Yael; our awe-inspiring Lady Wrap Star!

I almost can’t find the words to introduce this woman… she is just so full of light and love!  What an inspiration!

Hello Wrapunzel Ladies!

My name is Yael, and I am originally from Chicago. My husband Effie and I live in Atlanta where we are involved in an incredible Jewish community and synagogue, The Kehilla (http://thekehilla.org/). My husband and I met there, and it is just a beautiful and supportive group of people from all walks of life committed to Judaism. Professionally, I am a Director of Teaching and Learning for Teach For America in Metro Atlanta, and I absolutely love my job! When I first joined Teach For America back in 2008, I taught third grade in Miami.  I am very passionate about and devoted to working towards educational equity in this country. Through my current role with Teach For America I plan professional development for our elementary teachers and support them in the classroom. I also design many of our large events and some of our diversity and inclusiveness programming. I work in a variety of settings, such as the Teach For America office, coffee shops, and public schools spanning four districts. No matter where my job takes me, I go with a smile and a hair covering.

Covering my hair in many contexts has allowed me to explore and share a totally new part of my Jewish identity with teachers and co-workers. This has been the springboard for deeper conversations with colleagues about my Jewish identity and its relationship to the social justice work that we do. When I wrap my hair I feel elegant, beautiful, creative, and proud. It becomes a medium for me to express who I am. Wrapping gives me a sense of connection to Jewish women throughout history. My tichel is my crown and, in a way, my wedding ring. It signifies my commitment to building a Jewish home. Further, it serves as a way to outwardly show my Judaism and demonstrate the beauty in our Jewish culture.

I have been covering to some extent since I got married just over a year ago in November 2012. Before I got married, I was not quite sure how I was going to cover my hair and if I was going to cover my hair full time.  The day after our wedding I decided to try it out by wearing a hat. That night for sheva brachos, I wore a scarf. I decided after that day that I could do this! I wore mainly hats and some scarves covering my head for the first couple of months. Over time, I transitioned to pretty much covering all of my hair with scarves. And I do have fun mixing it up! I have a fabulous collection of scarves and hats (and of course accessories like headbands!).  I also have worn a sheitel a couple of times, but wrapping is my absolute favorite way of covering. When I wrap my hair, I feel like the best version of myself.

My twin sister Ilana is one of my wrapping role models. She has been covering her hair since she got married in 2010. Being a twin is AWESOME because you share everything, and now we get to share tichels and hair wrapping techniques. We live in different cities, but when we visit each other we always do a mini tichel swap. We also regularly send pictures to one another to share our daily looks. Having a twin along for this hair covering ride has been special for both of us.

My friends and family have been incredibly supportive of my decision to cover my hair. Before getting married, my friends in Atlanta threw me a meaningful tichel party with demonstrations and beautiful divrei torah about the significance of hair covering. A couple of weeks later in Chicago, my friends and family also threw me a tichel party. At this party, everyone, Jewish and non-Jewish, those who cover their hair and those who do not, all tried on hats and tichels with me. Insignificant as this might seem, the participation of my friends and family in this way affirmed their support and gave me the strength that would eventually allow me to cover my hair the way I do today.

Wow!  Check out Yael’s rockin’ tichels!  This girl can wrap!

Our Lady Wrap Star: Naomi

Our newest Lady Wrap Star is a wizardess with scarves, deep, talented, brave, and genuine.  You may remember her face from the zig-zag criss-cross post:

This is Naomi. When this photo was taken she wasn't yet covering her hair publicly.
This is Naomi. When this photo was taken she wasn’t yet covering her hair publicly.

Additionally, she also happens to be a very special friend, and most recently she became my sister!  Yes, less than two weeks ago, my brother married this beautiful woman!  My husband and I were lucky enough to be able to stay in their area for the week after the wedding, and therefore I got to experience her ethereal head wraps.  These photos were taken during the sheva brachot (meals eaten for the week after a Jewish wedding), one for each day.

Day One
Day Two (the first day was the wedding!)

Day Three:

Day Four:

Day Five - Morning
Day Five – Morning

Day Five – Evening

The only one we didn’t get was from Friday night (day six) where she paired a colourful sari scarf wrap with a black dress.

And finally, Day Seven - taken after Shabbat!
And finally, Day Seven – taken after Shabbat!

So yes, her wrapping skills are out of this world and she is a stunning woman.  However, she is so much more than these pictures can even begin to convey.  You’ll see.  I will now hand the writing over to Naomi so you can get to know her better.

The Weight of the Crown: Thoughts on the Visibility of Hair-Covering

My name is Naomi and I didn’t grow up religious. I want to write about hair covering, not my spiritual journey, but I felt I had to put it on the table. A lot of the practices of orthodox Judaism don’t mesh very well with secular American culture, and hair covering is definitely one of them. When you grow up identifying as an observant Jew, most people understand, even if they don’t agree with your religious reasoning, that you have a cultural practice of covering your hair. However, when you decide to become religious later in life, things become more complicated. For the rest of your life, you will have one foot in your new, observant Jewish community and the other foot at home with your non- (or less-) religious family and childhood friends. If you want to preserve your childhood and family relationships, you have to be ready to explain why you would obligate yourself to do all these frustratingly complicated things when you could have had a perfectly easy life by staying just the way you were.

Andrea and many other married Jewish women liken covering their hair to wearing a crown. Now that I’m doing it, I think this analogy is apropos on more than one level. It’s not just that both crowns and scarves are beautiful and royal-looking. It’s that by covering my hair, I become a public figure: a visible ambassador of an entire culture. To my non-Jewish friends, colleagues, and even to strangers, my behavior gets filed under “How Jews Act.” Like a queen’s crown, a judge’s robe, or a policeman’s badge, my head covering is not just an accessory. It has weight; it puts me under scrutiny. I carry on my head the heavy responsibility of giving people a positive impression of Judaism.

This certainly didn’t sink in for me right away. Even before getting engaged, I was spoiled rotten as far as preparation for hair covering goes. I poked through all of Andrea’s posts and videos. I sneakily collected scarves for months from thrift shops and piled them in a box at the back of my closet. When I was stuck at home doing laundry, I would have a complex, fancy triple-scarf wrap on my head just because. At this point, I loved hair covering in the same way that I loved cute shoes or nail polish. It was FUN, and I quickly became pretty good at it – even though I was secretive to avoid scaring my not-quite-fiancé. This period of girlish excitement persisted through most of our engagement, until about two weeks from the wedding. One day, I looked at myself in the mirror, and I realized that married me could never leave the house without a hair covering again. And then the old righteous I-should-be-allowed-to-do-whatever-I-want instinct and the why-should-“organized religion”-tell-me-what-to-do instinct kicked back in. I hadn’t heard from either of them in a while, but we all deal with them. Even those of us who stand strongly by the decisions we’ve made. It’s part of human nature to fight against obligations and limitations that make our lives more difficult, and maybe even more so when the only one to blame for the obligations is ourselves.

While I struggled to make peace with hair covering in the little time remaining before my wedding, other parts of my Jewish life blossomed in ways I had never imagined. The community around us came together and literally made our wedding. In the same sense that people say “it takes a village to raise a child,” it took our whole village to marry us. Our food was home-cooked by a couple of powerhouse local women who’ve personally catered over 150 weddings for couples who are still students or just starting out financially. Our florist lent us 30 vases and gave us a bunch of floating candles for free. I bought my dress for next-to-nothing from a Jewish vendor on Etsy who was getting rid of old inventory. Friends from the synagogue drove us around everywhere on errands since we don’t have a car.

Never before had I felt so welcome in the Jewish community, but I still had difficulty with the notion of becoming so visibly religious. What eventually helped me reconcile all of these feelings was this: When someone you trust with your life gives you a piece of advice, even if that advice is very strange, you don’t throw it out immediately. It might be hard. It might not fit the picture of what you grew up with, or what’s popular right now. Though the advice isn’t easy to take, the source of the advice is so important to you that you’ll follow it anyway. When we’re little, we think we should be allowed to eat cookies every day. Maybe we even have a friend down the street who does eat cookies every day and we resent the carrot sticks that we get in our lunches instead. But in the end of course, our moms were right – the carrots are healthier. We just weren’t in a place, as children, to understand.

My G-d and my community, collectively, represent a force of kindness, caring, and pure knowledge far greater than I possess alone. Even though it is hard to look different, hard to explain to someone on the street, when a piece of wisdom comes from Judaism, I listen. The morning after my wedding, I did that same fancy triple-scarf wrap that I’d secretly worn while doing laundry. It used to take me five minutes. That morning, my hands shook and it took me over twenty. My husband was looking on in curiosity, but I had to ask him to go away because he was making me even more nervous.

In the end, covering my hair has been both easier and harder than I thought and feared it would be. In this and many other areas of Jewish life, I am still very much a child. I struggle with wanting to eat cookies instead of carrot sticks. But the weight of the queen’s crown, the responsibility of my visible presence as a Jewish woman, reminds me that I must make the best of myself. I’ve only been married a week, and already I’ve made a concentrated effort to greet people with a smile (Should a stranger’s only contact with an observant Jew consist of a distracted frown?). I try to show up earlier, tip more generously, and listen more attentively so others know that I value them. It takes effort to push myself like this, but I’m so glad my covered head is forcing me to do it.

It is tempting to live life pursuing comfort instead of growth. But if you stay comfortable, you will never find your full potential. Cover your hair beautifully, with inner commitment, and you will literally turn heads in the street. You are in the limelight now. It isn’t going to be comfortable at all, but you just might change the world.