A man wears a kippa. .
(photo credit: REUTERS)
I had no intention of creating create a fierce public debate.
However, that is precisely what happened.
In response to Foreign Minister Wallström’s horrific accusations against Israel, I flew to Sweden as part of a World Zionist Organization delegation for a two-day trip to participate in an event in the Swedish parliament, and in one in the Jewish community. As I was leaving the Stockholm airport, a young man came over to me, introduced himself as a local Jew, and strongly suggested that I remove my kippa because he believed it was dangerous to wear one publicly in Sweden. I refused to do so, and posted about the incident on Facebook along with a selfie of my wearing my kippa in Sweden. I wrote that as a proud Jew I would not remove my kippa – even in Sweden.
The response was swift and stunning.
A debate erupted over whether I was heroic or naive. I received huge numbers of messages – some were filled with pride while others, particularly from close friends, begged me to remove my kippa.
Total strangers scolded me for placing myself in danger. People in Israel scolded people outside Israel for not returning to their homeland where they can wear a kippa freely. Others strongly defended those who live in the Diaspora.
The responses of the hundreds of people who reacted online are available to see. What the public has not seen is what happened in Sweden as I walked around in my Kippa. Swedish Jews told me how happy they were with my post, and that it emboldened them to remain strong and proud of their heritage.
One of the main synagogues tweeted my Facebook post with the message in Swedish: “sometimes you need a foreigner to spell out the obvious #jewishpride.” Non- Jews approached me in stores and engaged me in conversation about Israel. One 20-something-year old who approached me – who fit the classic Scandinavian external profile – ended our conversation by saying, “People should just learn to talk. You dispelled so much of what I had thought about Israel and about Jews.”
The bottom line: I never felt any danger while wearing my kippa in Sweden, and indeed, the public appearance of a kippa led to only positive interactions with the locals. Even more important, the online debate that my post engendered visibly strengthened the local Jewish population.
The experience with my kippa in Sweden reminded me that we who are blessed to live in Israel cannot forget the critical role that we can play in strengthening Jewish pride worldwide.
The author served in the 19th Knesset with the Yesh Atid party. He is currently the director of the Department of Zionist Operations for the World Zionist Organization. The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the WZO.