My daughter, who is in first grade at a Reform Jewish day school, recently told her teacher that her parents said she doesn't have to wear a kippah during tefilah (prayer services) at school. I received an email asking if this was in fact the case, and I was shocked. [A note of background--my husband is the rabbi for the school. As a Reform school, it walks a fine line when it comes to some ritual practices. The kippah policy is that middle schoolers may choose, but elementary students will wear during tefilah unless they have a parent's permission not to.]
As a woman rabbi who wears a kippah when I am in prayer services, communal events, and other specifically Jewish and/or rabbinic moments, I was amazed that MY daughter would not want to wear a kippah. Setting aside that I was a little hurt she didn't want to be like her mommy, I was surprised that I would need to make a case for wearing a kippah to my own daughter. I get asked about my kippot almost weekly. It's usually not a question about the kippah itself, but something like, "Hey, I didn't know women wore those," or "Wait, you're a rabbi? I didn't know women could be rabbis/haven't ever met a woman rabbi before/how long have women been rabbis?" Thus, my kippah is a symbol of my ability to stand on the shoulders of the courageous women who have come before me in pursuing visible equality in our Jewish community, and a reminder of my sacred calling not only as a Jew, but a Jewish woman and a rabbi. The kippah is often a lot more than just a headcovering.
When I was 10, we moved to a new city and congregation and a woman rabbi (the congregation's first) had also just started in the community. She unapologetically wore a kippah and tallit and it was revolutionary for my mother and many like her because it gave them permission to try it out and claim this ritual practice as their own. Incidentally, my mother began to make kippot and wore them any time she was in the synagogue, but would not let me wear pants on the bimah (a blog for another time). Both of these shaped me--I wear a kippah in the situations I described earlier and I still don't wear pants when leading services.
Hearing the news that my daughter did not want to wear a kippah felt like a rejection of all of these things...but she's six years old and even more, she cannot reject that which I have not yet taught her.
So, my daughter will be wearing a kippah at services--she does not get an exemption from her parents at this point. But she does get to choose what kind of kippah she wants to wear, and has selected one that is bejeweled with rhinestones. Even more importantly, I am now talking to her about what it means to me to have her try this now, while she is young and we are responsible for her Jewish practice, so she has the information later when it is up to her to decide. And just as I talk about the progress women have made and need to make in so many ways, I will tell her more about my story, and her grandmother's story, and how we are all working towards a day when a woman wearing a kippah or being a rabbi isn't such a surprise!