Kiddush HaShem in the Mosh Pit
As I took the A train from 181st Street to Washington Square on a Thursday night in March, I was faced with a decision. Traveling to a rock show in a smaller venue called Le Poisson Rouge, I was deciding whether I wanted to wear my kippa or not. Usually, at smaller post-hardcore/punk shows, I would wear a hat in place of my head covering, but this time I found it difficult to bring myself to put on the hat once again. Over the past year, I have formulated a special relationship with my kippa.
Last summer, while most of my friends were working in camps or shuls, I opted to work in retail to make an impact through the people that I helped. I made it my mission to make a Kiddush HaShem through my work and helping my coworkers and customers. I define Kiddush HaShem as people seeing you do an act and in turn thinking highly of the Jewish people because of the act. During my time working in retail, I would go beyond what was expected of me in front of coworkers and customers. I would spend an extra minute helping customers, be overly honest about payroll and time my breaks prudently so that the people around me would have an immensely positive experience with a religious Jew.
When I started studying at YU, I took advantage of the music culture within New York City and started going to smaller concerts. While going to these concerts, I felt the urge to hide my kippa and just don a simple hat. I had a hard time coming up with the exact reasoning for my decision. I did not feel unsafe and I did not think these shows were in violation of halacha. What it really came down to was my desire to fit in and not stand out. I did not want anyone to look at me and see someone different. There was no shame involved, rather I felt as if I was outside the group. I have come to know a prevalent theme in some of my circles where students will go out and try to not overtly wear Jewish identification.
On the train down to Washington Square I started thinking about the show I was going to, the history of the genre and why I enjoyed wearing my kippa in the first place. The post-hardcore/punk scene was born out of people who did not want to fit in and were proud of it. The punk community is based on kindness, uniqueness, inclusivity and individuality. Everyone I take to a show notices one thing: no matter how hard people dance, if someone falls down everyone stops and picks that person up and people carry on. We are all the same as in we are all there to listen to the music no matter who we are. Pirkei Avot asks the question “Who is wise?” and the famous answer is “One who learns from all people.” Instead of living in my own head and my own ideas, I should take an important lesson from the people around me. The value of inclusivity and encouragement of difference is exactly the reason I should wear my kippa.
I then started thinking about why I started to be so passionate about my kippa in the first place. I wanted to give a good name to the Jewish people wherever I was. It is not my decision when I should be “on” or “off.” I really enjoyed making a Kiddush HaShem while wearing my kippa, and so I started thinking, “Why is this any different?” I went to the show with my kippa and I started making the most out of the concert. I started to make sure the people around me were safe, I let some shorter people stand in front of me so they could see better, and I started being a more positive person in the crowd. I had a better time at that concert than I ever could if I just wore my hat.
I did not write this article to shame or guilt people to wear their kippa; that is the last thing I want to do. I also did not write this article to pressure people to take pride in who they are because I assume most of the people reading this have some level of Jewish pride.
I wrote this to remind everyone that there is always something to learn from any group of people no matter what binds them together. I also wrote this to eliminate any preconceived notions about the punk scene and just because they might dress in all black or have a tattoo, does not mean they cannot be kind or friendly. We, as a community who knows the harshness of being judged for exterior differences, should understand that it is not the kippa or tattoo that makes a man; it is the man that makes himself. Most importantly, I wrote this because sometimes people forget their past values and ideas when confronted with a tough situation. People can think of their life as one separate issue after another, as if there is no progression or collection of ideas. We are all growing people who can harness past experiences for our future. I thought of my time working in retail and my time as an audience member in shows to be two separate worlds and two parts of my life. I was able to change my perspective and appreciate that my past events were able to shape and give purpose to my future as a music lover and as a Jew.
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Photo Caption: Bayside’s show at Le Poisson Rouge on March 9, 2023
Photo Credit: Moshe Epstein