A couple of weeks ago I attended the Bat Mitzvah for the 13 year old daughter of my friend, a former neighbor. Yarmulke-less, my wife and I sat down in Temple Emanu-El, waiting for the service to begin. Immediately I regretted declining a complimentary kippah (yarmulke is Yiddish; kippah is the Hebrew equivalent; kippot is plural) offered to me at the entrance, although I wasn’t entirely sure if I was supposed to wear it as a gentile. But, either way, no one cared except me. The many colorful kippot seemed to move about in the room like flowers in a breeze, their colors ranging from serious black to cheerful watermelon. To my surprise, many women wore them, a more recent egalitarian development.
I stared at the sanctuary’s etched glass windows illustrating each of the Ten Commandments, the final etching depicting “Thou Shalt Not Covet” with a head in profile wearing a frontlet, suggesting the wearer is too engaged with Torah to even think about desiring another’s property. In the front of the room I could see through the sculpted gates of the Ark where four sacred Torah scrolls rested. One of these scrolls had been removed from a synagogue by Hitler’s soldiers and stored in a warehouse with the apparent intent to display it after the end of the war in a museum to an extinct people. It had somehow survived the Holocaust and finally found a home in this synagogue.
Easily 50% of the service was spoken in Hebrew, but you could follow along in an English translation. My wife quickly learned to turn the pages from left to right. We read the Shema, the cornerstone of Jewish life, the reaffirmation of ethical monotheism: Shema Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Echad. “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is One.” Later, a female rabbi gave a commentary on the Torah.
Then Alexandra, my friend’s daughter, stood and chanted a passage in Hebrew from the Holocaust scroll. Great care was taken in handling this enormous object. At one point later in the service, she was handed the scroll and told to hold it to her heart. Tears welled up in my eyes as Alex gave a commentary on the text she had sung like an angel. She explained how this ancient and obscure text from Leviticus, dealing mostly with the classification of clean and unclean animals, remained relevant to us today, how it informed our actions as caring and moral people created by God. I wondered, will my children ever speak (or should I say “perform”) something so beautiful?
I turned to my wife. She was clearly impressed with Alex’s intelligence, as well as her diligent preparation, and was nearly as proud of her as her parents no doubt were. However, my wife didn’t share my enthusiasm for the use of Hebrew in the service. “Well, it was like reading movie subtitles,” she said. “My preference is to understand what’s being said.” I like foreign films and don’t mind reading subtitles. Then I recalled the words of Joseph Smith when he studied Hebrew under Rabbi Joshua Seixas: “My soul delights in reading the word of the Lord in the original.” I wonder if Joseph’s wife shared his opinion?
Afterwards, we went to chat with Alex’s family as others gathered round. I wasn’t sure what to say on this occasion, so I told my old neighbor how magnificent the Bat Mitzah had been, although I had a sin to confess to him. I said, “I hope God can forgive me for coveting your religion.” He was visibly moved and replied, “This is what it’s all about.”
 I’ve read that for some wearers, kippot function as forms of personal expression. For instance, some styles might suggest Zionist sympathies, others modernist tendencies. Children may even wear kippot with sports teams logos or cartoon characters, but this is frowned upon by some as frivolous.
 DHC, Vol. 2, 17 February 1836.