Joan Kristall, an old friend and olah chadasha from Baltimore, has a delightful way of expressing what she sees and experiences in her new life in Israel. She graciously gave her permission to share the emails she writes to her family and friends with the rest of you here.
by Joan Kristall
Gazing out from the expansive window at the Tochina Merkazeet (Central Bus Station) onto the street below is quite a marvelous sight. Whatever the time of day, buses and taxis are vying for space near the curb; pedestrians are walking quickly in twos and threes; baby strollers are being negotiated on crowded streets and soldiers, dispersed throughout, are eying the masses in ways we will not know. The whizzing noise of the light rail can be heard in the distance, as two trains pass each other, going in opposite directions.
Observing from an inside perch, I can view the tops of everyone's head. Heads that are covered and heads that are not covered; heads with scarves and heads with black, velvet yarmulkes. Women with bandanas, snoods and tichls; knotted at the nape of the neck or flowing down one's back. Floppy hats, bonnets and caps with brims firmly out front or turned around. Sheitels (wigs) that are stylish and those that are plain. Some even accompanied by a hat. Men with kippot that are knitted with a rainbow of color and design or pure black. Many cover the whole head or top of the head; some are the size of a fist and rest at the beginning of the hairline. There are women who allow some of their hair to show, to varying degrees, and others who carefully tuck in every last strand. Hats of every description, find themselves on the heads of men and young boys. Among the variety of hats, there are also the way the hats are worn. Fascinating to see hats that are round and low and hats that high. Hats that have wide brims and others with narrow brims; with a circular band and those with no band at all. Hats with brims up; hats with brims down; cocked to the side or evenly balanced. The hats seem to take on the personality of the man who wears them. Some hats seem tired, old and somewhat disheveled, not unlike the wearer beneath them. Other hats are snappy and sophisticated with an air of confidence. You can tell that these men, in a way, become their hat. Young adolescent boys wearing the hat of a man appear awkward and, not unlike adolescence itself, haven't quite grown into the part.
Baseball hats seem to find themselves on Ben Yehuda Street (a trendy section of Jerusalem with a wide array of shops, cafes and boutiques), worn by men and women, young and old. It seems like the New York Yankees is a popular insignia, even though the wearer may have never been to New York or have rooted for the Yankees. Creative and decorative head coverings adorn women wearing long skirts that seem to sway with every step. I continue to wonder how the turban-like effect is executed and how it seems to stay on one's head.
Last week I met a lovely older woman, who, unknowingly, gave my head covering observations a new perspective. She introduced herself as Keppie and I inquired about the origin of her name. The word, Keppie, is an endearing Yiddish word for head. I grew up with my Bubbie (grandmother) patting or kissing the top of my head and saying, "Gutzundheit keppila," which translates as, health to your little head. When her loved ones said the phrase to her as a child, her little sister began calling her, "Keppie", and the name stuck.
In Israel, head coverings have a political and religious grouping connotation. You may not see a lot of 'black hat men' interacting with 'knitted kippah guys' or 'sheitels with hats' women interacting with women wearing baseball caps. The flowing and decorative do not often hang out with the starkly clad. In the hustle and bustle of foot traffic, as seen from a distant view, the mingling takes on a cooperative rhythm. As a Mork-like observer, with the experience of my keppie having been kissed, I can look at the keppies below, as sweet, little heads that are lovingly adorned.