They came for the First Amendment on Shabbat. It was the first Shabbat following a full week of the new administration, and I was exhausted. The new president was proving to be at least as terrible as a lot of us had feared. I needed the rest.
I turned away from the news–just for the evening, just for dinner with friends. I didn’t hear about the ban until the next morning, when I found out that citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries were being held at airports across the United States, green cards notwithstanding, as though they were someone other than our neighbors.
For what felt like the thousandth time since Inauguration Day: I wept.
On social media, I saw the signs popping up in airport protests–“Not today.” “Not this time.” I wanted to join, but my airport only welcomes local flights; no refugees would be coming through our gates.
How do you stand for marginalized communities in a place with limited diversity? There are not women in my town who wear hijabs. There is no masjid. I wanted people to know that I’m with them–that I’ll always be with those who are threatened–but short of driving four hours to Detroit, only to have to turn around and drive back home again for work, I couldn’t think of anything.
To be Jewish where I am is rare, too–and a semi-invisible condition. I wear a Star of David, but otherwise blend in–brunette, medium height, and easily anonymous. No one is yelling at me to go back to where I came from; no one meets me and knows that I am different at all.
But after that Shabbat, my easy anonymity started to feel wrong to me. Like I was cheating. Like I was enjoying a privilege not available to a student born in Yemen or a doctor from Iran.
I want to be an ally, but there’s no one nearby to link arms with; there’s no one being visibly threatened in my town for whom I can stand. All I can do is give up some of the comfort that comes with outwardly fitting in.
I put on my yarmulke for the first time, in earnest, after that Shabbat. I have two that I keep reverently tucked up with my equally rarely used tallis and tefillin. These are items that I cherish, but that I’ve always felt awkward using: I feel like I’m laying tefillin wrong; the tallis won’t stay on my shoulders; who can pray this way? And, for all of my feminism, there’s something about a yarmulke on my head that just feels off. Not me.
But we’re all finding our way in this new America, and I’m trying my footing out with a yarmulke on. I couldn’t get it to stay in my hair the first day–it’s not curly enough for the comb on my beaded yarmulke; bobby pins were ridiculously ineffective on my more traditional kippah. I got frustrated, I got embarrassed, and I took it off.
But then I tried again. I clipped my kippah on and, as unnatural as it felt, I went out into town, now visibly part of a religious minority.
It wasn’t comfortable. Or easy. I hate attention. I would rather blend in. I would rather not have strangers staring at my head for long moments before they bother with my face. I ran into someone I see weekly at a store; she saw my kippah and did not register that it was me wearing it for a good 30 seconds. But I did it: This is who I am. American. Jewish. Not going anywhere, thanks.
The comfort of blending in while your community elsewhere fields bomb threats and scrubs swastikas off houses of worship is false comfort, anyway. I’m going to stand up and stand out with all marginalized religious communities, including my own.
If our Muslim brothers and sisters aren’t safe here now, we aren’t safe here, either. We stand with them because it’s right, but also because we’ve been here before. We know better than to look away.
A lot of us are investing in modes of resistance: posterboard and thick markers for protest signs; tickets to take us to Washington to march. We’re donating to the ACLU and reaching out to community centers that support diverse populations. I’m doing that, too. But my resistance will also include: hair clips to keep my kippah on my not-curly-enough hair.
I don’t know if this is effective allyship or not; I’m still getting used to the weight of the yarmulke in my hair. It still feels strange to go out into the world this way. I am trying to remember that standing out is not as much of a choice for others threatened by the administration–people whose side I am on, and who I will stand with wherever I encounter them.
That chance may not come to me often in my not-very-diverse town. Until it does, this is what my allyship looks like: me, walking awkwardly out in my yarmulke, trying to act as a visible reminder that America is great because it is diverse, even in places that don’t seem it on the surface.