The Pink Yarmulke of Change

Today is Yom Kippur, the day of atonement. Or, as our ultra-progressive Bay Area synagogue calls it, the day of at-one-ment: the day when we remember we are all part of one interrelated entity. The idea that, whatever religion we practice—or don’t—we are all, really, working toward the same things: moral lives, goodness, making the world a better place.

Traditionally, Yom Kippur is the day we atone for the mistakes we’ve made over the last year. Today, our rabbi asked us not only to think about things we’ve done wrong and to ask forgiveness, but think of ways we’ve been wronged, and to forgive.

Sam went to temple this morning wearing a hot pink polo shirt. On the way in he picked up a matching pink satin yarmulke and put it on his head. It’s traditional to wear white on Yom Kippur. Today, it’s hot pink. Maybe hot pink is the new white?

In public, people always think Sam’s a girl. If I’m out with Sam and Ruby, people ask how old my girls are. I don’t usually correct them. But when I’m introducing Sam, as I did several times this morning, I make a point of using his gender: “Do you remember Sam? He’s seven now!” Using my most matter-of-fact and friendly tone to reveal that my child is male when he looks so female is a small act of activism. It’s easy to do that here, in this warm and welcoming community. There is the playwright whose son liked to wear a princess costume in preschool, the family of the tomboy who understands, the congregants who have known Sam since he was a baby.

In the wider world, there are the people who do not understand. Who disparage Sam, wish him harm, wish me to be relieved of my children for allowing Sam to be who he is. Most days, I fight against these people. Today, I aim to forgive them. Not because I agree with them, but because I hold open that they can change.

It might sound presumptuous: forgiving people who have not asked my forgiveness, hoping that strangers will change. But I don’t want to return hate with hate—that’s not going to change anything. So instead I forgive, and I hope.

I tell Sam this all the time: the world is changing. People are changing. A long time ago women were not allowed to vote. A less-long time ago, black people were not allowed to drink from the same water fountains as white people. And someday, a boy will be allowed to wear a dress to school. It just takes time—and hope, and forgiveness—for minds to change.



  1. Jenni Olson says

    One of the congregants at our synagogue read from the bimah on Yom Kippur and when she came to a sentence that made reference to: “men and women both” — she spontaneously changed it to the fabulously expansive phrase: “all along the wondrous and complex gender spectrum.”

    Having grown up a tomboy and living life as a gender variant adult I am so deeply moved seeing today’s parents who make an effort to understand their children, and embrace them for who they are.

    • shoffman says

      Thanks Jenni…I love “all along the wondrous and complex gender spectrum.” Gender spectrum is such a great phrase, because–like the color spectrum–it allows for expansiveness and depth and endless variation.

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