Thursday, October 19, 2006
Guest Post by Psychotoddler
Psychotoddler bought a black fedora yesterday. And, well, truth be told, this is not Psychotoddler’s first hat. This is actually his third. Scandalous! Yes, I know. But wait, this hat was not actually purchased for Psychotoddler!
A little background if you are unfamiliar with Psychotoddler lore: Psychotoddler is a 40 year old guy who likes to talk about himself in the third person (which is getting old right about….NOW so he’ll switch to first person) who was brought up in Queens, New York in a non-observant household. For some reason, my parents sent me to Dov Revel, which at the time was a very Zionist Modern Orthodox Yeshiva which fed more or less directly into the Yeshiva University system. Which is where I spent my entire lower and higher education. From MTA through Albert Einstein COM.
All during this time, I came in contact almost not at all with people wearing Black Fedoras. The most Orthodox people around me wore Kippot Srugot. The less Orthodox wore the disposable nylon or felt Yarmulkes. Or those who couldn’t find girlfriends who knew how to crochet.
It’s possible I might have seen people wearing fedoras on Main Street or something, but I would never approach them and certainly would have no reason to try to speak to them. I felt pretty good about my frumkeit and pretty secure knowing I would never need to worry about wearing a plastic shopping bag over an expensive hat in the rain.
Fast forward a few years and I have relocated to the Midwest and have found myself to be the only person in my shul wearing a smallish srugie with my name in big blue letters. African-Americans are calling me by name from across the street and yelling “Shalom!” at me. Several people suggest that I might want a different cap.
Reluctantly, as I enter the professional world and seek to be more discreet, I purchase (or more likely steal from a Bar Mitzvah) a black suede yammie that I have worn ever since (well I may have changed it once or twice since then).
But even in this chapeau, I am clearly the only one in the community not wearing either a black fedora or shtreimel. Over the course of a little more than a decade, it begins to wear me down. The frum people wear hats. The apikorsim do not. The frum people have children who suddenly morph into little versions of their parents when they hit 13. The apikorsim have kids who suddenly pierce their noses and date shiksas. The baale tshuva enter the assembly line looking like me, and exit with peyos and shtreimels. Clearly, increasing frumkeit correlates with increasing black hattitude.
Still, I don’t give in. Despite a noticeable lack of role models to substantiate my position, I continue to maintain that it is not necessary to wear a gangsta-style fedora to be frum. And to their credit, none of the rabbis in the shul or kollel insist that I start wearing one (although there is a rule requiring a jacket to daven from the amud, which didn’t really apply to me until this year anyway—I treat that like a “no jacket-no service” rule at a restaurant).
So I persevere in my felt-less existence for several more years. But inwardly I find myself sinking into an abyss of guilt and self-loathing. I lose my grip on my upbringing. I find myself clinging to minhagim and halachot for which I can no longer locate a source or authority. My job suddenly requires me to take call on Shabbos, and I submit without a fight.
My first son nears the age of 13. My son who loves dinosaurs. Whose friends tell him that dinosaurs never existed. Whose friends are now suddenly sporting fedoras and kapotes, gartels and jackets. What to do about my son?
Well it is simple. His fight is not my fight. In fact, my fight isn’t even my fight. I find I just don’t care anymore. I don’t care if I flick the light on in the bathroom in the hospital on Shabbos, because what the heck, I just drove there anyway. I don’t care if my son has to wear a hat, because it’s a rule at his school. It’s not a political or religious statement anymore. It’s a school uniform. I find a local hat store in a Black neighborhood. Amidst rows of emerald green bowlers and furry feathered lavender pimp hats are a few black Stetson fedoras. A steal at $75. I put one on his head and we go.
A year later my second son becomes Bar Mitzvah. By then it is not even a question. He will get a black hat to wear at school and at shul. And his brother has just moved into a Black-Hat Yeshiva. I have officially given myself over to the Dark Side. I still don’t care. I have no intention of wearing such a hat myself, because it’s just not “me.” I still cling to this notion of “Modern Orthodoxy” that’s out there and that says it’s OK to watch TV and go to movies (just not during sfiroh) and listen to Rock Music and still eat Kosher and keep Shabbos. It’s just nowhere near me and I can’t find anyone else in this sea of black who believes it. And I’m a bad person myself because I don’t go to minyan and I work on Shabbos. I cannot be redeemed. I am like Darth Vader. But I still want my sons to be Lukes. Maybe they’ll have a chance at greatness.
And then, something happens. I stumble onto the Blogosphere.
I discover there are others out there who are experiencing the same thing. Some are in small towns, some are in the Midwest, some are in Israel, and some are even in Deepest Darkest Brooklyn. I begin to write about my feelings. I write comments on other blogs. I decompress.
I feel better. I realize that I don’t need to feel threatened by the Wearers of Black. They aren’t better or frummer than me. They are just DIFFERENT. I can maintain my spirituality and my devotion to Judaism without donning their particular uniform. I discover other frum physicians who take call on Shabbos. My perspective changes dramatically.
I start going to shul. I start to get more involved in my chevrusah. I get involved in online discussions regarding the nature of Orthodoxy. I find that people are getting inspiration from me. From ME! I find that some people think I am TOO ORTHODOX. I realize again what a wide spectrum of religious Judaism is out there. I start to feel like a do have a place in the community, and maybe it is more important than I ever gave myself credit for.
And now my third son is going to start laying t’fillin soon. And yesterday, we went to that same “Black” hat store, and picked up another Stetson. And I looked around a little for something that might look good on me. And maybe one day, I will get one. But it won’t be black.