My name is Glyn; I’m 46 years old and have lived in London since 2004, having moving here from the delights of rural mid Wales. I’m an agnostic (originally from a Christian background), but for much of the time, I wear a kippah (which some of you may know as a yarmulke or skull-cap). This may strike you as somewhat odd – and perhaps it is! – but there is a clear rationale behind my decision.
My partner David is Orthodox Jewish and, as is common amongst Orthodox Jewish men, he wears a kippah. However, he is reluctant to display his kippah in public because David – like many other Jewish people – has been subjected to antisemitism, simply because of his identity. During his childhood, he was rebuked for wearing his kippah publicly as it “drew attention” to himself. He now wears the kippah at all times (bed and bathing excluded!) but keeps it hidden under a hat.
Recent news reports confirm David’s concerns, indicating that due to rising levels of antisemitism across Europe (and further afield), increasing numbers of Jewish people are reluctant to publicly disclose this part of their identity. As a gay man who spent far too long “in the closet”, I understand all too clearly how pernicious and stressful hiding one’s identity from those who may disapprove of you can be. It truly pains me to think that increasing numbers of the Jewish community – all too often the brunt of bigotry throughout history – should feel the need to retreat into another form of closet. It is however not my place to tell them that they are wrong; they know much more than I how history, and society, has sometimes treated them.
Taking all of this into account, and feeling that I wanted to take a stand against such hatred, I decided last October – after discussing the issue with David – to start wearing a kippah whilst travelling to and from work, when socialising, on holiday and out and about simply enjoying a walk or a trip to the cinema. I wanted Jewish people, and wider society, to start feeling more accustomed to seeing someone who (at least on the surface) was presenting as visibly Jewish and crucially doing so without fear. My hope was that this might encourage David to be more open about expressing his Jewish identity and that others would likewise feel more confident about publicly doing the same.
So, how has this experiment gone? Well, a few people (some of them Jewish, some of them not) have asked me if I am Jewish and when I’ve replied that I am not, I have explained my rationale for why I have chosen to wear a kippah. The reactions in these situations have so far always been positive. A gentleman once insisted on buying me a pint of ale in recognition! Likewise, one night after attending a concert on South Bank, I was drawn into conversation with a fellow gig-goer, a Jewish man, who was interested in my stance and we enjoyed a long conversation afterwards. He, like David, kept his kippah hidden under a hat.
However, the experience has not always been positive. I do sometimes attract looks that linger rather too long, accompanied by hard, disdainful faces. I have even had the unfortunate experience of someone trying to grab the kippah from my head at Embankment station here in London. In Berlin, a young man also pointed at me in the street and laughingly said: “Jude!” (“Jew!”). These reactions are however the exception, rather than a regular occurrence.
Moving forward, I will continue to wear my kippah and I am prepared for any negative comments I may receive and the way in which I may have to deal with them. Through this personal experience, I hope to have learnt to better recognise the challenges faced by people who stand out in the crowd (for being seemingly a little “different”). Whether someone is gay, transgender, Muslim, Jewish, Sikh, Hindu, or living with a disability, those who are seemingly visibly “different” to what’s often deemed “the norm” can be seen targets for disdain, abuse and sometimes worse.
So, with that in mind, let’s instead try to put ourselves in the position of our sisters and brothers, who simply want to live their lives, go to work and enjoy trips out, without being subjected to hate and paranoia. There is much more that connects us than divides us, and perhaps the world would be a better place if we all took time to consider “the other” more often.
Will you join me?
About the author
Glyn has lived in London since 2004, having moved from Aberystwyth. Currently living in Redbridge with his partner, David, Glyn works in higher education, providing student and academic support, which involves supporting people in conflict zones, and low-income countries. Whilst proud of his Welsh background, he also seems himself as a citizen of the world.