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Monday, December 28, 2009

"Spot the Jews" -- Does Anyone Else Play This Game?

When Moshe and I were in Orlando for the first time, we made up a game:  Spot the Jews.

We had noticed an interesting phenomenon: Frum (Orthodox) Jews were walking around in baseball caps, rather than wearing a kippah, tichel (scarf), or hat, like they would in New Jersey or New York.

For whatever reason, these Jews choose to "hide" their Judaism.  To us, it is obvious they are Jews.  Between the baseball caps and the modest dress, they stand out like violets in a field of daffodils.  I imagine they feel like they are "blending in."

We find this fascinating. 

Why the need to "pass"?

Why not just dress the way you normally dress, and be who you are?

Why pretend that you are not different?

Moshe and I wear our kippot and tichels (respectively). 

It never occurred to us to dress any differently.

As a result, Jewish staff workers share with us their identities.  Many are excited to learn that we are visiting from Jerusalem and share with us their hopes to visit Israel.  (I gave our contact information to several people I met, Jews and non-Jews)

This visit, we noticed a few Jewish families who dressed "normally," with kippot, etc.  Two of the families were Chabbadnikim, so that was not so surprising.  Two of the families were from Israel, one from Tel Aviv, the other from a yishuv (settlement/suburban community -- I don't remember which one, maybe Beit El).  We also met some Israelis who were not religious, but were communicating freely, in Hebrew.

It was nice to see other Jews, who were openly Jewish.

Of course, we still spotted groups of "Jews in disguise."


Please daven (or send happy, healing thoughts) for RivkA bat Teirtzel.

With love and optimism,


Safranit (Safra-knit) said...

Hubby wears a baseball cap or hat most of the time to protect from the sun..it isn't (for him) a matter of disguising who he is...

I think hats and scarves are still "fashinable" so that most people wouldn't realize I was covering my hair for religious reasons...it is more the combo of skirt that might give it away.

Karen said...

Other people can't spot it, even though we can do it easily. When I worked at HHS there were a number of men who wore kippot and tzitzit, and my coworkers knew that they were Jewish -- but they never could pick out the frum women, even in bad sheitels and thick hose. After a lesson in Jew-spotting they understood the differences in dress but they still couldn't determine who was wearing a sheitle.

I understand why people do this, especially after I recently had a run-in with an Air France gate agent with a Muslim name who made several nasty remarks about "you people". I think people just don't want the hassle of these kinds of encounters. You may not have spent enough time in the US recently, in areas where frum Jews are not common, to realize the extent of the overt anti-Semitism out there.

Anonymous said...

i used to "play" it all the time, the year we spent in england - in supermarkets, on vacations etc...

and yes - men in bb-caps with conservative hair and clothes.
women who didn't cover their hair were harder to spot when on their own (but you could always know once you saw the contents of a shopping cart ;-)

and i also think Karen is right- both about our having sensitive j-dar, and b/c i think most people who do it ("blend in"),are doing it to avoid hassle,not out of shame or whatever.
certainly in engalnd there is a strong anti-semitic-moslem element (sometime, ask me about the bus incident the week we arrived there.)

i also have a couple of vivid memories from growing up in the states of explicit anti-semitism aimed at me or my family (and it didn't come from moslems).

hugs and good wishes

Anonymous said...

I don't think they're trying to hide their Judaism. It's a more casual mode of dress that they're comfortable wearing while on vacation, but wouldn't do at home "in town". Many people, not just Jews, wear different, more casual clothes on vacation.

Henya said...

Yes, we play this game often. And while we do not "dress down" for anywhere, I can understand why some do. It is a genetic fear of being fingered as a Jew. And a naive thought that if we just pretend that we are like other people, than no one will spot us. It does not usually work. My DH used to get upset when I wrote something Jewish on my blog. And I kept telling him, that KGB is not coming for us. He has now relaxed a bit.

mikimi said...

"you can change your nose but not your Moses".
and then play Jewish Geography.

Leah Goodman said...

When I was growing up (I was an army brat), I was often the only Jew in my school, town, area, etc, so if I spotted another Jew, I'd get all excited.

Sometimes, I still get that way when I notice someone writing Hebrew, for example. Then I remember that I live in Israel...

Unknown said...
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Tamar said...

So glad you had an awesome time! When I was in Australia I wore my scarf and totally didn't fit in, but hey that's me! Take it or leave it! Besides if the Muslim women can be proud going around more obteusively dressed and still be proud, I can certainly be proud! Hugs tamar

A Different Karen said...

Assuming by Orlando you mean specifically the parks, I know my dh wears a cap in the park for the simple reason that it stays on his head better than a kippa on most rides. And dries faster when it gets wet.
I wear whatever can be tied tightest around my head though I rarely wear tichels at home (sheitels mostly).

Anonymous said...

We also always enjoy playing "spot the jews" when on a trip. I think the baseball caps have two functions- one it's casual vacation attire, and it makes the person's religiosity not so "in your face" I think americans just have encountered more unpleasant situations because of their jewish dress than people leaving in Israel have.

bataliyah said...

Yep, in our family, we call this game, "Jew-not-a-Jew?". We point out someone, usually someone obviously Jewish or obviously NOT and ask one other, "Jew-not-a-Jew?" It cracks us up.

RivkA with a capital A said...

Safranit -- at home (in Israel) or when he is on vacation?

I must admit that the sun-shade thing did not occur to me, even though when we were there, I was sorry I didn't bring my sun hat (the one I bought this summer, to protect me at the pool!)

My dad, wore a wide brimmed hat to protect him from the sun. But he was with the rest of us, so there was definitely no hiding who he was....

I agree that a hat on it's own won't do it -- you definitely the combo of hat and dress

Karen -- I suspect that you are correct in that it is not obvious to non-Jews, or even non-religious Jews, who are not familiar with our dress codes.

I hope you complained about the airline agent!

I have not experienced that kind of blatant anti-Semitism... ever!

BW -- I know, from other English friends, that in England there is more direct anti-Semitism than in the States.

Growing up, I never experienced anti-Semitism (at least nothing I could be certain was anti-Semitisim).

Things were different on campus, where there was definitely anti-Semitism, couched as anti-Zionism. I understand that college campuses are much worse today!

Tesyaa -- Maybe, but it seems like such a "uniform."

Henya -- You certainly have an interesting perspective on anti-Semitism.

The suspicion and fear, from growing up in the former Soviet Union, probably never completely goes away.

I imagine it's like being a former New Yorker, who is overly cautious in Jerusaem, and still can't shake it -- but more so.

Mikimi -- don't get it (but it might be better that way)

LeahGG -- LOL!!

It's nice that you still get excited about Hebrew and living in Israel.

I love Hebrew and living in Israel. (Even though it is a crazy country!)

Erika -- True. Still, I don't think there is a need to hide one's Judaism in Disneyworld and Universal Studios!

I do think that American Jews feel less comfortable/confident than Israeli Jews. Just another reason why all Jews should live in Israel!

Tamar -- I agree!! 100%!

Which Tamar are you?

A Different Karen -- Which one???

I am totally cool with the "stay on your head thing."

I wore a scarf wrapped really tight and was still nervous on a few of the rides.

On one of the rides, I actually tied my scarf to the harness so that, if it fell off, I would not lose it. (Being bald makes me particularly concerned that I do not lose my head covering!)

I made my dad take off his hat for that ride and he did not like it! He thinks the hat would have stayed on, but I'm not so sure....

Anon -- As Karen pointed out, I have been out of America for a long time.

I have no problem with the casual attire thing. But if people feel uncomfortable being visibly Jewish, maybe it's time to reconsider where they are living/vacationing.

Btw, in my experience, religious Jews in Israel face far more prejudice than religious Jews in the US, but that is a subject for another discussion....

Bat Aliyah -- Love it!! Thanks for sharing!!

Jo said...

I think it's sad that Jews would even feel the need to hide anything about themselves. Of course, I'm not Christian and think the way history/life has treated the Jews in general over thousands of years is disgusting soooooo it's just my heathen opinion. ;)

I personally love seeing "normally" dressed Jews. To me I see they are special not different or something to shun. I've taught my children to think the same. As odd as it sounds, to us it's a privilege to have Jewish friends because they are the most loving, giving, and interesting to talk to.

Be proud and excuse my language but the hell with those who try to persecute and demean you.

Catherine said...

As a non-Frum (Reform) Jew, I should explain that I guess not every Jew wears their Jewishness on their sleeve.....although I guess my sister and her husband have Hebrew inscriptions on their wedding rings. As for dress, I do dress more modestly (at least than I used to as a teenager and young adult), but I do not cover my head at all, so I guess I fit in the category of 'invisible Jew.'

However, you do raise an interesting point--why should Jews hide their observance in any way, shape, or form? And it does seem rather strange to see men wearing baseball caps on their heads. When my daughter was really little her hair curled just so over her ears. We used to have a private joke that it looked just like payos--sharing it with people was our way of publicly idenitfying ourselves as Jewish where we would have otherwise been invisible, so I guess we all have ways of proclaiming ourselves, lol!

Tamar said...

Hadassa tamar:)

Ilana Elzufon said...

My husband wears a baseball cap when spending a day out in the sun here in Israel and also when visiting America. It's for shade (and maybe because he likes interesting hats and has a collection of them), not as a disguise.

Last summer a Disneyland, neither his cap nor his kippah survived one of the wild rides. Fortunately, one of my daughters had a non-gender-specific cap to lend him, and the park had an amazingly efficient lost and found department that returned the missing headgear within a few days.

RivkA with a capital A said...

Tamar -- OK, I get it now.

For another moment, I got even more confused, because the mother one of my swimming students, Hadass, is Tamar (but the mom wouldn't write Hadassa....)

RivkA with a capital A said...

Ilana -- as a hat lover, I can definitely appreciate wearing hats for the sake of wearing hats.

I have this great, leather, floppy hat that I LOVED as a teen. It was part of my "trademark."

I can't figure out any context to wear it any more (except one Purim, when I dressed up as a hippy).

I am sure there are many men who wear hats to protect them from the sun, just as I am sure there are many men who wear hats because they do not feel comfortable wearing a kippah.

I am not making any judgements, just observations.

Anonymous said...


You should go to Hershey Park,PA. They actually have a Kosher bar. I was impressed. I must say that I went there to get my meals. There were many Jews and they were not ashamed to hide their faith. It made me proud. I will always love and respect my Jewish brothers and sisters. I was happy to see Jews living their faith. So, I supported their restuarants.

Blessings always to you and your family.


RivkA with a capital A said...

Karen, you are amazing!!

I would love to take my kids to Hershey Park! It is the first (and possibly only) amusement park I went to with my family.

I have great memories, including riding a boat down a chocolate river. (Am I superimposing Charlie and the Chocolate family on my memories, or do I remember correctly?)

I'm curious: was the food good???

Batya said...

The only time I disguised myslef was "yomtov sheni" when I added a baseball cap to travel to my aunt when in NY to bring my father to Israel. None of my family is religious and they couldn't understand what I was talking about. It's like a "foreign language."

Sat. night, which was after Shabbat/chag for me, but erev Simchat Torah, I walked across Great Neck, west to east.
Shiloh Musings: The Year of Double <i>Kohelet</i>, Ecclesiastes, and No Simchat Torah

Anonymous said...

Orthos wear caps on vacation because they are engaging in RECREATION and their kippah will fall off or they will damage their Sheital or sweat profusely. Assuming that they are hiding their identity is a huge leap and a rather nasty, judgemental, not to mention self righteous - ( me and moshe always) assumption.