A Sikh man wearing a turban, with his son wearing a patka
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About five years ago, I was being treated for an ongoing medical problem (which has been resolved, thank goodness). One time, my regular doctor was out of town, so I got a procedure done by one of his partners, a Sikh man called Dr. Singh.

As Dr. Singh was getting ready for the procedure, I was suddenly overwhelmingly curious about what he was wearing on his head. I’d only ever seen it on Sikh boys before, not grown men. It’s sort of like a fine-knitted, stretchy black stocking cap.

So I said, “Can I ask you an impertinent question?”

“They’re the best kind!” he replied, brightly.

“Why do you wear that… the…” I said, gesturing towards his head.

“It’s my religion –”

“No, right, I mean, why not a turban?”

Now, I expected some weighty, deeply religious explanation of why he wore a patka and not a turban. But what he said was:

“Because I have a low tolerance for heat and I’m lazy.”

And I laughed and laughed and laughed. I told him it was the funniest thing I’d heard in days.

He explained that he’d gone to med school in Texas, and he couldn’t stand to wear a turban. It was just too hot. And then when he came up to Seattle to start working at the clinic, he never went back to wearing a turban, because they take so much time to wrap properly.

It got me to thinking about this one time when I acting, when I was in “Angels in America.” For the Rabbi, I had a real prayer shawl that belonged to one of the cast members. So I learned the blessing that one says when putting on a prayer shawl. Saying it, and kissing the shawl, and lifting it over my shoulders just so, was part of how I got into character.

Except one time, I lost track of where we were and I was in a hurry to get on for my second entrance. So I just flung the shawl over my shoulders and muttered towards heaven, “Forgive me.”

Later, when I told my fellow cast member what I had done, he just laughed and said, “Now you’re a real Jew.”


Photo credit: © 2017, Special Broadcasting Service

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