And here we are again…the great kippah debate

It seems as if this controversy — which plagued me a year and a half ago — is back.

A year and a half ago, I traveled to Amsterdam with my husband and daughter just days after the war (Tzuk Eitan) had ended. We were still raw, still on edge, simultaneously relieved that it was finally over, but still grieving all the lives lost, and still so shaken at the sadness that had blanketed our country. And knowing that there were misinformed people everywhere who mistakenly held us accountable made me nervous to roam around Europe with a sign pointing to my husband’s head that said: “Jew over here.”

We debated and discussed and at some point I asked him point blank to perhaps consider wearing a baseball hat and he refused. Not only did he refuse, but when my daughter and I attended the redhead festival (you can laugh now…) in Breda — which ironically is not a stranger to radical Islam — and attendees were encouraged to wear a sticker bearing the flag of their country, we made a decision to wear the flag of Israel proudly on our t-shirts. Thankfully, we went unnoticed, and a great time was had by all.

Unfortunately, peace and quiet was short-lived. The stabbings started. The random shootings, car-rammings, scissor attacks. The disgusting videos of Islamic leaders encouraging their followers to hurt, maim and kill as many Jews as they can. That it was their “call of duty.” The violence became a leaking poison and the attacks in Europe intensified.

Recently, a Jewish man from Marseilles was stabbed by a radical Muslim. A community leader is pleading with his fellow Frenchmen not to wear kippot when they leave the house. Better to be an unidentifiable Jew in the Diaspora than walk around with a bulls-eye on your back. The rabbis in France don’t agree. But this leader is begging his countrymen to take cover. To hide the telltale signs of belonging to the Jewish people. He’s not wrong. I don’t disagree with him per se. I believe wholeheartedly that the preservation of a Jewish life is of utmost importance.

Here in Israel, the attacks are random. And not everyone attacked was wearing a kippah. In fact, one victim was an older Arab man. I understand that it’s different. When that psycho wielded a knife and attempted to stab as many people as he can, he was doing it in the streets of Jerusalem. Where the statistics were clearly on his side. The chances of him killing a Jew were very high. In France, the attacker had to be more focused, more discerning, more premeditated. He was looking for outward signs that he’d attack the right man — hence the kippah.

So I get it. And if I was the Marseilles man’s wife, I’d also want him to trade in the kippah for something else. A cap, a hat, a baseball hat. Because I’d want him alive without a kippah than dead with one. And yet, I can’t help but think of all our past history.

Spain was once was home to one of the largest and most prosperous Jewish communities in Europe. Then, in 1942, the Spanish Inquisition caused an estimated 300,000 – 800,000 Jews to flee and find shelter elsewhere. But thousands of Jews — some estimate more than 50,000 — opted to remain in Spain and they either converted or lived as crypto-Jews hiding their faith from prying eyes. The fear of exposure, torture and death forced them to hide their outward signs of Judaism for generations until so many of them had eventually and inevitably forgotten their faith, their heritage, their roots and had completely assimilated. The number of Spanish Jews has since dwindled dramatically and the community has never been the same.

And that’s something to think about.

Ironically, my husband and I are traveling to Spain next week. And once again, I’m contemplating the great kippah debate. I don’t know if there is a right or wrong here — it’s a dilemma that doesn’t really have a clear-cut solution. There will be those who will hide their outward appearance, determined to be on the safe side, and there will be those who will not just refuse to hide their faith, but will flaunt it with not just the kippah, but with their Tzitzit hanging out, or a Magen David sticker stuck prominently on the back of their backpack. I can ask my husband to wear his Maple Leaf baseball hat, but I probably won’t. I recognize it’s an exercise in futility, because I know, deep down inside, that my husband will wear his kippah no matter what, because that’s just the type of guy he is. An “I’m here, I’m a Jew and I don’t care what you think, so deal with it” kind of guy.

And as much as that scares me the second I leave Israeli soil, it also makes me proud.

About the Author
Chavi Feldman has a degree in graphic design and advertising and works primarily as a music teacher. She has lived in Israel for more than two decades.