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Once upon a time I was a much more gregarious person, especially when traveling.  Anyone was fair game — cab drivers, fellow airplane passengers, people in waiting rooms; basically any stray soul with whom it seemed possible to strike up a conversation. 

Some people are simply curious by nature (which is a nice was of saying we’re nosy).  Many of them go on to become scientists and researchers and the like.  For me, being a journalist for a few years was a great way to sate my curiosity.   Imagine having free rein to ask virtually any question that comes to mind!

Sweet story told by Charles Silberman about his wife Arlene, who passed away in May.  Although I never got a chance to know her, I’m told that Arlene was exceptionally gregarious.  Here’s how Charles tells the story:

 Arlene was fascinated by every person she met and therefore got to know – to really know – every one of them.  I first appreciated this trait a few weeks after we were married when Arlene went to see my family dentistI told her that he was a good dentist who taught at NYU Dental School.  At dinner, I asked Arlene how she had liked Dr. Biderman and she asked me with incredulity, “Why didn’t you tell me he was such a fascinating man?”  When I asked what she meant, she proceeded to tell me about the dentist’s life outside dentistry, his wife’s work (an actress in the Yiddish theater), and his two creative and imaginative sons.  I asked Arlene how one carried on a conversation with a man who has at least one hand in your mouth. “Well, it takes time for the Novocaine to take effect,” she explained. I am still puzzling over that one!

He may be puzzling over it, but those of us who share the trait understand completely.  However, unlike Arlene, as the years have passed my desire to chat with strangers has waned.  This is not to say that I don’t strike up conversations with random strangers on line at the grocery store (or any other line where I find myself queued up for more than 30 or 40 seconds).  No, the occasions when I don’t do it — actually avoid conversations as much as possible — are when I’m stuck with someone for any length of time.  No more airplane or train ride heart-to-hearts for me.

This may sound awful, but I think once again it’s mainly because of the Jewish thing.  Since 1995, my entire career — both work and volunteer — has been within the Jewish community.  So when the inevitable “what do you do?” question arises, I cringe.  It’s stupid, I know, and a lot of my Jewish friends and acquaintances report on fantastic conversations with cab drivers or plane seat-mates.  Either I’m simply not as lucky as they are, or I’ve been blessed with the less interesting and more annoying ilk. 

It’s not only the “some of my best friends are Jewish” response (on which there are many variations, such as “my college roommate married a Jewish girl and she’s not the least bit greedy”).  There’s also the “oh that’s so nice, you know, we all worship the same God,” and “OMG, I’m Catholic and we’re so much alike because we live with lots of guilt” conversation-starters.  Or they want to talk bible.  Which I really hate, because they’ve usually memorized chapter and verse, and I haven’t studied the bible by memorizing it.

That said, I am curious about what it would be like to wear a kipah (yarmulke) in public, which is essentially advertising not only that I’m Jewish but that I’m also an observant Jew.  The observant part isn’t exactly true (OK, it isn’t particularly  true at all) but I am edging towards a more observant lifestyle, and of course, I’m hoping that rabbinic school is in my future.

So, I’ve purchased myself a nice cotton kipah that’s not too bright (I don’t want to wear a big flag on my head!) and plan to wear it when I travel to Connecticut for the Davenin’ Leadership Training institute in a few days.   It’s time to start pushing at the walls of my comfort zone.  Wish me luck!

P.S.  Despite the video below about all kipot (plural of kipah) being black, here’s a photo of my two new travel kipot.  The purple one was white but I dyed it — with crushed blueberries!  I’m hoping it doesn’t turn my hair blue.