Wearing a Kippah in France
Jews in France are being advised to remove their kippah in public and hide their Jewishness. Should they?
To wear a kippah or not?
The debate is currently roiling France’s Jewish community. In the aftermath of horrific attacks on kippah-wearing Jews, some officials are warning Jewish residents not to openly wear kippot.
That’s the position of Tzvi Ammar, president of the Marseille branch of the Jewish religious group the Consistoire. Jews should “remove the kippah during these troubled times,” he advised, because “the preservation of life is sacrosanct.”
Some officials – such as Michele Teboul, head of Marseille’s branch of the Jewish umbrella group CRIF – have urged a compromise, recommending that Jewish men “wear a hat on top of their kippah, depending on the situation.”
The Chief Rabbi of France, Rabbi Haim Korsia, disagreed, urging French Jews to keep wearing kippot. “It means that we are projecting part of the responsibility on the victim,” he told The Associated Press. “What is the limit? … Someone who walks in the street on Saturday morning on his way to the synagogue, isn’t it too visibly Jewish? It doesn’t end. And then, some people won’t be allowed to wear a (Christian) cross in the street, to wear such or such religious sign?” he asked. “At some point, we have to defend the model of our society and it is a society of secularism and freedom of religious practice.”
Given recent events, it’s not alarmist to consider the act of wearing a kippah to be life-threatening in France – and beyond. On January 11, 2016, Binyamin Amsalem, a French Jew, was injured by a teenager wielding a machete who tried to kill Jews leaving a synagogue in the French city of Marseille after morning prayers. He told police he was acting “in the name of Isis.”
The attack further terrified Marseille’s Jewish community, which was already on edge after a previous murder attempt in November 2015, when three men stabbed a kippah-wearing teacher outside a Jewish school.
In 2015, Swedish journalist Petter Ljungggren donned a kippah and filmed himself walking through the streets of Malmo, a Swedish city with high levels of anti-Semitic incidents. Within an hour, he was insulted, warned to leave for his own safety, and pelted with eggs. He eventually fled, his walk uncompleted. Similar “kippah walks” by journalists in Manchester, Rome, Copenhagen, Paris and Milan have resulted in insults, threats and even attacks.
It’s not in only European locales where wearing a kippah can feel dangerous. My son came home from visiting a Chicago-area amusement park with his friends – all wearing kippot – and was shaken; two groups of park-goers had hurled anti-Semitic insults at him and his friends. A group of teens crowded around them, asking why my son and his friends weren’t in concentration camps.
Not long after, my younger son was terrorized as he walked with me on the streets of Chicago in 2015, wearing a kippah. A homeless woman started screaming that she hated him. My son turned pale and started to shake in fear. I pulled him away, the woman’s awful insults echoing through the streets. Over a year later, my son is still disturbed by the incident.
When Jews run the risk by merely expressing their Jewish identity, every Jew faces a choice. One option is to retreat – to pull back from Jewish practice, to scale down our identity. The other is the opposite: to celebrate our heritage when it’s most threatened, to embrace ever more tightly what some people would have us abandon.
There is an old Yiddish saying: S'iz shver tsu zayn a Yid – It’s hard to be a Jew. This used to be a very common refrain, and in our darkest times it might feel tempting to say it again. Yet the best answer to the sentiment S'iz shver tsu zayn a Yid came from the great 20th Century sage, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein.
If you want to raise children who are strong in their identity, who love being Jews, Rabbi Feinstein said, don’t ever tell them it’s hard to be a Jew. Emphasize how joyful it is to be a Jew. Show them how meaningful and rewarding it is to be a Jew. Celebrate Judaism. Revel in it. Only by appreciating the beauty and joy that being Jewish brings will we be able to grow in our Judaism and raise future generations who value being Jewish, too. And with that pride we can stand up to threats and fear, and wear our kippahs proudly in the streets.
Sophie Taieb, a French Jewish woman, and her non-Jewish friend, Kerima Mendes, came up with the brilliant idea: #TousAvecUneKippa (Everybody with a kippah). As a show of solidarity and support, they encouraged all French people, and people around the world, to wear a kippah this past Friday. “If everyone wears one,” Taieb explained to BBC, “nobody is a target anymore.”
Adversity can weaken, and it can strengthen. Each of us needs to make the choice in how to respond.
While there may be times when safety must dictate our actions, we each have the ability to create our own mindset. Your Judaism isn't a burden; it's a privilege.