First, a little background on the synagogue I attend, quoted, verbatim from the website:
In 1841… United Hebrew was founded, the first Jewish congregation west of the Mississippi and only the 20th in the entire country.
By 1870, after the construction of the first synagogue at Sixth Street between Locust and St. Charles, services were held on more traditional lines. But in 1870, a gradual swing to the Reform Movement began. By 1913 the wearing of yarmulkes was made optional.
I have a yarmulke (sometimes called a kipah, or a skullcap). It’s handcrafted, comes from Israel, and for those who are familiar with the different types, it’s Yemenite in design. I wear it whenever I’m in a synagogue’s sanctuary. That’s long been the line I draw for my own observance. At services in my synagogue I am never the only person wearing one, and I’ve even seen another Yemenite almost identical to my own. At the very least, I always know the Rabbis will be wearing one.
I knew going to the forum that it was scheduled to be held in the Youth Lounge, but I also knew from my friend that a sizable number of people had already RSVPd from her church, and I suspected the attendance would be much too large to be held there. I suspected it
would be moved to the sanctuary, so I brought my yarmulke. I was correct. I walked into the sanctuary with my friend, sat down, looked up at the bimah (similar to a pulpit), and saw my Rabbi, with a bare head.
Yarmulkes have been optional in my synagogue for 73 years. I won’t say I’ve never seen him without one, but it’s rare I see him outside of religious services. I looked around the sanctuary and found one other person wearing one. I felt strange for a few seconds, but then I shrugged it off.
Reform Judaism feels we have the ability to read and interpret the Torah individually, and accept or reject those rituals we find or don’t find meaningful. There was a swing towards rejection in my grandfather’s era, and there was a visible swing back in my generation. But I was unfortunately on the younger side of the attendees.
Thinking about my reaction, it occurs to me that appearances really make a difference to me. I enjoy wearing a yarmulke in services. I enjoy having a mezuzzah on my doorpost. I once saw an individual member of the congregation wearing a tallis, which resembles a long scarf with frayed edges. Though I was rather surprised to see this, I thought to myself that I would enjoy wearing it too, if others in the congregation did, but I wouldn’t want to be the only one. I’d probably enjoy wearing a yarmulke everywhere, except no one else in my family does, nor does anyone else in my synagogue. I could change synagogues. I can’t change families.