Faces of Faith
Many people consider themselves religious, but it takes a special level of devotion to literally wear one’s faith on one’s sleeve.
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Rabbi Itchel Krasnjansky
Two boys are wrestling in the main hall of the Chabad House. Despite their frantic headlocks, they still sport yarmulke. It isn’t long until a woman emerges to shoo them into their Hebrew School class. As they walk away, the threads of their tzitzis, the fringes of their prayer shawls, dangle from beneath their neat, oxford shirts.
This is the Chabad of Hawaii, headed by Rabbi Itchel Krasnjansky. Part of a worldwide movement to draw all Jews—even those who’ve never practiced—to the faith, it includes a full-time Jewish school, services and gatherings. Not everyone there is an orthodox, Hasidic Jew like Krasnjansky, but the movement is anchored in tradition.
Orthodox Jews believe a razor blade can’t touch the skin, but for those who prefer a clean-shaven look, there’s a loophole. “Growing a beard is part of it. But many observant Jews shave, just with a shaving machine, not a razor.”
Hasidic women dress conservatively and if they are married, the hair you see is probably a wig. Real hair, which the Torah says is a “woman’s beauty,” is only to be seen by her family. These customs, says Krasnjansky, bring “a stability in our lives that otherwise are constantly changing. Without it, people would feel like they’re getting lost in the larger community.”
Ras Mikey Gamboa
Rastafari symbols are all over the place—think kids on skateboards with dreadlocks, or average Joes walking around in red, gold and green Bob Marley T-shirts. But spotting a real follower of the faith is tricky.
“Some of our symbols have become pop culture,” says Ras Mikey Gamboa, who’s been a Rastafari since he was 15 years old. The popularity of reggae music brought Rastafari culture to the mainstream and, in fact, played the part of evangelist to Gamboa.
“I was doing your average kid stuff, being a bad kid. But the messages of Rasta and this reggae thing were all around me, I couldn’t deny it.” Rastafari even coined a word for the kind of kid who so often finds the faith through music: Root boy.
If unfurled from his brightly-colored turban, Gamboa’s dreadlocks would reach to his feet. “I haven’t cut my hair in over 15 years. It’s my personal covenant with Jah,” he says. Jah is the Rastafari word for God. But having dreadlocks isn’t easy, he says, “some people look at us like we’re crazy.”
He’s also wearing Rastafari “guidance pins,” one of which is inscribed with the words: Peace, Love, Rastafari. It’s a way to keep his mind on the tenets of the faith, and another way he can tell pop-culture style from other believers.
Gamboa is considered a leader in his faith, records his own religious music and acts as a sort of lay minister to the small Rasta community here. “There are couples I’ve married here in Hawai‘i and I’ve been asked to bless children.”