And What's That on Your Head?
by Bert Stratton
Maybe a collage
artist could do something
with my assortment
which I’ve collected
during the 23 years
I’ve spent playing klezmer clarinet at weddings
and bar mitzvahs in Cleveland.
My Guatemalan yarmulkes – crocheted
by Mayan Indians – come from hipster weddings.
These multi-colored Mayan kippot
are especially big hits with female rabbi
brides. That’s a niche.
My most heimisch lids are bubbie-knit.
For one party, a grandma knit 150
yarmulkes. I took about five leftovers.
Skull cap. Those are harsh words. I have
some blue suede yarmulkes, distributed
by A1 Skull Cap Co. out of Brooklyn. The
yarmulkes don’t breathe. I like a yarmulke
that breathes, crocheted or knitted.
Camouflage kippot. I have a few. My band played a bar mitzvah where
the theme was Zahal (that’s the
Israel Defense Forces). The bar
mitzvah boy’s father wore combat
boots and a full Israeli army uniform. The
band wore IDF T-shirts, except our trombone
player, who is a pacifist.
Sports-themed lids happen too. One time
we had to wear basketball jerseys and kippot
at a bar mitzvah party. There even was
a cheerleader squad. The girls did gymnastics
formations while cheering “Mazal
tov, let’s shout hurray. It’s Jeremy and Sam’s
bar mitzvah day.” Another cheer was “I
say ‘oy,’ you say ‘vey,’ Jeremy and Sam are
My band’s keyboard player often starts
gigs by asking, “Is this a yarmulke gig or
not?” He’s a gentile. I have explained that
some are half-and-half: yarmulke for the
ceremony, no yarmulke for the party.
My Conservative rabbi wears a “throwaway”
yarmulke, the black satin number
used by funeral homes and synagogues. My
rabbi doesn’t want to look different from his
congregants, I guess. I don’t have the guts
to ask him why.
My white satin yarmulke from December
9, 2007 is imprinted with the groom’s name, Ananth Uggirala. His parents, from
India, were Anjaneyulu and Manorama
Uggirala. I had to announce them. Memorable.
You need the right kind of yarmulke clips
if you’re a musician because you move
around a lot. Bobby pins are the worst. They
take your hair out. Duck bill clips – also
bad. The best are the little surfboard barrettes.
If you don’t have good clips, you’re in
trouble, particularly at outdoor gigs.
I remember one Israeli guy marching
with the chuppah outdoors, while smoking
and balancing a drink. His yarmulke
blew off. He scooped it up, put it back
on, and took a drink. Secular Israelis, they’re
I wore a yarmulke for a week when I hitchhiked
out west. This was decades ago. I
had just seen a photo of Bob Dylan wearing
a yarmulke at the Kotel. None of the
drivers who picked me up commented. My
hat was just a hat – to them. To me, it was
Bert Stratton plays clarinet in the klezmer
band Yiddishe Cup and is the author of the
blog Klezmer Guy: Real Music & Real Estate.
He is a member of Park Synagogue in