Sonoma reporter responds to hate by donning kippah

Sign up for Weekday J and get the latest on what's happening in the Jewish Bay Area.

On March 17, two days after one or more jackasses scrawled "Die Jew" on a truck in Petaluma and set it aflame, I decided to wear my yarmulke full time.

And let me tell you, it feels good.

My decision was partly political because a kippah is about as obvious a mark of Jewish identity as you can get — and I don't believe in victimhood or invisibility, no sirree.

But I was also thinking logically. Following a 20-year, post-bar mitzvah browse through other peoples' traditions, I've recently found myself (no pun intended) laying tefillin, arguing Torah and generally becoming more observant. And observant Jews cover their heads at all times, not just for prayer or study.

My decision was also complicated by my livelihood. I work as a newspaper reporter in Sonoma Valley, and I don't want to distract my sources — or worse, keep them from talking to me.

I have several yarmulkes, so I wore a black-and-green one in honor of the famous Irish snake-chaser.

I don't know what sort of reaction I expected. To my surprise and delight, nobody really cared much — aside from the green part, which made people laugh and was therefore good.

And this got me thinking about the much-touted notion of "tolerance."

Merriam-Webster defines "tolerance" as "sympathy or indulgence for beliefs or practices differing from one's own" and "the allowable deviation from a standard."

I'd like to state right here and now my belief that "tolerance" is a potentially harmful crock, as well as condescending. Most people I know don't want to be "indulged" or "allowed." They just want to do their own thing, without permission from "normal" people.

But we shouldn't be tolerant toward each other's particularities. What we should be is indifferent.

Merriam-Webster explains this as "unbiased, unprejudiced" and "marked by no special liking for or dislike of something."

I like to think of indifference as, "So what? That's nice, but I'm doing this other thing."

In other words, instead of wringing our hands to ensure we all celebrate each other's lifestyles, traditions or traits, shouldn't we simply pursue our own politely and leave each other alone?

This is obvious to me not only as a reporter with a balanced eye, but also (and more importantly) as a Jew. Judaism teaches me that ours isn't the only way — simply the only way for us. Judaism also teaches that being a mensch is more important than who (or what) someone prays to, if at all.

Of course, there are people, like the Petaluma arsonist(s) and other religious or cultural fanatics, for whom this sort of laissez-faire global citizenship won't work. And despite my unswerving commitment to the First Amendment, I sometimes find it hard to argue why dangerous extremists should enjoy the same rights they cheerfully deny others — like the right not to be hassled by idiots.

But in the absence of an absolute behavioral standard for everybody, I think no one sums up the alternative better than the Texas writer, Philo Drummond:

"I am the greatest man in the world; indeed I am so great that I can afford great generosity: I encourage all others to adopt the delusion that they are as great as I. If they truly thought that they were themselves the greatest, they too would be as generous; and then we would all be able to humour each other, in peace, for none would feel threatened by the now-harmless delusions of everyone else."