Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The “Uniform”

We took the kids to Legoland on Sunday. We have annual passes, so sometimes when we’re looking for something to do to kill a few hours and tire the kids out, we take them there and make them walk. Well, we make the older one walk. Oddly enough, the younger one usually wants to walk while the older one whines that he (at 45 pounds) wants to sit in the stroller. Older boy is almost 4, and tall, so there’s several rides he can go on. The baby is not yet 2 and there’s less for him to do, but fortunately he’s still in the stage where looking at things is fun, too. So he looks at things, and his brother does the go-carts and helicopters and the big slide, and they’re happy.

We always notice the Jews wherever we go. It’s natural to seek out your own kind. I always realize almost too late that the others might not realize I’m actually one of them. You see, I know they’re Jewish because they’re wearing the “uniform.” The men and boys have kippot and tzitzit, and the women are wearing long skirts and long-sleeved shirts, even in August, and many have head-scarves. When you see a family dressed that way, you know you’re looking at Orthodox Jews.

We specifically noticed on Sunday because our dinner plans were to go to a local Chabad’s weekly summer barbecue. It occurred to us that the tourist-Jews might be interested in a convenient kosher dinner, as Legoland is not even 10 minutes from this particular Chabad.

But, because we don’t wear the “uniform,” the religious Jews would not know to look at us that we are also Jewish, and I couldn’t think of a way to approach them that wouldn’t seem weird to me. In all honesty, it might not seem weird to them to be approached, but I’m not the salesperson type, so it felt weird to me. We were coming up with all sorts of ways to get them to overhear us about the barbecue so that they would ask, like getting in line behind them and speaking loudly about our dinner plans, but we didn’t follow through because we felt silly. It came to the point where I wished we had t-shirts or something to wear that designated us as representatives of Chabad or something, even without the “uniform,” so that we’d have a starting point. In retrospect, “Hi, I thought you might be interested in knowing that there’s a Chabad barbecue not far from here, if you’re looking for an easy dinner” might be a good starting point, but, as mentioned above, I’m just not the type to go up to someone and say that.

Which brings me to WHY we don’t wear the uniform.

When you wear a uniform, it serves to identify you to other members of your group, but it also designates to outsiders that you belong to a particular group, whether it’s private security or Hot Dog On A Stick employees or an army. Thus, whatever you do while wearing that uniform represents your entire group as behaving this way. That’s why most stores have their employees remove their nametags or other uniform pieces when they go on break, and why acting inappropriately while in uniform, even if off duty, can be punishable in some arenas.

Since we do not keep Shabbat and holidays or kosher particularly well yet, if we wore a uniform announcing ourselves as members of the Orthodox Jewish Group, people who are not part of the group might see us do something like go through the McDonald’s Drive-Thru or stop at Starbucks on the way to shul on Saturday morning and think that it’s okay for Orthodox Jews to do that. It would make all Jews look hypocritical, for saying that they don’t do “that,” when here are two Jewish-looking people doing exactly “that.”

Perhaps at some point our level of observance will merit us to don the uniform. Then when we meet others of our kind at Legoland, we can unabashedly advertise the Chabad barbecue. In the meantime, though, we'll remain fairly anonymous to both worlds.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I always struggle with this. My kids go to an orthodox school, and my son loves to wear his kippah and tzitzis. He also loves Chuck E Cheese and McDonalds. I would hate to ask him to remove the "uniform" for any reason. But it takes a certain kind of courage to walk in to Mickey-Ds with a child wearing the "uniform," who then has to say HaMotzi at the top of his lungs over his hamburger (albeit sans meat).