The sun has set on Shabbat and Jews in Johannesburg are preparing for a night out. And I am worried. Really worried. Worried because following an anti-Semitic attack on some 12th grade kids last Saturday night, the South African Jewish Board of Deputies has launched a “Kippas Against Hate” campaign and asked both Jews and non Jews alike to go to the movies (where last week’s attack occurred) and to wear a kippah or a hat. And I love the idea. So long as everyone remembers why it is that we wear one in the first place.
I wear my kippah everywhere I go in Johannesburg. And I expect my children to do the same. I am proud and I am not afraid and I don’t believe that I am in danger. I wear it because my father does and my brothers do. I wear it because that’s what observant Jews do. I am wear it because makes me aware that I am different and mostly that I walk in the presence of God. And I am noticed and I am remembered and I represent my people.
But when a friend at shul told me that he is looking for a fight tonight because “it’s time”’. And someone else said that we need to fight back and “teach them a lesson”, it made me worry. We might not be people who turn the other cheek and we are no longer a people who will accept the hate aimed at us, this call is one of peace. This is a call for solidarity and for defiance. It is a call to let fellow South Africans know that we will not be intimidated by the brutality of their hate. That we expect to be able to live in peace and to practice our faith as the constitution of this country demands we can. And we expect our children to be able to go to the movies without fear and without thinking about their head covering.
And so I worry. I worry that someone has misunderstood the magnificence of this call and that it will be sullied by the anger that we all feel.
I worry that if it comes to blows then they will have won. They will have dragged us to their level and that would be tragic.
The anti-Semitic attack on the youths last Saturday night was one that shocked the community. Although there has been an escalation in rhetoric and verbal abuse, and although the BDS movement has done its best to create an environment of hate towards Jews in South Africa, this is the first time that it has translated into a physical episode. And that is what makes it both alarming and note worthy. Throughout the political history of the country, South Africans have resisted the call to violence through the transition to democracy. And I pray that this resistance continues.
I pray for peace tonight. I pray that we all remember that wearing a kippa makes us the representatives of our people and of God. That we are proud. And mostly I pray that the haters realize that we are peace loving, not because we are afraid, but because we aren’t.