Sunday, September 4, 2011

Our clothes Out-Jew us again

Mrs. Yid and I have been trying to stick to some sort of shul schedule now that I'm back from Europe, so we went to Evil Minion on Friday. As usual, davening went fine-- I really look forward to the sensation of everything falling away for a little bit when we get into the Carlebachian niggun singing, and it's just a very lovely experience.

However, as usual, things take a turn for the awkward when it's time for kiddush. Nothing super terrible happened this time, but there was this amusing interchange:

New Guy: Hi there, I'm Ari.
Mrs. Yid (straining to hear over the loud room conversation): What? Ori?
Ari: Nice to meet you, Ori!
Me: (Shaking my head that my life has turned into a Best of Abbot and Costello special) Hi, Ari.

Two minutes later:

Nice lady: Hello, where are you guys from?
Mrs. Yid: Down the block, actually.
NL: Really? With that nice tichel on, I would have guessed Israel!

Whoops. Apparently between my snazzy fedoras and trimmed beards and Mrs. Yid's new-ish practice of wearing headscarves and skirts, we are sending some interesting signals.

We talked about this afterwards at the very traditional post-davening sushi fest:

Me: Do we give off frumy vibes?
Mrs. Yid: I mean, under a very technical definition, I guess so... but the details are all wrong! This dress is totally not tznius! If someone who knew what they were looking for saw me, they'd think I was totally whoring it up.
Me: And I don't know of any tish that accepts gray straw stetsons as part of the dress code. (Pause) Maybe Breslov, I suppose.

This is not the first time this has happened. To a degree I think it just reflects our aesthetics and the way they intersect with our values/personalities (somewhat old-fashioned and low-key as compared to say, the uber avant-gard hipsters we have to step over to get to shul). I think there's something about the traditional/religious aesthetic that we actually find rather charming, classic, if you will. I know I personally just think hats, beards, and tall yarmulkes look cool. Mrs. Yid, to a degree, seems to be leaning a similar way in favoring skirts and dresses and snazzy headscarves. (That appears to be where the line ends, though; she says she has no interest in wearing a wig or shaving her head. Darn, I thought that could be a bonding thing!)

Though these incidents are extremely minor, I also worry that the way we dress, may, in Jewish settings, create assumptions about our observance level that not only aren't accurate, but are waaaaay far from accurate. You probably don't expect the couple who look like they just graduated from "Hip Chabad House" bootcamp to like bacon and intermarriage. We just don't want people to feel like we're being dishonest.

The best part of all of this, of course, is that when I told my parents this story last night, they couldn't get past the word "tickle."


Antigonos said...

Good thing you're NOT in Israel. Here the nuances of the "dress code" are numerous and very specific and woe betide an "improperly dressed" person. Just the difference between a crocheted kippah and a black velvet one is earthshaking [grin]

Friar Yid said...

God knows what they'd make of my blue-and-gold Bukharian-style one made in Australia :)