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Kippah-Wearing Student Told to Prove Religion

The principal at Northwood High School told Patch that “students are asked for verification when their religious headwear is not traditional headwear that we are accustomed to seeing.”

UPDATE: Northwood High School has changed its headwear policy.

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The parents of a Jewish student at are upset after the principal asked them to provide a letter from a rabbi justifying the kippah their son wore to school.

Last week Steven Tanenbaum’s 17-year-old son, Caleb, began coming to classes wearing a kippah sruga--a Jewish head covering that his mother had knitted for him.

When the administration told Caleb to remove the kippah, Caleb refused, saying that he wore it because he is Jewish, according to his father, Steven Tanenbaum. “He said, Call my mother. My mother made this for me,” Tanenbaum told Patch.

But even when his parents explained the situation, the principal asked for a letter of justification by Monday.

“Instead of saying that’s fine, the principal wanted a letter from a rabbi,” Tanenbaum said. “Our word was not good enough? We’re his parents!”

“At that point, I was really upset,” he added.

Caleb was born in Israel, according to his father, and lately the 17-year-old had decided to identify more with his roots by again wearing the traditional Jewish kippah, also known as yarmulke. The kippah, his father said, is a solid, off-white color with no symbols or markings--nothing that would identify it as gang-related. (Editor's Note: Tanenbaum has corrected this statement and )

“All students are allowed to wear head wear according to their designated religion,” Principal Henry Johnson wrote in an email to Patch.  “Because our students are not allowed to wear hats and other head gear at school, students are asked for verification when their religious headwear is not traditional headwear that we are accustomed to seeing.”

The Tanenbaums asked Rabbi Shlomo Buxbaum, the director of Aish DC, to write the letter for the school, which included the following: “I just wanted to verify that the Tanenbaums are a practicing Jewish family who attend services and wearing the Kippah is an important part of our tradition. I ask you, in the spirit of religious acceptance, to allow him to wear his Kippah in the school.”

Buxbaum told Patch that he has never seen this happen before.

“The kippah demonstrates a sense of pride in who we are and a modesty in humbling one’s self before God,” Buxbaum said. “The fact that he would be discouraged is very disturbing.”

Johnson declined to discuss specific details of what happened with the Tanenbaums.

“I have a significant population of students of Jewish and Muslim faith and this has never been an issue before. We are very tolerant and sensitive to students' religions,” Johnson wrote in an email.

Although the school never took away the kippah, Tanenbaum said that his son was threatened with suspension at one point.

Tanenbaum said he complained to MCPS Superintendent Joshua Starr, as well as to the Anti-Defamation League and the Civil Liberties Union.

“I feel singled out in a discriminatory manner,” he said. “I honestly feel that because he was white and Jewish, he was singled out.”

Tanenbaum said he wants a letter of apology to the family, and a reform in the policy so that it is “clear and equal for everyone.” He asked the principal whether the school requires letters of justification from other spiritual leaders besides Judaism, but he said he did not receive an answer.

Meanwhile, Caleb continues wearing his kippah to school.

Dataslave March 16, 2012 at 04:33 AM
Not really, He was enforcing a position that all other schools enforce more stringently, and as has been mentioned, if you go to this kid's profile, he's wearing it, It's not a "little cap" it's HUGE it looks like a rasta hat, and he has the corresponding dreads. It is his job to uphold the rules and that's what he was doing. and If you want to think of "the vast scheme of things", Why are you posting on a story that stems in fuck all no where?
Brandon Choi March 19, 2012 at 01:23 AM
I am Asian, I met my bf couple of years ago, he is a Jew and he doesn't wear kippa ,He introduced me to his religion and I thought that was cool, I am an antitheist and I wore kippa few times.
John Dumas March 19, 2012 at 01:55 AM
How do you prove your religion if it is a new religion? I am of the make love not war religion. Can I wear my symbols?
Sydney Evans May 30, 2012 at 07:00 PM
Actually Mr Berstein, you are incorrect. Wearing a kipah or headcovering is not a Mitzvah (Commandment). Wearing a kipah is a Minhag (a custom). Regardless of whether we are commanded to wear a kipah or we chose to identify with the custom of wearing it, the fact is that millions of Jews (men and women) around the world do so, and hundreds of millions of non-Jews recognize the kipah as a symbol of Jewish piety. This incident is another example of how out of control the American society has become in political correctness. We truly do live in a nanny-state...
Yeeshai Goldstein April 14, 2013 at 06:04 PM
I think the principal was wrong for asking that and im jewish and I wear my kippah everywhere I go and it's not a requirement to wear your kippah it's optional and all denominations of judaism has different views on that so Not all Jews wear their kippahs it's an opition and I bet if a Muslim girl went to that school with her HiJab they would t have a problem with it. We all have rights we can practice whatever religion we want.

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