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January 15, 2016  RSS feed
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Text: T T T

In solidarity stance, French lawmakers, citizens don kippahs; reject call for Jews to hide them in public

JTA news service reports

French legislator Claude Goasguen, left, who is not Jewish, and Jewish colleague Meyer Habib wear kippahs in parliament. 
Meyer Habib Facebook page French legislator Claude Goasguen, left, who is not Jewish, and Jewish colleague Meyer Habib wear kippahs in parliament. Meyer Habib Facebook page A French-Jewish lawmaker and his non-Jewish colleague wore kippahs in parliament to signal their rejection of anti-Semitism.

Meyer Habib and Claude Goasguen were filmed wearing the Jewish head covering, also known as a yarmulke, briefly in the corridors of the National Assembly Wednesday, Jan. 13.

This was one example of a growing movement to show solidarity with the French Jewish community after a Jewish leader from Marseille called on Jews to remove their kippahs as a security measure following a spate of anti-Semitic stabbings in the southern city, TV5 reported.

The call Tuesday, Jan. 12, by Tzvi Amar, president of the Marseille office of the Consistoire – a community organization responsible for providing religious services – sparked a passionate debate in France over the country’s anti-Semitism problem. Amar was quoted by Le Figaro as saying Jews should “remove the kippah during these troubled times” because “the preservation of life is sacrosanct.”

Amar’s statement, which he said “turns his stomach” and is born of “grave circumstances that require extraordinary measures,” came after the stabbing of a Jewish man in Marseille the same day, allegedly by a 15-year-old Muslim radical.

The stabbing victim, Benjamin Amsellem, is a teacher who was attacked near his synagogue and used a religious book as a shield against his attacker, according to one news website.

The alleged assailant was a 15-year-old boy of Turkish-Kurdish descent who told interrogators he was inspired to commit the machete attack by the Islamic State.

Amar’s suggestion not to wear kippahs was squarely rejected by other community representatives and by French President Francois Hollande, who called a reality in which Jews need to remove their kippahs “intolerable.”

Jews in Israel and France, as well as many non-Jews, vowed to wear kippahs demonstratively on Friday, Jan. 15 across France and beyond to protest anti-Semitism.

The hashtag “#TousAvecUneKippa” (EveryoneWithAKippa) was widely shared on social media. The campaign featured photoshopped images of public figures wearing the skull cap – from actor Brad Pitt to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In addition to such appeals on social media, French Chief Rabbi Haim Korsia called on soccer fans in Marseille to arrive at a major match wearing a kippah.

“There are many small initiatives taking place across France that involve wearing kippahs,” Robert Ejnes, a vice president of the CRIF umbrella group of French Jewish communities, told JTA.

“The expressions of solidarity we’ve seen in France are a positive outcome to a negative reality that we would have preferred did not happen, in which the religious freedom of Jews is debated,” he added. “At the end of the day, though, we draw encouragement from the public reaction to what was said.”

Since October, there have been three non-fatal stabbing attacks on Jews in Marseille, which has 80,000 Jews in a total population of approximately 850,000. About a third of its residents are Muslim, according to estimates.

Michele Teboul, president of the Marseille branch of CRIF, told JTA that she “could not support a measure which dials back hundreds of years during which Jews were able to practice their faiths and live freely as citizens of the French Republic.”

Jewish individuals “should decide whether to wear a hat on top of their kippah, depending on the situation, but removing one’s kippah seems unwarranted,” Teboul said.

France’s chief rabbi, Haim Korsia, also rejected Amar’s call, saying, “We should not give an inch, we should continue wearing the kippah.”

In November, a Jewish teacher was stabbed and seriously injured in Marseille by a man who hurled insults at him along with two other men, one of whom was wearing a T-shirt with the logo of the Islamic State terrorist group.

The previous month, also in the city, a Frenchman of Algerian descent stabbed a Jewish man who was returning from synagogue and assaulted two others, including a rabbi.

Only three years ago, the Jews of Marseille could congregate without security and in relative safety in their synagogues and community centers.

On a visit in late 2012, a JTA reporter entered the unlocked door of the city’s main synagogue with no one asking questions – a far cry from the fortress-like security common elsewhere in France then and now. Teboul back then called it the “miracle of Marseille.”

“A few years ago, our concerns were hate preaching by certain imams, by no means the majority,” Teboul said. “But the dissemination of hate online has changed all that, crossing a new threshold in the volume of minds it poisons, reaching new audiences and making me fear very seriously that the Marseille I knew and love has changed a lot, for the worse.”

Even so, interfaith work continues in Marseille.

Marseille Esperance, or “Marseille Hope,” an interfaith platform set up by the municipality in 1991, is generally seen as having done much to improve relations through projects by youths from the Jewish and Muslim communities.

“Jews still wear their kippot on the streets of Marseille,” said Bruno Benjamin, the previous president of the Marseille branch of the Consistoire. “But gone are the days when we would not need guards. Now every aspect of communal life happens under protection by the military. They are in our schools, in our shuls, reminding us that we are no less threatened here than in Paris – or Israel.”

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