Let’s talk head covering/head wrapping/covering – whatever you choose to call it. It’s a topic I’m passionate about and, more importantly, one that I have struggled with for a decade and a half.
I hate to have to do this, but… before you continue reading, it’s probably important to provide a very, very brief overview of my religious background. (For those that know this already, I’m sorry). I was raised non-denominational Christian and bounced between various mainstream and evangelical denominations for years as I tried to figure out where I fit. I then converted to Roman Catholicism after my now-husband and I decided to get married. We left the Catholic Church just three years later. Three years after that, I dabbled around with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Two years after that, I tried my hand at one of the anabaptist denominations of Christianity. A year after that, I had the profound epiphany that the problem wasn’t me but Christianity and the belief system itself. That’s when I left.
I then entered a period of soul-searching, study, and research, and it was in that period I discovered that everything I believed was found within Judaism. From there, I took some introductory courses, made the decision to convert, and studied with a rabbi until my conversion was complete. I am now a “practicing” Jew (although I hate to use the term “practicing” as we tend to focus more on observance than practice) who is active in my temple, and I sit on the board of the Jewish women’s group there. Anyway, all of this is to say that I’ve been there, and I’ve seen a lot, and I’ve learned a lot.
Back to the actual topic… Nearly every religion on the planet seems to have some sort of head covering tradition. Sikh, Muslim, Jewish, certain denominations of Christianity, all have traditions related to covering the head. I will only speak about the Jewish and Christian experiences as I don’t pretend to know enough to speak about other religions.
The first time I felt compelled to cover my head was when I was a practicing Catholic. One of the things I loved to do was to attend an hour of Eucharistic Adoration. At the time, I’m not sure I believed the supposed miracles behind the Eucharist, but what I know was that I had a job I disliked with a boss that made me miserable, and spending the majority of my lunch hour inside the adoration chapel at the Catholic church in Shelbyville, Kentucky was a respite from the misery I felt during the work day. It was there that I first felt compelled to cover my hair. However, it was just a feeling I had, and I did nothing about it outside of researching if Catholic women covered their hair and, after learning that some did, ordering a black lace mantilla that I never once wore.
The urge to cover my hair showed back up in a mild way when I joined the Church of the Brethren. Given they are an anabaptist denomination (in the same vein as Amish and Mennonite), I again felt the pull to cover my hair. I didn’t, of course, because… well… I just didn’t.
And then I started studying Judaism. The desire to cover my head roared back, and it’s never left. I learned all about how and why married Orthodox Jewish women cover their hair. I saw the beautiful wraps on Wrapunzel, watched their YouTube videos, and was so jealous. That’s what I wanted. That’s how I wanted to cover.
BUT… I’m not Orthodox. I’m Reform (although I’m more aligned with the Conservative stream of Judaism (and no, it has nothing to do with Conservative politics)). Reform women, by and large, don’t cover their hair. In fact, many rabbis in the Reform movement teach that it’s oppressive and not acceptable, so it’s just not done. Women who do cover their hair do so with a kippah, which the men also wear. That, however, did not feel right to me.
However, I’m a bit of a rebel, so I ordered a bunch of scarves and all the supplies to wrap my hair, and it was a disaster. My head is too big and too oddly shaped, and I looked ridiculous. Absolutely ridiculous.
Frustrated, I shoved everything into a drawer, promoted the scarves for use during the Pacific Northwest rainy season, and told myself that it was okay since Reform women didn’t cover their hair anyway.
Yet the desire to cover still persisted.
It wouldn’t go away.
It would greet me at the oddest times, and then I’d be back at the Wrapunzel site, looking at all the beautiful wraps and bemoaning my stupidly-shaped head.
Three months ago, I made the decision that I was covering my head. I don’t care if it’s not done in my community. I don’t care if it might be “frowned upon” in the progressive Jewish movement because in this movement, we observe the laws and traditions that are meaningful to us. And headcovering? It’s meaningful to me.
I found my happy medium through half-wraps. I don’t cover my hair fully, but I either cover using a headband style (which resulted in my picking apart some beautiful Sari scarves I bought from Wrapunzel so that they weren’t as wide and I could use them as wraps), or I use wraps that cover the top of my head and my crown. I buy those from Garlands of Grace, and my mom, who has become an avid sewer in her retirement, has sewed me 30 headwraps! (8 of which I have and 22 she still needs to send.) I also took many of my beautiful Israeli tichel scarves from Wrapunzel and cut them in half to make wraps that aren’t too bulky. And I’m getting ready to order a few more so that I can wrap just like this except with hair showing at the front. (5/18/2020 update to this post – I just discovered square hijabs on Haute Hijab that will work beautifully for the way I cover!)
I am at the point now where I cannot fathom leaving the house without a covering (not that I leave the house hardly ever. Thanks, COVID-19 pandemic). I feel incomplete without that cover over my head. Most importantly, it’s changed me inside. It’s changed how I think, how I behave. Granted, the pandemic has done some of that, too, but I find myself engaging in more Torah study, listening/watching more podcasts/videos about Jewish observance, and reading more books about different aspects of Jewish life. I may be attending Shabbat services via Facebook Live because our shul is closed, but I feel more connected to HaShem since I began covering. I always feel the covering, especially where it is tighter right behind my ears. That little bit of physical presence is a constant reminder that I’m doing this because I’m trying to be the best, most faithful version of myself, and I carry myself different as a result.
I still have fear of uninvited comments or judgment from those in my religious community, but I also don’t care. Doing what I’ve felt called to do for fifteen years is such a huge relief. It took a long time, but I’m finally here. I finally listened, and I feel blessed because of it.