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Retro Kippah

May 9, 2009 | by Alexa Witt

Resuscitating a spark from the bar mitzvah days.

They're satiny. They're velvety. They're pointy. They match the invitations.

They're bar mitzvah kippahs, intended for use on the date printed on the inside lining. And like so much retro fashion these days, the bar mitzvah kippah is making a serious comeback. At least in my family.

On any particular day, you might find my 5-year-old son sporting a chartreuse kippah from my brother's 1977 bar mitzvah, and my 3-year-old with an orange one from my cousin's 1979 bar mitzvah. These aren't just cute photo opportunities. My sons wear these kippahs every day.

I didn't grow up particularly observant. Our bar mitzvah kippahs were left to gather dust in a corner of the dining room, brought out ceremonially for the Passover Seder, maybe again for Rosh Hashanah dinner and for the big meal before Yom Kippur, if my brothers remembered to put them on.

My personal journey led me to choose a Torah-observant lifestyle, thus the kippah-wearing sons. True to being little boys, one day playing at my mother's house they misplaced their kippahs. I was looking for something to put on their heads, and came across our old bar mitzvah kippahs. How cute would it be to see them wearing those things, still gleaming from the '70s?

Clad in their lavender and green satin kippahs, the boys reminded me of miniature grandpas from a photo album, slicing into a huge challah while posing for the camera.

When I was attending Hebrew school twice a week, bar mitzvahs were a much-anticipated event in our pre-teen lives. Every party seemed to outshine the last with flashier shows of ostentatious flare. The 12-year-old girls-of-honor wore custom, designer dresses as expensive as wedding gowns. At one bar mitzvah I attended, basketball star Wilt Chamberlain was there to shake every kid's hand. At another, we gambled at real casino tables, the bar mitzvah boy's picture printed on pretend money.

[Of course, that's nothing compared to today's excesses. A recent bat mitzvah reception in Manhattan's Rainbow Room featured Aerosmith, Fifty Cent, Tom Petty and The Eagles, and each child went home with a goody bag consisting of an iPod and a digital camera. Dad paid the bill: a cool 10 million dollars.]

A lot of my friends' bar and bat mitzvahs also doubled as Hebrew school "drop-out parties." Their parents didn't have any reason to keep forcing them to go after their bar mitzvah was over. So the milestone that was supposed to mark our entry into mature Jewish life, instead celebrated our exit from it.

Our bar mitzvah kippahs seemed to reflect the materialistic values around us: Shiny turquoise with silver trim, or blue and orange with a symbol of the Mets, these kippahs were symbolic shows of identity, not meant for real, every day life.

So today, my sons wearing those bar mitzvah kippahs is not just a cultural novelty. They're being worn on the heads of little boys whose daily lives are suffused with the beauty of Jewish life. It's a real tikkun, a rectification of all that the kippahs have come to represent.

Yesterday, my three-year-old son touched the peach satin kippah on his head and asked, "Mommy, is this your bat mitzvah kippah?"

"No, sweetie, it's Uncle Jeff's."

Uncle Jeff's bar mitzvah was in 1981, making the kippah on three-year-old Sam's head 25 years old!

All these years, my mom has been keeping these kippahs as mementos. But they're not sitting in a drawer anymore as mere keepsakes, like the baby pink matchbooks and baby pink napkins with "Alexa" printed three times in hot pink. Seeing little Sam in the kippah from my brother's bar mitzvah is a sweet, satisfying sign, a symbol that the spiritual life of our family has come full circle.



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