stay overnight at the hospital. I flashed back to another time in my life where I was required to wear and to do most of the same things listed above. In my twenties I was a military police investigator, I had a badge, and a beeper. At times I was required to be on call, I spent several nights sleeping at the police station but this time around I won’t have to carry a weapon; I think my kippah is a good replacement for a gun.

When I finished pumping I went into the Shell Gas Station. Inside the station there was Indian music playing in the background and the cashier was of Indian descent with a very thick Indian accent

She said to me, pointing at the top of her head “How do you keep that on your head.” I smiled, it was refreshing to hear that type of question, instead of the others I usually here. I told her I had clips which helped to keep in place. She said again pointing to her head “What if you have no hair. How does it stay in place. The men come in here all the time, they have no hair and I wonder, how does it stay on their head?” I told her I didn’t know and that it just stays on. As we parted she again pointed to her head and told me that she liked mine, referring to my favorite watermelon Kippah.

As I start this journey of my rabbinic formation it’s fitting that this week’s Torah portion contains the priestly blessing. A blessing for well being, sustenance and peace

May God bless you and keep you. May God smile upon you and be gracious with you. May God look with favor upon you and give you peace (Numbers 6:24-26)

Encounter with a Thin but Very Fit Bearded Man

I just finished my first day as a Chaplain Pastoral Education student, which included an all day orientation. After a long day of sitting and being oriented to Holy Redeemer hospital I found myself quite thirsty so on my way home I stopped and walked into a local grocery store, as I was walking I was feeling quite professional, I was wearing my brand new Chaplain badge and a kippah (yalmukah). While in the store a thin but fit bearded man in Jeans and a baseball cap came up to me from behind. I turn and he says with an accent that I now hear as southern I could easily replace his sneakers with cowboy boots, “Are you Jewish” I turn to face him square on and reply with a confident “yes” thinking to myself it should be obvious with the Kippah. Then he says  “Do you go to a synagogue around here?” To which I replied “No I go to a school around here, it’s the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College” He then says “Do you speak Hebrew?” I say to him “modern skills are not that great, I’m more of a text person” Now after all of this I could feel that he got his questions answered and begins his exit and prepares to walk off off as if that’s the end of the conversation and I say to him “Well, what about you…” He looks at me very puzzled as if I am not allowed to ask him any questions, “…Are you looking for a shul to go to around here he says with a very clear “No, I go to Young Israel have you heard of it?” I say “Yes…is it Modern Orthodox” And he says “no, it’s Orthodox.” And that was the end of my encounter with Thin Orthodox man. On the scale of things I’ve had worse conversations with Jews who feel entitled to ask questions but this one was interesting. Maybe because I am now feeling more comfortable in my rabbi skin, or maybe because this man felt very comfortable walking up to me; a stranger, a female and asking me a bunch of questions and he seemed confused when I then turned around and asked him a question but I guess I should be happy you didn’t question my Jewish identity.