“Veiling is My Choice” by Rachel Salzano

Head-wrapping is something many people do. For some it is religious, for others it is cultural but not tied to religion, and for others it is a way to physically protect their hair. My experiences do not speak for all who wrap their hair, I can only speak for myself. But this is my story.

In Jewish tradition covering our heads is important. Men do so as well as women, though our coverings take different forms. In some traditions, women completely cover their hair once they are married with a wig or a scarf, but married women aren’t the only women who veil. Covering your hair when you’re a married Jewish woman is often tied to religious decrees related to modesty, but that doesn’t explain why all married women veil nor why many unmarried women do so. I recently came across a Jewish blog that talked about the history of covering our heads, and how it can be a form of protection. By covering your hair, you create a boundary between a special part of yourself and the rest of the world.

You draw a line and say, “This is for me. And if I choose to share it with you, that is my choice”. That explanation resonated with me.

I began to think back on all the times in the past I had worn a headscarf — I’ve worn them sporadically since my early teens — and I noticed a pattern. On some days my reasons didn’t explicitly address protection or boundaries. But even when my conscious reasoning was focused on my hair being oily or not cooperating with me, my scarf was still about creating a boundary.

I was saying “I don’t want to be exposed to the comments of the world and so I am keeping this part of myself safe”.

Other days I veiled because it was Shabbat or another holiday when the act of covering my hair helped me remember my connection to the spiritual. In all instances I can remember, my use of a headscarf was to draw a line: either a boundary between myself and the world, or a connection between myself and something greater.

Over the past three months I’ve been veiling more consistently than before, and this return is not straightforward. I do so in part because over lockdown I’ve been reconnecting with Jewish traditions, something that I have always cherished but hadn’t consistently practiced. Veiling is also a way to express solidarity with those Jews who are attacked because they are visibly Jewish — something I, as a white functioning Jew, do not have to worry about as much if I do not veil or display my Star of David and Hamsa. I have also begun to veil because it helps me create those boundaries. I choose who gets to see that part of me, and I connect myself to my people while doing so. Veiling is protection. Veiling is freedom. Veiling is choice.

Rachel is a librarian pursuing her PhD in social informatics. She is researching how culture influences public library use. In what free time she has, Rachel enjoys reading, writing (mostly fiction novels and short stories), drawing, and crocheting in no particular order. She anticipates her eventual retirement to be largely spent in a library with a crochet project on her lap and an audiobook playing in her ears.

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