NEW YORK - Looking for a black satin yarmulke like the one your grandfather used to wear? Sure, you can still get it. But why would you want to, when stylish and offbeat options abound?
There is trendy camouflage and preppy madras plaid. Sports symbols and cartoon characters. Custom designs and colors upon colors. They are knit, crocheted, hand-painted and fashioned from leather, suede and silk.
The yarmulke as it's known in Yiddish, or kippa in Hebrew, is a headcovering "worn as a sign of respect to remind one always that God's presence is over us and as a sign of respect whenever we say a blessing," said Rabbi Joel Meyers, a leader of the Rabbinical Assembly, which represents rabbis in the Conservative Jewish movement.
While the skullcap is among the most recognizable Jewish symbols, it is not sacred, which makes it acceptable to adorn it with sports logos or TV characters, said Meyers, who usually wears a knitted yarmulke.
"The important thing is the wearing of the kippa, not what's on the kippa," Meyers said, recalling one given to him with a propeller he thinks signifies "spiritual uplift."
So as the sun goes down today and Passover arrives, take a look around the Seder table or the world around you. A yarmulke may tell you something you didn't know about say, cousin Fred (does he really like the Grateful Dead?), or may have a great story behind it.
If children are at your holiday table, you could find the likes of SpongeBob or Spider-Man peering back at you. For trendy teens and adults, there are coverings with skulls and crossbones. There's also a skullcap for Passover that looks like matzah.
"It's almost like you can trace the history of pop culture through yarmulkes - whatever is popular in society ends up on a yarmulke print," said Sara Schwimmer, whose PopJudaica.com sells several fashionable skullcaps, including ones with playing cards and pinstripes and another just for dogs.
In general, the most observant Jewish men and boys wear the kippa at all times, while others may only don the headcovering inside synagogues or at holiday celebrations at home. In some branches of Judaism, a tiny minority of girls and women wear them.
When Chaykah Hoffman's oldest son was starting school in 1987, she painted the "Ghostbusters" logo onto a skullcap because she didn't want her 3-year-old wearing an "ugly yarmulke." When people at school asked if she could get more, her business, Mazeltops Yarmalkes, was born.
Back then, said Hoffman, of Tarzana, Calif., she sold mostly white, black, navy and gray. But in the last five to 10 years, she has added colors like orange, yellow, fuchsia, seafoam green and kelly green.
It is the less observant Jews who still buy the plain yarmulkes, because they want something traditional if they're only going to wear them a few times a year, she said.
"The more religious tend to go for the fun designs," said Hoffman, who is Orthodox.
With the expansion of the marketplace in the last decade or two, young children are often seen wearing yarmulkes with the Hebrew alphabet or cartoon characters. Older students like to show off their school's insignia, favorite sports team and Zionist beliefs.
Yarmulkes ordered in bulk can cost $1 or $2 apiece, but specialty yarmulkes range from about $10 to $25.
With customization, personalization and the ease of Internet shopping, there are endless possibilities for those who want to pick something different and bypass the community yarmulke basket at synagogue.
Seventh-grader Casey Lamar is an Orthodox Jew mindful that he is part of a minority. Wearing a New York Yankees skullcap most days, he said, he is proud to show his faith in Judaism as well as in his favorite baseball team.
"I guess you could say it's not only a religious statement but it's also a fashion statement," said Casey, 12, of Fairfax, Va. "It's special. A lot of people have plain white and plain black."
And still, there is the skullcap for the style's sake.
"I choose them the same way I would choose socks or a sports jacket - weather, season and fashion-depending," said Dan Ronfeld, 32, a Reform Jew with about 30 yarmulkes.
Ronfeld, who runs a home furnishing store in Boise, Idaho, has a blue seersucker yarmulke to match a blazer he likes to wear to Friday night services in the summer. Another he had hand-sewn for a friend's wedding with seed pearls and coral-colored beads and "Mazel Tov" spelled out in white beads.
"That was the crowning achievement in yarmulke fashion," Ronfeld said.