May 18, 2024
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May 18, 2024
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Today’s topic is: Name yarmulkas—good idea or bad idea?

To be honest, it’s a weird idea. My kids aren’t allowed to come to yeshiva wearing any clothes with writing on them, but yarmulkas are okay.

A lot of people like name yarmulkas because they’ve noticed that a lot of their sons look the same from the back, especially after haircuts. So they’re like name tags for short people.

How do gentiles tell their kids apart? Do they make them wear actual name tags?

Maybe this is why they tend to have fewer kids.

And it comes in handy even if you’re not the kid’s parent. You can call the kid by name—because kids never think you’re talking to them specifically unless you use their name—and then the kid looks at you like, “How does he know what my name is?” because he’s not constantly going around all day thinking that there’s a name on his yarmulka.

But this is why a lot of people are nervous about them. My aunt never let my cousins wear a name yarmulke growing up, because she was afraid of potential kidnappers. Like someone would say, “Michoel,” and Michoel would say, “How do you know my name?” and the guy would say, “I’m a friend of your parents.” She was particularly afraid of kidnappers who not only knew how to read Hebrew, but they know how to do it without nekudos.

But it’s not just for identifying kids. It also comes in handy when you find a yarmulke on the floor—or several yarmulkas after a pillow fight or a basketball game—so everyone knows which one is his. For example, two of my kids share a bunk bed, and their yarmulkas fall down into the same tiny space every night. They’ve both decided they’re too old for name yarmulkas, so every morning they fight about whose yarmulka is whose, and if they want to avoid the fight, they each try to wake up extra early to beat the other one to the yarmulka pile. So there are benefits both ways.

The other question, I guess, is what do you do with these yarmulkas when the kid grows out of them? Find another kid with that name? It’s not going to be one of yours. So maybe we should just print the kid’s last name on his yarmulke. That’s what the other kids call him anyway. And that way he can pass it down. I bet this is why professional sports players do it.

But they can pass the yarmulka down anyway. My 6-year-old, Gedalyah, just started wearing his 11-year-old brother’s old name yarmulke. And I’m the only one who is bothered by this, apparently. It doesn’t bother my older son, because the yarmulka is too small for him, plus everyone calls him “Schmutter,” and it doesn’t bother Gedalyah, and my wife thinks it’s sweet.

But for some reason it bothers me. Why? Most of what Gedalyah is wearing is hand-me-downs anyway. Why is this different?

And it’s not like we’re going to mix up my 6-year-old and my 11-year-old from the back. There’s a height difference. Also, my 11-year-old won’t take off his coat, and my 6-year-old won’t put on his shoes. I don’t even know if he plays outside during recess, because I can’t imagine that he keeps his shoes on when he’s in school. I think he gets to school in the morning and takes them off, and then he leaves one in his classroom and the other in the office.

This could be why it takes so long to do afternoon carpool.

But what am I worried about? That people will call him the wrong name? He’s in first grade. His friends can’t read names without nekudos anyway. And having the wrong name on your yarmulka is a nice precaution against kidnapping.

So my wife has no problem with this. But then we went to parent-teacher conferences, and Gedalyah’s rebbi mentioned that he’s been calling Gedalyah “Daniel” lately because of the yarmulka. And it doesn’t help that this rebbi had my Daniel in his class five years ago. And that my Daniel was much less academic than Gedalyah is. Though Gedalyah is spacier. All the rebbeim say, “He’s a spacey kid. Sometimes I call his name in class and he doesn’t respond.”

“Are you sure you’re calling the right name?”

Maybe he’s wearing it to avoid getting called on.

So that’s someone we forgot in this whole cheshbon—the rebbi who’s had both kids. This rebbi actually knows that I’m a humor writer, so he thought we were sending Gedalyah in with this yarmulke to mess with him.

“You can’t tell the difference? He’s the kid without shoes.”

“This is first grade. They all take off their shoes.”

The truth is that if you want to tell your kids apart, you don’t really need names. You can just get them different styles of yarmulkas. You can be like, “This kid is really into choo-choo trains, so he has a choo-choo train yarmulke. This kid is really into Lego, so he has a Lego yarmulke. And that kid is really into flowers.” And so on.

“This kid is really into Yerushalayim. This kid is really into alef bais.”

“Um… He’s 3. They’re all into alef bais.”

For adults, of course, having people figure out your name based on your yarmulka isn’t really that much of a benefit, especially if you’re tall. Unless you’re trying to identify yourself in a crowd picture. You’re looking at a picture of a huge levaya, and you’re like, “Hey, that’s me! I’m the adult with a name on his yarmulka!”

“Cool! I’m the one with choo-choo trains.”

By Mordechai Schmutter

 Mordechai Schmutter is a freelance writer and a humor columnist for Hamodia, The Jewish Press and, among others. He also has five books out and does stand-up comedy. You can contact him at [email protected].


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