As we waited to board our flight from Paris to Tel Aviv, I was struck anew by the diversity of the Jewish faith – the variety of ways of being Jewish. I should not have been surprised, really, given what I know about the wide spectrum of belief and practice within the Christian tradition. I suppose it’s typical, if misguided, to group “the other” into a single type. I wonder, though, how these diverse practitioners of a single faith evaluate and relate to one another given that their differences are worn, quite literally, on their sleeves (or, more accurately, on their hats).
The most devoutly Orthodox men dress in simple black three-piece suits. They only remove their flat topped hats to cover their heads and shoulders with traditional prayer shawls as they face the walls and bow at the waist in prayer, perfectly curled ringlets bobbing from the temple to the jaw. The Orthodox wives are almost as recognizable, though their uniform less . . . uniform. In black tights and dark-colored calf length skirts, they cover their heads with an assortment of crocheted caps, headbands, and scarves. Most eschew makeup and jewelry. While their husbands pray, the young wives bounce children on the knee with a mix of weariness and excitement that is typical of airport terminals.
Other Jewish men cover their heads with kippas or yarmulkas held fast with a single barrette. Many are young adults. They dress in skinny jeans and blazers or North Face jackets. Their wives dress as I do, comfortable for travel with as much polish add they can muster between long flights and needy toddlers. Only a few are still striving for glamour.
I suspect there are yet others in the terminal who do not wear their faith at all. They may even be as secular as the dreadlocked twenty-something Jewish woman who served me in a Lebanese restaurant in New Hampshire last week: filled with curiosity and wanderlust but basically uninterested in religion with all of its rules and exclusions.
I know little about my fellow travelers beyond what I can guess by the hats they wear. They know even less about me. Nonetheless, whatever we wear, whatever faith we practice (or don’t), we are all here huddled around a single door, waiting for the signal to be given so that we can make the next leg of a journey to whatever it is we are seeking.