I'm truly astounded at a recent admission by Chief Rabbi Albert Guigui of Belgium, (that's Chief Rabbi as in top Jew & leader of the nations' Jews) that he refuses to wear a kipa in public because of recent antisemitism. In fact, he further discloses that since 2001 he has not worn the traditional Jewish men's head covering acknowledging the presence of G-d, above all & everything. A bewildering stance from a religious leader.
I did not grow up orthodox and indeed I recall my father taking off his kipa, folding it and putting it in his pocket as we left synagogue in London. He’s a proud Jew, but part of that was his personal approach and also the underlying concern about being identified as a Jew and the potential consequences of being berated or singled out.
I recall at the start of my ongoing journey as an observant Jew, 21 years ago, the trepidation of taking on the commitment of always covering my head at home or in public and, not just during shul services or eating a shabbat meal. It was not easy as there was parental, peer and societal pressure. My circle of English Jewish friends & family, at that time at least, was not overly enthusiastic in displaying their faith on their sleeve, let alone their heads.
Where I have concerns about the Belgian Chief Rabbi who caters to over 44,000 Belgian Jews is that he is allowing his office, his rabbis and his community to be defined and to articulate their faith based on antisemitism.
They look to him for leadership, instruction and inspiration. Everyone has free choice as to how they display their faith, but for a faith leader to limit options begs the question of appropriate leadership & example, or lack thereof. I certainly don’t see other non-Jewish faith leaders proclaiming the need to hide religious symbols or clothing.
And this was the year that Germans of all faiths came to “wear a kippa” at rallies showing solidarity with German Jews and to take a stand against antisemitism. Just as the King of Denmark famously wore a yellow star, as his Jewish subjects were forced to by Nazi German occupying forces, it’s critical that faith leaders, and indeed all leaders or those who can inspire change take a stand.
I personally get very uncomfortable with attacks in Europe on the wearing of an Islamic Hijab (the female open face headscarf). Not only because it is almost always followed with a call for the banning of kipas, but because there has to be respect for other faiths. Indeed, the Torah instructs married women to cover their hair and why should other faiths not be allowed to practice their traditions without harassment?
The recent social experiment by a non-Jewish Israeli, Adam Armoush, who set out to prove antisemitism was a fallacy by walking the streets of Berlin wearing a kipa, ended up as a big fail after he was assaulted with a belt by an attacker screaming in Arabic. This was a social experiment gone right as it showed the dangers of antisemitism and how we must fight it. Posting a nice post on social media or liking someone else’s online outrage just won’t do it. Particularly, as the dynamics of political leadership are ever-changing in Europe, seemingly for the worse when it comes to calling out hate speech and action.
The Belgian Chief Rabbi, security detail and all, should help educate non-Jews, inspire and encourage Jews to be proud of their faith, to walk tall and to shame anti semitic behavior versus being ashamed.
Jews have a rich and beautiful heritage & continue to make critical contributions to Belgian society. This is something the Jewish community should be encouraged to be proud of.
We should walk proudly as Jews, demand change, engage in dialogue and work to breaking down barriers of antisemitism and hate while being free to pray, work and live in our respective communities.