By: Yoni Mayer  | 

Wear a Kippah in the Workplace

The hours have been logged. The company laptops have been returned. The ten weeks are done and the summer internships have now officially come to an end. However, there were valuable lessons that I learned that I’ll be taking with me throughout my life. This summer, I reaffirmed and reinvigorated my belief that a Kippah should ALWAYS be worn in the workplace. 

In a paradoxical way, my summer in a secular, corporate American environment, enabled me to grow in my yiddishkeit—and it was all thanks to my Kippah. This little circular piece of knotted string (a Kippah srugah) was the beacon to my coworkers and also to myself that I was a proud Jew in the office. The Kippah wasn’t the introduction of my religion to my coworkers, but it’s what enabled me to so easily and practically maintain this aspect of my identity as the essence of who I am. 

My Kippah did this in a number of ways. The first is by being “bageled” on multiple occasions throughout the summer. “Bageling” is when, realizing that you’re Jewish, other Jews will come up to you and explain to you how they’re also Jewish and find common ground with you, whether it’s regarding halakhic observance, holiday rituals or general familial dynamics. This would happen to me a few times a week. Noticing my Kippah, someone would come up to me and say something along the lines of, “Oh, I love Israel. I did a Birthright trip there a few summers ago,” or “I went to a Pesach seder last year, and it was really great,” or my personal favorite, and the one I cherished responding to the most, “I tried keeping the Sabbath once, but it was too hard. I had to turn my phone on after an hour.” I loved these comments; I was their Jewish sounding board. I could hear about the Jewish experiences they’d had and I could explain my own connection to the parts of Judaism they described. I would explain the reasoning behind why I had to wake up extremely early to catch a minyan in the morning, or why my food had to be from specific restaurants and separate from theirs. I would explain how Shabbat wasn’t just a day of restrictions, but an opportunity to be with your friends and family; a day to disconnect from the world at large and focus on yourself, your relationship with G-d and your community. I was transported back to Shana Aleph, recalling the shiurim I had on the reasoning behind the mitzvot and different minhagim and learning to love Jewish law, in addition to observing it. In a way, I got to give a mini shiur to unaffiliated Jews. There is no better way to reaffirm one's beliefs and the reasons for those beliefs than by teaching them, and I was given the opportunity to do just that. 

The Kippah further grew my yiddishkeit by gently reminding me that there are values to which I adhere that might not be significant in the secular environment; most prominently my manner of speech and the conversations with which I would engage. There were workplace topics that I did not feel comfortable discussing, and words that I did not like that were used constantly. However, with the Kippah on my head and the constant reminder of a life led by values, it wasn’t hard for me to close myself off from certain topics and jargon. In fact, I felt proud to.

Lastly, and this might be the most important point, I don’t believe a layer of one's identity should be shed because he or she is in a foreign environment. Different environments are exactly when you latch onto the best and most important parts of your identity. If religion is one of those parts, why would you remove the most outward symbol of your religion? If that is so easily dropped, who can tell which other traits and beliefs will be dropped in the pursuit of corporate conformity? Your beliefs, opinions, values and character traits are what make you uniquely you! Moreover, I’ve found that people respect passion and authenticity. If you become chameleonic, is the real you friends with the coworker or is it the new persona you’ve created? Staying true to yourself and your values begins with the most important values in your life. Keeping the Kippah on your head reminds you that religion is at the top of the list. 

I understand that wearing a Kippah in the workplace might not always be as black and white as I purport it to be. Offices are complex social landscapes and people have legitimate reasons to refrain from wearing one. Jews perceive the Kippah as a risk because it inherently sets them apart regardless of intent; it is a form of separation and, understandably, in a competitive and sometimes unforgiving office environment, there’s a risk of putting an unnecessary target on your back by wearing a Kippah. However, the reason I share these ideas is not to denigrate those who choose not to wear a Kippah, but to motivate and legitimize the alternative route from firsthand experience and to share what worked for me. I grew as a Jew this summer because I chose to wear my Kippah and would love nothing more than for another Jew to use this article as inspiration and confirmation that it’s rewarding to do the same. 

So the company laptops have been returned, the hours have been logged and the summer internships have come to an end. But they didn’t feel like a separate part of my existence—a corporate Yoni, so to speak, separate from the Jewish undergraduate student who learns in the mornings, attends Yeshiva University and lives his life with Torah at the forefront of his mind. Rather, this summer matured my Jewish identity by instilling within me a deeper understanding of my own values.
There is often no better way to learn than to be challenged on your beliefs. Corporate America encouraged me to introspect and develop my yiddishkeit in ways I didn’t expect. My Kippah was the guiding light that constantly reminded me and my coworkers of the life I’m proud to lead.


Photo Caption: A man wearing his kippah

Photo Credit: Unsplash