For the last nine and a half years, I’ve been trying my hardest to be an ISRAELI. I’ve been hampered in my quest to be an ISRAELI by a couple of major drawbacks: it took me three years before I even had a chance of understanding what my kids’ teachers were telling me at the PTA (Even now, I mostly just smile and nod…)

And secondly (and this one I’ve only just realised) – I’m actually not an Israeli.

How can I be? My formative years were spent in London and Canada, and until I was 16 we weren’t doing anything very ‘Jewish’ at home. I went to a non-Jewish school, and I obsessed over all the things my non-Jewish friends obsessed over: George Michael, clothes and Back to the Future.

It’s not very spiritual, is it? It’s not very Jewish. It’s not very ISRAELI.

And for the first twenty years of my life, that’s what I had hard-wired into to my soul: British non-Jewish culture, with all its sarcastic humour, beer and obsession with pies.

I’d taken a lot of the more obvious rough edges off in London, before I made aliya. We were keeping kosher, keeping Shabbat, learning Torah, hanging out with Jews.

So in my head, I thought I’d step off the plane at Ben Gurion, pick up Hebrew in two weeks, and then have a bunch of cool sabra friends called Ilanit and Roni to hang out with.

But that’s not exactly what happened.

We landed in a very ‘anglo’ neighbourhood, and quickly outgrew it. I wanted real Israel; I didn’t move to Israel just for my kids to feel like expat Brits. So we moved to an ISRAELI settlement across the Green Line, and I tried my darndest to fit in.

Three years’ later, my kids spoke Hebrew really nicely, and their friends were all Israeli, which I thought was so cool, until they started beating my children up on the way to school.

I don’t know how a real ISRAELI would have reacted, but I reacted by getting the heck out of there, and moving to a place that was a bit more civilised (read: socially repressed) and anglo.

For the first year, it was heaven. Then all the things that I don’t like very much about anglo culture resurfaced: the competition to be seen as a ‘success’; the clique-yness; the obsession with big houses and nice holidays.

This was in my super-duper-trying-to-be-frum-like-people-in-meah-shearim period, when I felt bad about doing anything more gashmius than buying a chicken leg for shabbos.

A whole bunch of things happened over the next three years, and to cut a long story short, we ended up in Jerusalem, very close to Meah Shearim, six short (but very long…) months ago.

Moving to Jerusalem sparked off a whole big identity crisis for me. I realised that I actually didn’t want to be chareidi; I realised that I actually didn’t want to be poor; I realised that making a good kugel was just not spiritually satisfying, however hard I tried.

And the last thing I realised, just last week, in the middle of the Shlomo Katz Chanuka concert, is that I actually don’t want to be ISRAELI any more. It’s not that any of these things are intrinsically bad, G-d forbid. They’re just not me.

This week, I paid my first visit to the Jerusalem Gap for about three years, and I picked up a new coat with fake fur on the hood. It looks so ‘anglo-in-Israel’ – and I love it.

I don’t know what all this means. What I can tell you, is that as I’m reclaiming all these parts of myself that I’ve been embarrassed or ashamed of, I’m feeling so much happier and settled and healthy.

No more beating myself up for liking beans on toast; no more disdaining myself for actually really liking that nice grey jumper in Zara; no more feeling like a worm, because I’m enjoying listening to music in English for a change (by the Maccabeats…)

I know it was all well-meaning, and spiritually-striving of me to try to be a holy Meah Shearim-type balabusta, but the big drawback was that it’s not me. I nearly killed myself trying to fit into those boxes, but G-d has been showing me time and again that I have a different way of trying to build the world, and to get closer to Him, and it entails going through Gap on the way to the Kotel.

What can I do? I know G-d wants me to serve Him happily, as me. And now that I’ve got my fake fur trim coat, I feel I’ve taken a giant step towards giving Him what He really wants from me: to be me, even with all my imperfections.

Around five years’ ago, I had a very stressful period of time, when we were living in a settlement across the Green Line, and my daughter was getting bullied at school, and then getting pretty sick, as a result of the bullying.

It was the time when Arabs were going beserk in Jerusalem with bulldozers, and I can’t tell you how many Arabs in bulldozers were driving around my settlement at that time, building houses.

I’d always had a big ‘scared’ streak, but my fear kept going up and up and up, to the point that I was scared to death of letting my children out of the house, in case they went near an Arab with a bulldozer.

But what really pushed me over the edge, fear-wise, is when my settlement got hit by a spate of burglaries. We all knew it was Arabs; we all secretly worried that if Arabs could break in to steal stuff, they could also break in to do other terrible things, G-d forbid.

Nearly all the burglaries happened on my street. Literally, every few days, we’d hear of some other house being hit, and even though I’d never used Arabs – not even Jihad, the pro-aliya plumber – and I had bars on the windows, I was freaking out.

Long story short, we decided to move, and G-d did a miracle for us and got us out of there within a month of us making the decision to leave. By the time we left, only two houses plus ours hadn’t been burgled, and the whole street was on edge, whether they admitted it or not.

The whole time my fear buttons had been pressed, I was on super-high alert, but generally healthy (not counting the nervous breakdown). When I got to the nice, quiet, civilised new place where I was going to live, I got hit with a number of health issues that I’d never had before.

I was completely exhausted, unable to stay up past 8pm. But I was also waking up a lot in the night, usually with a very dry mouth that wouldn’t go away no matter how much water I drank.

As my energy continued to wane, and other weird symptoms started to flourish, I went to a few alternative health experts to get some advice and help. One told me I had parasites (she was right, I did). One told me I had candida (right again). Another told me I had to start eating much better (ie, lettuce and whole grains). They were all right, and it all helped me feel better.

But I still wasn’t 100%.

One of my friends at the time, a nurse, mentioned that she thought maybe I had adrenal exhaustion. I went to look that up on the internet (which is such a bad idea, but we still feel compelled to do it) and according to everything I read, the only answer for exhausted adrenals was to lie in bed for weeks or months until they got some juice back.

I took it easy for a year (I had no choice) – and I ate healthy and took all the disgusting super-bitter grapefruit extract to kill off all the parasites etc, and finally, I started to feel better.

I’ve just come through another crazy time in my life, and again, I was noticing my mouth was starting to feel pretty dry when I woke up in the morning. Lucky for me, this time round G-d arranged for me to be doing a Women’s Energy Medicine module, and guess what they were talking about: exhausted and burnt-out adrenals.

Apparently, having a dry mouth is one of the warning signs that your adrenals are frying out.

But this time round, I learnt that there are things you can do to recuperate much faster, and get the energy flowing back into exhausted adrenals.

Adrenals are governed by – you guessed it – Triple Warmer meridian, which is a Fire element meridian, according to Chinese 5 element theory. It’s co-meridians on Fire are Heart, Small Intestine and Circulation-X (there should be an ‘se’ before that x, but I so don’t want that word to get picked up by web-bots).

Using the relevant acupressure points, if you strengthen heart; sedate and then strengthen circ-x; and sedate and strengthen TW, you can get your adrenals going again in a matter of days, not weeks.

I’ve been following their advice for a whole DAY, so I’ll let you know what happens. But one thing I can tell you is that my mouth already feels a whole lot less dry, which is a good start. And it certainly beats lying in bed for the next 8 months when I’ve got a book to write…

A few years’ ago, we moved house a month before hayfever season, to a new neighbourhood in Israel. A few weeks’ later, my eldest daughter woke up wheezing and struggling to breathe. We panicked, and like all good, responsible parents, we rushed her off to the emergency clinic (where else?). A couple of hours’ later, she came back with a whole breathing machine, a face mask, a few packets of various drugs, and an official diagnosis of ‘asthma’.

The doctor who diagnosed her was a genuinely caring, sweet, lovely religious man, which only underscores some of the enormous problems with modern medicine, because he was clearly trying to help us, and my daughter.

Yet no-one told us that asthma is often connected to stress, or emotional issues. No-one suggested that maybe, the asthma wasn’t even really asthma, and maybe was just an allergic hayfever reaction, given the time of year (my daughter already had multiple food allergies, at that point).

We were just given a very fast diagnosis, a blue and a brown inhaler, and at the tender age of 6, my daughter turned into an ‘asthmatic’ overnight.

My daughter is very sensitive. Now she knew she was officially an ‘asthmatic’ with breathing problems, her stress shot through the roof, and her asthma worsened accordingly. She got stressed when she thought about exercising with asthma; stressed about school outings with asthma; stressed about doing exams with asthma – and as soon as she got stressed, on cue, the asthma would appear.

In all the years I’ve been refilling the prescription for the Ventolin, not one doctor ever explained to me that the same inhaler that was helping my daughter to breathe better in the middle of a crisis was actually also worsening the fundamental problem. It’s scientifically proven that the more you use inhalers, the more asthma attacks you get. Why didn’t anyone tell me that?

Why didn’t anyone mention that people have died from over-using certain brands of asthma inhalers? I had no idea that inhalers were even remotely dangerous until a year ago when my daughter came back from a school trip with blue lips, and severe breathing issues, from using her puff 8 times in a row.

That’s when I started to really research this amazing, safe, solution to my daughters’ asthma, and I was shocked to see all the potential issues, side-effects and long-term problems associated with using inhalers (some of which have already been withdrawn from the market, as the stats on deaths from using ‘beta agonists’ are starting to stack up).

For example, a lot of the ‘regular’ (ie, not considered to be serious) side affects from inhalers show up in tachycardia, heart palpitations and tremors.

Three years’ after my daughter’s ‘asthma’ diagnosis, she went through a very stressful time in school, and was using her puff 4-5 times a day (well within prescribed limits). Within a couple of weeks of that episode, she was at the doctor with a bad case of flu when he listened to her heart, and told me I should go and take her for an EKG…

Baruch Hashem, nothing came of that. But only recently did I realise that what was causing the ‘heart problem’, whatever it was, was her asthma inhaler. How come the doctor didn’t make that connection?

Last year, we started to make a concerted effort to get her off the puff, and thank G-d, her use is now way, way down. All this happened before I learnt energy medicine, so it took a lot of praying, a lot of essential oils and Su Jok, and a lot of massage – in that order.

We still have the inhaler (I got given four on my last visit to the doctor…) – but it’s strictly for emergencies, now that we know that it’s actually a dangerous drug. But as I said, the less we’re using the puff, the less asthma my daughter actually has – and life’s still been pretty stressful.

With hindsight, I don’t think she had asthma in the first place. I think she had severe hayfever (she gets hayfever every year). By being so quick to diagnose asthma, that kind, caring doctor set my daughter on a path where she was scared to exercise (exacerbating the problem…); stressed about being away from her puff (exacerbating the problem…); and starting to get unexplained heart palpitations from her prescription medicine (exacerbating the problem…)

There has to be a better way, don’t you think?

What’s the Jewish hat name, and other questions

It might surprise you to know that the most popular search time involving Jews (besides Israel) is: Jewish hat name. Every single month, around 5,000 people are wondering to themselves, “what do Jews wear on their head” and “what’s that hat, that Jewish wear?”

(It might surprise you to know this, too, but hardly anyone on the web is searching for ‘Jews’. Nearly everyone is searching for ‘Jewish’, which kinda explains why traffic from search engines has been so puny, the last four years.)

So, I decided to do a post devoted to answering the question of: “What’s the Jewish hat name”, and other related questions – all phrased the same way people are searching for them on Google, so that hopefully more people will find the answers to their questions about “what do Jews wear on their head?”

Q: What’s the Jewish hat name?

A: The Jewish hat name will vary depending on what country and what community you’re in. In the US, UK and other English speaking countries with a large population of chareidi or Chassidic Jews, the hat will be called a yarmulke, which often sounds as though it’s pronounced ‘yamaka’.

So, when people want to know: how do you spell yamaka? – the answer is, you don’t spell it how it sounds.

But there’s another Jewish hat name that’s very common too, and that’s the kippah. Most of the Hebrew-speaking Jews in Israel will refer to their Jewish hat as a kippah, not a yarmulke.

Q: Kippah vs yamaka – what’s the difference?

A: While in theory, any beanie-type Jewish hat could be called either a kippah or a yamaka, in practice, there are certain types of Jewish hat that are only called by one term, or the other. For example, in Israel, there is a type of crocheted kippah that’s usually very colorful, and which can range in size from teeny-weeny, to ear-covering huge.

The smallest knitted kippah I ever saw was on the head of a teenager who was clearly making a point to his parents, and it was the size of a quarter. This type of knitted kippah is almost never called a yarmulke, as yarmulke is a term commonly used by Jews outside of Israel, and most Jews outside of Israel don’t wear a knitted kippah.

There’s many reasons for this, but a big one is that many Jews don’t feel so comfortable wearing a big, flamboyant, colorful kippah that’s going to instantly mark them out as Jews, in a world where violent anti-semitism is on the rise.

So usually, a Jew who is wearing a kippah in public outside of Israel will wear one that is black, and less immediately obvious. And the types of communities who are ‘religious’ enough to wear a kippah full-time tend to refer to it as a yarmulke.

Q: Why do Jews wear hats?

A: Jewish men cover their heads as sign of respect to God, and as a way of acknowledging God’s omnipresence in the world. Even a not-observant Jew will usually cover their head when they attend services at a synagogue, or for other Jewish life cycle events like a wedding, funeral or Passover Seder.

In Israel, many Jewish men who otherwise don’t wear a kippah or hat will cover their head in some way whenever they are reciting a bracha, or blessing, usually on food or drink. Often, you can see some very creative ways of Jews covering their heads in this way, with napkins, tablecloths, and even their own hands being pressed into service.

A more religiously observant Jew will cover their head 24/7, because they are more aware of God’s presence in the world, and are trying to respect it, and stay connected to it, throughout all their mundane actions throughout the day.

Another less happy reason why a Jew will wear a hat, specifically, as opposed to a kippah or yarmulke, especially outside of Israel, is to try to ‘blend in’ a bit more, while still covering their heads. In recent years, the Chief Rabbi of France put out a message telling French Jews that it was preferable for them to cover their heads with a baseball cap, or some sort of other generic head gear, in public, to avoid being singled out by anti-Semites. That same message is being heard in Jewish communities throughout Europe, including Belgium and Germany.

In the UK, where I’m originally from, most Jews are usually relatively comfortable wearing an obviously Jewish kippah or yarmulke in areas with a high population of visible Jews, like Golders Green, Stamford Hill or Broughton Park. But when they go into areas with fewer Jews where a man in a little Jewish hat will stand out a mile, they will often also tend to plump for a baseball hat instead.

Q: What’s the Hasidic Jew hat called?

A: There are many different answers to this question. If you’re referring to a round, furry disk of hair that can sometimes rise up to a foot tall (!), this is called a shtreimel. This type of hat is typically worn by Hasidim on Jewish holidays, and the Jewish Sabbath, or Shabbat, as a mark of respect.

Orthodox Jews typically wear their finest clothes on Shabbat and Jewish holidays, and as shtreimels are usually very expensive to buy, they are kept for the special occasions.

Then, there’s the black fedora type hat that other observant Jews tend to wear, also throughout the week and also on Shabbat. Depending on which group of religious Jews you belong to, the style of the hat will vary. For example, Chabad Hasidim typically wear a type of black hat called a fedora with a more pinched look at the front, and a down-turned brim.

While people who belong to what’s called the more yeshivish crowd (after a yeshiva, the place where Jewish men learn Torah), will tend to wear a Borsalino style with the brim up.

Again, this changes depending on the community and country you’re looking at. One thing to note is that while you will see a lot of shtreimels even in Israel, you tend to see far fewer black hats, outside of certain enclaves. That could be because Jews in Israel feel much more comfortable wearing their little Jewish hats in public here, so they don’t need a different type of hat to cover up their kippahs or yamakas.

Q: Why do orthodox women wear wigs?

A: There is a commandment, or mitzvah, that once a Jewish women marries, she should cover her hair. There are a few different reasons given for this commandment. (Go HERE for a more in-depth discussion of this subject.)

The first reason is that hair is very attractive to other men, so when a Jewish woman covers her hair and keeps it only for her husband’s eyes, she is sending a very powerful message to other men that she is unavailable.

There are also kabbalistic reasons for covering hair, that have to do with bringing more spiritual bounty and blessings down into the Jewish home. The Jewish tradition is full of stories which clearly depict how the effort a married Jewish woman makes to cover her hair brings her all sorts of blessings in the home, including successful children and increased parnassah¸ or the ability to make a living.

Now, in terms of why do orthodox women wear wigs, specifically, we hit a big disagreement within the orthodox Jewish community itself.

The late Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, z’tl, was a very big fan of orthodox Jewish women covering their hair with wigs, and that’s why you see so many Chabad ladies wearing wigs, even today.

On the other side of the debate are a number of big rabbis, including many Sephardic Rabbis, who have a very strong tradition that married women should only cover their hair with a hat or scarf, and not with wigs.

The issue is still being hotly debated, and each orthodox community has its own guidelines and mores. In practice, many orthodox women outside of Israel will choose to cover their hair with a wig over a hat or scarf simply to avoid drawing unnecessary attention to themselves.

For example, when I was coming through Manchester airport a little while ago, because I was covering my hair with a hat, as opposed to a wig, I was called over by the security staff, and taken off to a little booth on the side where I was asked to take my hat off, so they could check it.

Man, my hair was a fright show… And that whole experience is not exactly fun, so many orthodox Jewish women in those types of situation will just prefer to wear a wig, and to blend in. Also at work, it’s often just easier to wear a wig, to avoid any awkward situations or potential discrimination.

In Israel, far, far fewer women wear wigs, and most of the married women who choose to cover their hair do so with headscarves, in all sorts of shapes and sizes.

Again, I could write a whole book on the topic of “Jewish head covering female”, but I hope this gives you the main idea.

  • If you have any other questions about Jewish hat names, or other aspects of Jewish life, please leave me a comment, and I will do my best to answer your questions. You might also want to check out the Judaism 101 category, for other articles exploring basic Jewish concepts.