Apr 17, 2011

The Tale of the Magic Tichel and Its Hijab Envy

Last week I was sitting in the office of a coworker (I use that term loosely since I work from home and don't technically have coworkers) when a woman walked in and began talking to him swiftly in Hebrew about something he had sitting on his desk. The conversation was incredibly fast-paced, even for me, and I didn't catch most of what was going on. Something one of them said I did understand and I smiled, and the woman looked at me and said something in Hebrew (I forget what) and then asked if I spoke/understood Hebrew, to which I motioned that "so-so" thing with my hand. She apologized and said she'd assumed I spoke Hebrew, I said "kol b'seder" (it's okay), and they continued their conversation.

I immediately realized why this woman had assumed I spoke Hebrew. I was sitting in an office at a Jewish institution, and I was wearing a tichel (nifty Isreali head-scarf) on my head.

The tichel, I realized was the tip-off to my supposed mastery of Hebrew. The tichel meant I was Israeli or had some connection. I wasn't wearing a hat or a sheitel (wig).

That got me thinking -- again, as always -- about head coverings and what they mean. In my Hebrew class last week we read an article about the politics of the kippah and what it means, whether it's black velvet, or knitted, or one of those Nah Nach style ones. Our headgear, it seems, delegates how others view and categorize us, both politically and religiously. If you wear a tichel, chances are people will assume you're somehow tied to or involved in Zionism and Israel. If you wear a sheitel, you're from Monsey or one of the more religious and showy areas of Teaneck. And if you wear a hat -- especially a baseball cap -- well, then we all know you're just doing it to appease everyone else. (These are generalizations, folks, not my own beliefs.)

And then I was sitting in Bergen Town Center, biding time waiting for Tuvia to show up so we could look at those fancy lightweight suitcases since I'm going to be traveling so much and have a problem with ... ahem ... overpacking. I was people-watching near the fancy fishtanks that attract children and elderly alike for their bizarre, prehistoric-style fish that just look fake. Two Muslim girls walked past me in the most beautiful hijab coverings I've ever seen. I started thinking: These women look so beautiful in their head coverings that wrap over and around and here I am, wearing a headscarf that I'm perpetually shifting and pulling and tucking and I don't feel beautiful in it.

I expressed my frustration on Twitter and people suggested that it's because no hair is showing -- the focus of the viewer rests entirely on the face of the woman. Someone else posed a question that I've been wondering for quite some time: Is there anything that says a Jewish woman can't cover her hair hijab-style? And if not, why don't we? Is it because it's a Muslim thing to do and we want to distinguish ourselves? I know that in many parts of the world, Jewish women do cover their hair hijab-style, and it tends to be those with historic ties to historically Muslim lands.

Yes, that's J.Lo on the right. Stylin' in her tichel.

I guess, what I'm saying is, the hijab seems to be more, well, more tzniut and more stylish -- more mysterious, if you will. Am I nuts?

When the seasons change, I always have this kind of existential hair-covering crisis. I got married as spring was upon us, then I dealt with the summer-to-fall change, the fall-to-winter change, and now I'm dealing once again with that winter-to-spring change. I'm almost a full cycle of weather-related hair woes, and I don't think I'm a pro yet. I've had my bangs since I was a wee lass, and I just can't get rid of them. That bodes well for cute winter knit hats, but I am not loving how it looks with a tichel these days. I feel like I'm cheating. Tefach (the hand's breadth allotment of hair showing) or not.

I'm guessing if I walked out of my house and to shul with my scarf wrapped all hijab-like, I'd probably be chastised, and my conversion would go out in the window (she's a closet Muslim!). But sometimes, I troll the sites that sell these beautiful scarves and am jealous. Envious. I sometimes covet the beauty that these women accomplish in their clothing and hair coverings.

Sure, some might say I fall into the Orthofox category with my fashion sensibilities, but I'll never look as good as some of the women I see schlepping around the mall. And my tichel will never fit the way it should -- even so far as my ability to suddenly master Hebrew when it's placed upon my head (like a magic slipper or something).



Katie McClusky said...

I also love the beautiful Hijab look. And many Yemenite Jews wear them as well as others from Arab countries (including my next door neighbor!) I went through a similar "crisis" during my first year of marriage. At first I assumed that I would want a little more hair showing, simply because I thought it made me look more normal. After a few months of tucking and pulling and constantly fussing, I started covering every inch of my hair just because it stays put!

I also envied the Chaddishe women who always look put together, not a hair or stocking out of place. I wanted to be as comfortable AND as tzniut as they appeared. I think it all has to do with personal growth, and whatever you wear, if you are comfortable, it will show.

MrsJessica said...

I've actually been thinking about the hijab thing a lot, after coming to basically the same conclusion - the hijab seems to look nicer than the tichel. I've decided that it's about a couple of things. First, in general, they seem to spend way more money than we do on their scarves. And I think that shows. Plus, they have cool pins and underscarves and stuff that I think also help to make it look more put together.

I grabbed a couple of "bonnets" from an American store aimed at muslims, and they have really helped with my tichels. And, I go for styles that have more layers, look more together, require fewer pins in my hair. It's a process, but I feel like I'm getting better at it - even though I for sure need more scarves. And I'm going to try to spend more money on it - more like from styleunderground versus a blowout sale at coveryourhair.

Thanks for the post not about Passover!

Elle said...

It has been almost 5 yrs of headcovering and i feel like I continuously redefine my look. I'm always trying to find something that is more me and more modest and more attractive.

The hijab thing - well it is like so many other issues in Judaism, a lot of it has to do with custom. It is not the custom or tradition of Jews to wear things that resemble the coverings of other religions. Frustrating as it may be, this is important. So much of Judaism is about what it doesn't do just as much as what ti does do - that is what keeps the line going. Sometimes we sacrifice something that isn't inherently "wrong or right" in order the benefit the community. I'd say we take a hit for the team, but that sounds a tad dramatic!

About the tichel - experiment! Trust me there are more textures, styles, sizes, shapes and fabrics than you can imagine. Beyond that there are MANY great tutorials on how to tie in various fashions. About 2 weeks ago I actually found a scarf at walmart of all places (shhh don't tell) that was only $5 and it fits me better than any tichel I own. Not to mention I found a great new way to wear it.

as for bangs... I feel ya. If you want a new look, tuck them back. no need to grow them out. What I do is push them to the side and tuck them behind my ear (well before I decided to just grow them out all the way). As most people's faces aren't flattered by the straight back hair look.

Sometimes I notice the awesome clothes muslims get to wear - comfy cozy pants underneath a stylish but modest long shirt and i feel a pang of jealousy. There is NO reason that wouldn't be exceptable modesty wise within Judaism. But I suck it up, but it is a battle that is not worth fighting. there are so many more important things to battle right now. Set your sights on those! :)

What you feel isn't wrong. But letting it turn into frustration is. Find a way to express yourself through covering that meets your needs. and change it up whenever you like.

(maybe I should do a tutorial on heacovering styles, scarves and knots... hmmm... I'll have to think about that one!)

Elle said...

p.s. wearing a knot snood under my tichel has been a HUGE help to me. I have a crochet snood - very thin - which I bobbby pin in, and then I wear a tichel. It prevents the slipping a great deal.

esther said...

I say it's time to push the envelope. And where better to push the envelope than a place like Teaneck, a place with a long history of tolerance, where a large orthodox community voted for and supports a Muslim mayor. There's no reason why women can't be modest, attractive and comfortable at the same time.

Anat said...

The Hijab look totally doesn't appeal to me. In fact, as an Israeli, I get somewhat nervous in the presence of people dressed in traditional Muslim garb. This is not a rational fear, clearly there are many Muslims who are wonderful people and have no resentment of me - it is an instinct created by years of looking at every person who gets on a bus in fear of that person exploding...

Bottom line, I wouldn't deal well with the hijab thing. I think our clothes say a lot about who we are and stereotype us, and I get that a lot for wearing pants and covering my hair, but there are points where I think I like the stereotyping and would like to keep it as it is.

Becca said...

I'm one of those "weird head covering Christians who is neither Amish nor Mennonite" I just stumbled over this. I too think the Muslim Hijab is lovely. I'm too chicken to go out in the world wearing a Hijab though haha. I love how a long rectangle scarf looks just plopped on my head with one end thrown around my neck like I'm some 1940's movie star keeping my hair in place in my convertable :-D. It frames my face and makes me feel lovely and feminine.

Lori P. said...

Even though I am a pre-convert, unmarried, I also like hijab style. I see women daily looking really fashionable wearing their hijabs. Alas, I feel that as a woman of color, I may be automatically thought of as a muslimah if I wear a hijab. I sometimes wonder if people will think I'm muslim if I wear a tichel as well. Oh well...

Batya said...

I've noticed that the styles are mixing more and more, especially here in Israel.

CrazyJewishConvert said...

I have no desire to wear a hijab-style headcovering one day when I'm married. I get sorta claustrophic in tight clothing. If turtlenecks are a no-go because they're too tight around my face and neck, I'd probably claw my way out of a hijab!

That said, some women have the face to make the hijab work gorgeously. Some...don't. I think it's more the faces of these women than the covering on their heads.

Rabbi V the ex-Intern said...

I once saw a friend of mine's mom covering her hair hijab-style, but in the looser, more meikil form, like this -- http://www.shutterstock.com/pic-18613924/stock-photo-beautiful-woman-with-red-head-scarf-isolated.html -- which i thought looked cool.
Also, in Israel, the "skirt/dress over pants" style jumped from the Muslim community to the Dati community a few years ago. A friend of mine there said that about 15 years ago if you did it people would say you "look Arab", but now (at least in some places) it's fairly normal for Jews, too.

Schvach said...

Hello Chavi: I have to (and am pleased to) agree with you. I think that Moslem tzniut is more modest than the Jewish analog. I've commented on this in several blogs on other blog sites. The 'hijabed' women on our campus are superlatively self-comported, not only in their insistence on covering up, but also in their bearing. In other words, they are tzniut elegant. However, not all is tzniut and stylish with these women. They have a bad habit (I think) of not bothering to match the various clothing items they don - 'oh darling, don't you know, they absolutely clash!' Stylish they tend not. Also, they seem to have a penchant for denim, which as you know, is a no no in Jewish Orthodoxy. So cheer up Chavi, there's hope yet for our (you) women on the tzniut runway. And Peseach Sameach!!!!

Aviva said...

I actually prefer tichels (esp the way J-Lo is wearing it, ha!). I'm not married (or Orthodox... err... yet? lol) but I experiment with them all the time at home and watch those how-to videos online.
I have a muslim friend who looks very pretty in her hijabs, but I personally have no desire to wear that style. I'd rather look Jewish!

Chag Sameach!!! :)

Chaviva Gordon-Bennett said...

So so many different takes here :) I love it!

I'm glad to see that I'm not alone here. I have considered buying some of the beautiful scarves they have on the Muslim sites, but, let's be honest -- I don't know where the money is going and it kind of makes me nervous.

It's interesting that perhaps Israelis have a different feeling about the hijab-style than do those in the Diaspora where it might not have the same stigma.

Ilana said...

I plan to cover my hair when (if?) I get married, but I grew up reform and never had close role models for covering. I always preferred the look of hijab over the sheitels I saw on the married Chabad women I knew (no offense to sheitel'd ladies, it's just not my thing), and then I moved to Toronto, and every day it's a parade of beautiful hijabified women around me. I admit it, I'm jealous!

Rivki Silver said...

I also troll hijab sites admiring their styles. But also wouldn't put one on 'cause of the associations.

I was at the zoo the other week and I saw a number of very fashionably hijabed and abayaed Muslim ladies. As for me, well, it was laundry day, so I wasn't in my highest style form, but I'd like to say that I was representing the "Orthofox" population. And I was wearing a pre-tied tichel which I enjoy. They're comfy like snoods, but more stylish (IMO) and they are easy to adjust for slippage.

le7 said...

How about adopting some middle eastern inspiration for your hair covering?

I knew a girl whose mother is Moroccan. She would cover her hair completely but always looked elegant in a tichel because of the way she would layer a few different tichels and piled them on top of her head.

She looked simply exotic and amazing (and very tznius).

le7 said...

Also, I think the muslim girls at my school always look fabulous because they coordinate their entire outfits.

Aravah said...

*whew* I love the hijab look and I'm not alone! I don't like the tight,spandex, "I'm a turtle" hijabs or the nun-like hijabs, but the fancy ones, well they're just gorgeous. Downright princess like actually. A traditionally worn tichel simply can't achieve that regal look in my opinion. I also love their long tunics with pants & would love to dress that way but I'd be looked at as a muslim...so i don't.

These things just don't look Jewish enough by modern day standards. I have purchased fancy pins, dangly scarf jewelry/pins, silky & rhinestone bonnets (to wear under my tichel)from hijab stores though. I can't seem to find these things anywhere else and they really bump things up a notch, so I don't look like I just finished doing spring cleaning.

I once saw a satin shayla/tichel being styled on a muslim model via Youtube...the scarf was just gorgeous! It would be perfect for shul (especially if it matched your hair color) because it was shiny, formal, luxurious! Unfortunately I can't find them online for purchase anywhere.
Shavua tov...

Sandra Ortiz said...

Seems you wrote this article some time ago, hope you are still active. Anyways, I learnt about the tichel because I saw this gorgeous ones in the facebook: http://www.leelach.com/ they are very pretty and femenine and seem to very easy to wear. As a muslim, I wondered if they have ones that cover the neck, but there isn't.. no I understand why.. Oh dear.. I wouldn't mind to look as a Jewish lady.. the tichel style I think is a bit more comfortable, having said that, I saw some videos that ladies wear so many scarves to make it stylish and I feel that might be very heavy on the head. Muslim ladies work on different styles constantly you will see different fashions, so I suppose that could be the same for you jewish ladies, that at the end you are the ones wearing it and you make the fashion!!! wear it your own way and style!! I have done a tichel-hijab style by just drawing a veil in front.. if you leave it a bit loose, not so close to the chin, then is another thing and not hijab... give it a try!!! also, it is very pretty to have the long earrings hanging!! I am very sorry to read in some posts that seeing a lady in hijab on a bus or something makes you nervous, hope one day this will change... there is so much one can learn and share from each other.. the similitudes are bigger than the differences!!! :-) Peace and blessings!

Chaviva Gordon-Bennett said...

Thank you for the comment Sandrita! That website is amazing, so glad you shared it. I am still blogging, but over at www.kvetchingeditor.com. I'm curious now also why Muslim women cover their necks. That might be a future post :)

amusing candygirl said...

Hi Chaviva,
Found your blog here, while I am looking for simple head covering. I am a muslim from Indonesia, and just saw Tichel style for headwrap.
I do frequently wear turban because i dont really like too many layers to cover the head.
Hijab style usually meant wearing so many layers and here in Indonesia it can be challenge because the hot n humid weather.
Reading your blog thinking of wearing hijab.. well then, I am the opposite, thinking how to wear headwrap tichel style.
Soo.. nice to meet you..
Its nice to know, that headwrapping is not only the concern of moslem women but also jews too.. ...

Tytyvyllus said...

I love your stance. Go girl!

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