hat Jews put on their heads before they pray is a deeply personal choice. Which is exactly why there are so many choices of kipot for men, women, teens and adults. There are special-occasion kipot and those for everyday wear, designer kipot and those that express the interests of their owner.
Jake Kriger has a private collection of yarmulkes that he stores in a box in his dresser in his Mount Airy home. “I have one my sister crocheted for my Bar Mitzvah 51 years ago, one my mother made for my first wedding, one my stepsons bought for me when they were in Israel, and the white one I always wear for Yom Kippur,” he says. “They are meaningful memories.”
It’s not hard to find similar stories among men of a certain age, just as it is virtually impossible to find female analogues. This comes as no surprise to Lana Ilnyckyj. “Well, because there weren’t any for them to wear,” says Ilnyckyj, owner of Luda’s Judaica Shop in Jenkintown. “Back when the women started to say, ‘I want to wear something more than just the lace schmata, there were not kipot made for women. And then, for a while, it was the little hat kind of kipah that was available. It was a new thing and the kipah makers had to figure out what women wanted to wear. So for a while, there were not beautiful options for women’s kipot.”
That has changed, dramatically so. Ilnyckyj has over 1,000 different styles of kipot, many of them for women and many of them from Israeli artisans. “Beautiful mesh of sterling silver or white, beading and crystals in all kinds of colors,” Ilnyckyj describes. “They are feminine and Jewish and beautiful and something that makes girls and women feel special when they wear it.”
Lisa Prawer has created a business specializing in hand-made kipot and tallit for women and men. Known as The Tallis Lady, Prawer is based in North Jersey and does a thriving international business from her website, www.thetallislady.com. She uses pearls, beading, crystals, silk, lace, wire, mesh and other materials to design kipot for girls and women.
“Most popular among women are the gold, silver and bronze wire kipot with beading,” Prawer says. “Girls and women want those colors to match their jewelry or tallit.”
Prawer still sells lace coverings for women, but even those have been redesigned. “Now, they have embroidery on the edges and some have crystals within the lace,” she explains. “In general, they are more styled, and not just schmatas that we have to pin to our heads. I think women want to show the equality in their connection to God. They want something that is beautiful, but also unique — and they want it to be visible in synagogue. I call it ‘kipah bling.’ ”
Suede kipot are the most popular choice among boys and young men, Prawer says. “Older men are comfortable with satin or velvet for special occasions and cloth for everyday use,” Prawer says, “but the younger generation wants that suede.”
The much younger generation wants hand-painted suede, says Shaindy Ribiat, daughter of the owner of Rosenberg’s Judaica in Bala Cynwyd. “Kids love the kipot with trains, cars, Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, Bob the Builder,” she says. “All of their favorite characters are who they want to see on their kipot, because it is part of them.”
They also wants sports themes — both boys and girls. “Of course, and why not?” Ilnyckyj says. “If the girls play sports, then it symbolizes their interest. I just did a Bat Mitzvah where everyone in the family wore sports-themed kipot.”
Kipot artists like Chaykah Hossman find creative and religious expression in their work. “I believe that having one’s head covered is about respect and humility before God,” she says.
Hossman’s Mazeltops (www.mazeltops.com) is a family-owned business that has been making kipot for 27 years. Although Hossman had been painting for many years, she found a new outlet for her creativity when her oldest son turned 3 and, according to Orthodox tradition, began to wear a kipah. She painted a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle on his kipah — and a business was born. Soon enough, other mothers wanted their sons to have unique kipot as well.
Hossman’s commissions have run the gamut, from designing and hand-painting over 300 candy-themed kipot for a Bar Mitzvah to creating a dream vision on the inside of kipot, to designing a kipah with musical notes and a keyboard with the boy’s name written in Hebrew.
Many boys, girls, men and women want kipot made by Israeli artists. One of the most popular is Yair Emanuel. Luda’s Judaica carries many Emanuel kipot — Ilnyckyj says that people ask for them by name. The vivid colors, biblical symbols and Israeli graphic elements that Emanuel uses make each kipah a unique work of art.
Another option is a kipah created by Yaacov Agam. Agam is an Israeli artist who creates limited-edition, colorfully designed and embroidered yarmulkes that are shipped in a custom box complete with a certificate of authenticity — at a cost of $124.95.
But cost is not what makes a kipah special. Harris Devor, a member of Temple Beth Zion-Beth Israel in Center City, and about four decades past his own Bar Mitzvah, has a drawer full of kipot, which he doesn’t think of as a collection. “They’re around as needed,” he says. “I keep them on hand for company.” Devor’s preference is a simple black or dark blue kipah, but, he says, “I think it’s great for kids to have so many design options. If wearing a kipah with cartoon characters, a sports logo or a favorite saying adds to a youngster’s interest in Judaism, I think it’s a plus.”
This article originally appeared in the November, 2012 issue of Inside Magazine.
Melissa Jacobs is the senior editor of Inside. Marian Robinson is a longtime freelance writer.