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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 February 28, 2012 at 03:34 AM
Hey, lea, Stop being an ALL CAPS RAGE Nutjob, Jesus, This topic is old and you brought this up on my email with your bitching and whining.
William March 14, 2012 at 02:38 AM
Sue Hermer---You are totally wrong. Stop spreading dis information.
William March 14, 2012 at 02:49 AM
Paul Bruce---AMEN
William March 14, 2012 at 02:52 AM
Emilie Marie Erslev--Spoken like a true Bigot.
William March 14, 2012 at 03:20 AM
Emilie Marie Erslev-----You sure have some imagination, dreads, rastifarian caps etc. I doubt that you know what a Kippa is. Its the same as the Pope wears-skull cap. I excuse your ignorance because of the area you live in, World Headquarters of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. What should not be excused is your desire to defame the boys religious beliefs.
William March 14, 2012 at 03:24 AM
Tell me the last time you heard or read about a jewish student who committed violent acts. Wearing a Yamulka is a small cloth covering the back of the head. You must of seen it worn by Popes, Cardinals, Bishops and Priests. If you are a member of Seventh-day Adventist Church then maybe you have not. Silver Spring is the World Headquarters of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
William March 14, 2012 at 03:25 AM
AMEN
William March 14, 2012 at 03:26 AM
How will it save the Jewish Boys life someday?
Emilie Marie Erslev March 14, 2012 at 03:31 AM
@ William , Well excuse me and my backwater hick ways, But you've never met this kid, I have, I went to school with him last year, Don't believe me about his dreads and rasta cap which isn't kippa his Facebook is open and viewable. And sir, Before you go accusing me of being a bigot, I've run several high holidays events at Northwood, A good portion of my neighbors are jewish, and so is my grandmother. It has not been my choice of faith, so what? I didn't even Know that there was some sort of 7th day Adventist headquarters here, I'm not a 7th day adventist, hell I'm not even christian. So take your false accusations and blatant disregard for fact elsewhere.
William March 14, 2012 at 03:31 AM
This not medication. This is a mandate from God for Jews to follow. Some wear a Kippa only when praying some wear one when waking up to the time of going to sleep. This so called principal is a bully and a bigot. I have seen them all my life. This is par for course.
William March 14, 2012 at 03:36 AM
If that is a rule of the school governing a yamalka then students should not be allowed to wear a crucifix or cross publicly in school. Also, if they do allow, a letter should be demanded from their parents confirming the students religious beliefs.
William March 14, 2012 at 03:39 AM
Wrong- women of the Islamic faith cannot cover their faces in many countries.
William March 14, 2012 at 03:42 AM
Then a letter from the local pastor, priest, pastor or the Seventh-day Adventist Church should be required from all students who show publicly a crucifix, cross or any other religious symbol.
Dataslave March 14, 2012 at 03:47 AM
@william What the fuck do you have against 7th day adventists. I mean Fuck, You're complaint about bigotry, If i said what you say, knowing as little as you know, about any, ANY race of people, you'd call me a bigot, especially if it was about jewish people, you are so incredibly ignorant it makes me want to hunt you down and punch you in the face. Be open to all religion, Even one that you may not agree with, cause you have know idea what your missing if your mind stays closed.
Dataslave March 14, 2012 at 03:52 AM
@william No being a superposting butthurt bigot is to be inhuman and i swear since that's my only criteria you are a filthy parasite living off of dying human flesh
William March 14, 2012 at 03:52 AM
If so, then all the students who wear a cross, crucifix or other types including any from the Seventh-day Adventist Church, publicly display such items should be required proof of religion from their religous institution
William March 14, 2012 at 03:59 AM
In Israel all citizens have freedom of religion. Stop spreading dis information. Israel--Druids, Kurd, all forms of Christianity, all forms of Islam, Jews and many others are citizens of Israel. You are a BIGOT.
William March 14, 2012 at 04:00 AM
LMAOROTF
William March 14, 2012 at 06:11 PM
Dataslave---You are stupid BIGOT
William March 14, 2012 at 06:14 PM
Dataslave---YOU ARE STUPID BIGOT
William March 14, 2012 at 06:25 PM
lea rosenberg--If jesus came to earth today and wanted to pray to God where do you think he would go. Yes, you guessed it. He would go to the nearest Synagogue. A Jew who believes in jesus as God is no longer a Jew.
Steve March 16, 2012 at 02:23 AM
If the Pope was visiting Northwood ..would the principle demand he take that rediculoul hat off? Or maybe the Pope better go get a letter from God ..giving him permission to wear that abomination? That principle better watch his step ..nedding with the "chosen people" he may get the smack down jusus!
Steve March 16, 2012 at 02:35 AM
scuse my grammer ..I was kicked out of Northwood for smoking weed with the janitor back in 78 .. its okay because my IQ was 240 ... and I went on to start a fortune 500 company in Calfornia ...and now I have so much money I cant even spend it fasy enough.. mazel tov!!!!!!!!!!
Dataslave March 16, 2012 at 03:30 AM
Dude, your comparison has no validity. This is a student, Not the pope, not the dali lama, not a rabbi. No holy leader would have to to take of any head gear, although I'm like 90% sure the dali lama doesn't wear any. Oh and by the way, remember the golden rule of the internet, Pics or it didn't happen.
Steve March 16, 2012 at 04:26 AM
data slave dude you missed the point, a student or a religous leader? who cares? in the vast scheme of things ...(all our real problems of the world) you would think a principle would have more important things to do than worry about a little cap ... what a fuktard. end of story
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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