Walking the walk

If we can only don our kippot and be openly Jewish on one day, we should be tirelessly working on changing that, every day.

A man wears a kippa.  (photo credit: REUTERS)
A man wears a kippa.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
A few weeks ago we had a so-called kippa-walk here in Stockholm, organized by the Jewish Community of Stockholm. Simultaneously, a similar walk was done in the now well-known city of Malmö. 
Maybe you’ve heard of them before, it’s when people walk through the city, donning kippot in solidarity with the Jewish minority. These walks have become very popular, with a large attendance and some significant attention from the national media. 
There is something that doesn’t feel quite right about these walks.  Not that there is a lack of good will, quite the opposite, but perhaps there’s a lack of sustainability that just rubs me the wrong way. 
The idea behind the kippa-walk is to take a stand against the growing anti-Semitism and inspire Jews to walk openly and visibly Jewish through the city streets.  However, these walks are done on a Sunday afternoon through the most affluent part of Stockholm, where hordes of people, Jews and non-Jews, are under police protection. Prominent politicians attend, happily giving speeches about how awful Anti-Semitism is, receiving public accolade for their bravery and initiative. 
And then, everyone removes their kippot and go home to reconvene next year and give the same old speeches. This is not Jewish life, this is not normalcy, nor should it be.
The question that should be asked is if we are safer after this walk; are the Jewish people better off? Or are these walks a Band-Aid, of sorts, a way to safely take a stand without any uncomfortable repercussions? 
In the invitation to this event I read the following lines: 
“Because of the sensitive political situation we ask you not to bring flags or banners that are not associated with the kippa-walk. This is a manifestation for the right for Swedish Jews to be openly Jewish. We will remove any flags or banner we find inappropriate.”
In other words: no Israeli flags. 
Call me crazy, but I think that banning Israeli flags from a walk for Jewish pride and liberty does not make sense. I’m not saying everyone should be in agreement on Israeli politics or forcing anyone to wave a flag, but actively separating B’nei Israel from Eretz Israel is playing into a narrative that has done our people nothing but harm. 
And maybe this touches on what bothered me in the first place. We keep focusing on the outside, on how others see us, on the non-Jews and what we may do to seem less threatening to them. This takes a lot of time, and a lot of effort. Maybe instead of worrying about how we can keep others from tearing us down we could focus on how we could be building ourselves up?
Because every day should be a kippa walk, after all. Every single day should be an expression of Jewish pride.  Walking to the daily minyan, sharing a Shabbat meal with family and friends, taking your kids to Hebrew school or getting together for a makeshift shiur. 
Our goal must be not only surviving as Jews in Sweden, but thriving as Jews everywhere. That cannot be done as long as we are thankful for a Sunday afternoon photo-op, but it’s a journey that begins when we demand more; not only from our leaders, but also from ourselves. 
As I am writing this I think of my friend, Rabbi Chaim. Chaim is the Chabad Rabbi of Stockholm, and he does a kippa walk every single day. Not only through the safer, more affluent neighborhoods, but also in places far from the glamour of TV-cameras and speeches. Together with his wife and his children he lives the story I am trying to tell, one of Jewish presence and pride in action, rather than theory; with classes and dinners, talks and tefillin. Plainly put: Chaim is one of those people who would rather walk the walk then talk the talk. 
And we should be, too.
Everyday should be a kippa-walk, and it should be our right to take that walk without police protection. A politician who claims to be on our side, should show that allegiance not through eloquent speeches, but by protecting our life and traditions through legislative action. And the Jewish community, however well meaning, should protect its constituency by actively supporting traditional Jewish life, thus ensuring that the kippa will remain something more than a symbol to be taken out once a year. 
As long as we can’t take that walk through every single neighborhood in our country we are not truly safe.  As long as we cannot practice our religion, stand with the Jewish state and live our culture, for whatever reason, we are not truly free. And, if we can only don our kippot and be openly Jewish on one day, we should be tirelessly working on changing that, every day.  
And, most importantly, we as Jews must see ourselves as guardians of tradition and keepers of faith. We can ask of others, our community leaders and our political elite, to grant us the opportunity to stay Jewish- but it is up to each of us to take that opportunity and make it a daily reality.  
So yes, we can attend kippa-walks and revel in symbolism, but let’s make sure not to rely on them, lest we become symbols ourselves. 
Annika Hernroth-Rothstein is a political adviser, writer and activist. She lives in Stockholm, Sweden, with her two children. Follow her on Twitter.