Pompoms: Are They a Religious Thing?

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Baby boy with a cute hat with pompom, lying on bed with teddy bears

Despite the recent record-breaking cold, it’s been a most heartwarming time for our family.  One of our married couples welcomed into this world their second child, their first son.

Most births are accompanied by stories and our 8-pound prince owns his:  He was born during the “winter cyclone” when the East Coast of the United States was pounded with snow.  Thank G-d, our daughter’s labor set in prior to the storm so she and her husband made it safely to the hospital.  Only the potent combination of snow, ice, wind, and poor visibility and road conditions prevented the grandparents, the baby’s big sister, and extended family from flocking to the hospital that same day.

The following day, when both the weather and roads were less dangerous, I went to the hospital together with two adoring aunts and one proud uncle to meet our newest grandchild and nephew.  In addition, I examined him; once a pediatrician, always a pediatrician.

Afterwards, I chatted in the nursery with the nurses.  With her colleagues listening intently, one nurse said, “Dr. Lightman, I have a question and I hope it’s respectful.  All the religious patients take their babies home in these awesome pompom hats.  Are pompoms a religious thing?”

I smiled.

Looking at the world through the eyes of these non-Jewish women, I totally “get” the question.  Pompom hats span the spectrum in fabric, texture, color and so much more.  They are ubiquitous in today’s Jewish Orthodox communities throughout the world.

To the best of my knowledge, pompoms are not a “religious thing.”  However, they have acquired a status that clearly the nations of the world are equating with Torah Jews.

It’s also apparent that our actions and everything we do in this world is scrutinized, analyzed, and discussed.  How humbling.  How I daven that we are always seen as a Light Unto the Nations.

Based on being in and out of Northwell-Long Island Jewish Medical Center for a couple of days surrounding this baby’s birth, I’m proud to be a Torah Jew.

The Bikur Cholim Room is stocked by the Satmar Bikur Cholim, Elite Caterers, and others.  Naftali Brach of the Satmar Bikur Cholim treks every Erev Shabbos from Williamsburg to New Hyde Park to make sure the room is functioning, including the warming oven.  My wife, who spent Shabbos at the hospital with our daughter and grandson, told me that on Friday evening, several men spanning the spectrum of Orthodox Judaism davened in the room.  The warming oven was fully stocked, including 2 trays of cholent and food with people’s names on it, apparently prepared by the Satmar Bikur Cholim for people who had contacted them with personal dietary needs, i.e., vegetarian, gluten-free.  In addition to Challah rolls and mini-Challahs, there was an array of Matza that included whole wheat and spelt.  The fruit was fresh and the box containing one-person portion-sized cut-up cake was overflowing with at least five different kinds of cakes.  There was grape juice in the refrigerator along with Cholov Yisrael, Cholov Stam, and pareve cream for the coffee.  This was in addition to plates, cutlery, napkins, and cups.  By the end of Shabbos, most of the food was gone.  There’s no way to know how many people availed themselves of the Bikur Cholim room’s resources but suffice it to say, plenty.

Further, there is a Shabbos elevator labeled “Sabbath Elevator” in every patient building.  The Shabbos elevator in the building where our daughter and grandson were was experiencing some technical difficulties that Shabbos.  My wife reports that lots of patience and some ingenuity were required to navigate it without being Michallel Shabbos.  The guard saw that she needed the Shabbos elevator without saying so.  He stepped forward, stating, “Lady, it’s our pleasure to help you and your religious brothers and sisters.  We respect you for respecting your religion.”

Shabbos is a work day for physicians, nurses and others in the hospital and our daughter’s room was trafficked accordingly.  Paperwork was presented and our daughter explained that she couldn’t sign until after Shabbos and all understood and accepted.   Just prior to Shabbos, the nurse adjusted the bathroom light sensor not to go on; another light was left on.

Some readers might be thinking, “What’s the big deal?”  It’s a very big deal.  I remember a world where you couldn’t take this for granted, even in New York.  We’ve come a long way and there are many people and organizations to thank that laid the groundwork for what we enjoy today and should never take for granted.  The real trailblazers are the ones who remained committed to Torah and its tenets despite the vicissitudes they encountered every step of the way in carrying on Torah Judaism.  Nothing swayed them.  We enjoy the fruits of their steadfast commitment and hard work.

But we have our own work to do to assure that we are admired and we can continue to practice our religion.

First, remain involved with the world at large.  Know what goes on.  Speak with community members who are politically involved, including askanim who devote countless hours to matters that we too often take for granted.  Vote in elections.  Don’t know how to vote on issues?  Educate yourself.  Speak with your Rav or local askan.

Know that every action is scrutinized as we are watched.  Pay your cleaning lady on time.  Offer water or food to sanitation workers when you see them working, especially during extreme weather conditions.  Thank the cashier at the supermarket.  Don’t slam the phone down on the front desk person in your doctor’s office because you don’t get the answer you want.  Refrain from making U-turns when driving; so it might be five extra minutes to drive around the corner.  And there is much more.

Walk as a proud (not arrogant) Jew.  Civilizations have come and gone but we Jews, the Jews whom so many of those so-called civilizations have aspired to eradicate from this world, are here.  Our actions will always be recalled and pointed to, please G-d, for good reasons.

Our speech and actions reflect our inner thoughts.  We should always maintain a positive outlook on our fellow man, speak favorably and give others the benefit of the doubt.  We should always remember we are a nation of rachmanim, bayshanim, and gomlei chasadim.  Let’s be as fresh looking as those pompom hats that elicit smiles wherever they go.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.