Kipah Debate in France Seen as a Blessing in Disguise

by Faygie Levy Holt – Chabad.org

When a community leader in the southern French city of Marseille recently suggested that Jewish men and boys should stop wearing their kipahs in public for fear of anti-Semitic attacks, he inadvertently launched a healthy dialogue on just how important it is for Jews to be able to practice their faith openly, say leaders of Chabad-Lubavitch in France.

Rabbi Chaim Shneur Nisenbaum of the Complexe Scolaire Beth Haya Moushka school in Paris and a spokesman for Chabad in France thought that perhaps the community leader “spoke under the shock of the event, and didn’t think much about it.” For Jews to give up their kipahs, he said, “would be like handing an easy victory to the terrorists.”

Zvi Ammar, president of the Consistoire Israélite de Marseille, made his statement shortly after a machete-wielding teenager attacked a Jewish man last Monday, nearly a year to the day after the terrorist hostage situation at the Hyper Cacher supermarket in Paris left four Jewish men dead.

But Amar’s “mistake,” as Nisenbaum put it, resulted in some favorable consequences. “In the French newspapers, including the leftist ones, you could read many articles about the kipah and the question of being a Jew in France,” he said. “The more surprising thing was that these articles were positive, which is unusual in such publications in France.”

The controversy began after an attack on 35-year-old Benjamin Amsellem, a teacher at a Jewish school in Marseille. Amsellem, who was wearing a kipah at the time, was not seriously hurt in the Jan. 11 attack. Still, it was the latest in a string of assaults and anti-Semitic incidents targeted the Marseille Jewish community, the second-largest Jewish population in France after Paris.

Signs of Solidarity

In response to the attack, Chief Rabbi of France Haim Korsia asked fans of the Marseille soccer club—the Olympique de Marseille—to wear a kipah at the next home game to show solidarity with the Jewish community, a move that met with a generally positive response. And at least two French legislators—Claude Goasguen and Meyer Habib, who is Jewish—wore kipahs at the French Parliament as a sign of solidarity with the Jewish community after the attack on the schoolteacher.

“It is very important for Jews to continue wearing kipahs—and not only because it is a Jewish law,” stated Nisenbaum. “The Jewish people have remained alive, in spite of everything, because we know where we come from and the purpose of our existence.

“Even in the saddest ages, Jews have faced oppression with pride and consciousness. To accept and hide ourselves by removing our kipot is exactly the opposite of such an attitude and cannot cause anything else than a worse situation.”

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Two French legislators—Claude Goasguen, left, and Meyer Habib—wore kipahs in the French Parliament as a show of support to the Jewish community following an attack last week on a Jewish teacher in Marseille.
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Rabbi Chaim Shneur Nisenbaum, a spokesman for Chabad in France, thought that perhaps the community leader “spoke under the shock of the event, and didn’t think much about it.” For Jews to give up their kipahs, he continued, “would be like handing an easy victory to the terrorists.”

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