By: Dan Laxer – mtltimes.ca
This human tragedy in the Middle East is eating me up inside. Just that sentence alone is going to get me into trouble with at least two communities because I called it a “human” tragedy, as opposed to an Israeli tragedy, or a Palestinian tragedy. I blame social media. While Facebook and Twitter might have been the lifeline that sustained protestors through the Arab Spring, during the current Middle East conflict social media has been making things worse, not better, for communities outside the confines of Israel and Gaza. And I’ve been drawn into the fray perhaps like never before.
At the same time, I have been on the road toward becoming a little more observant in my Judaism. Not religious, per se (God and I tend to doubt one another’s existence), but certainly more involved in my community. With my son’s bar mitzvah less than a year away, and my mother’s passing just two months behind me, I have become more steeped in tradition than ever before. I have more Shabbat dinners. I kiss the mezuzah. I have been attending synagogue more often. I pray. I put on tefillin.
So why, when I went out to have dinner at the house of a new friend, a rabbi, was I so skittish about wearing my kippah out in public? Especially so soon after I so publicly attacked the proposed Charte des valeurs.
I had plenty of time before the Sabbath arrived, so I took the bus. I wore a freshly cleaned and pressed suit… and placed my kippah in my pocket with a mind toward putting it on my head when I go closer to the rabbi’s house.
Two women got on the bus soon after I did. Each one in a hijab. Neither cared what I may or may not have thought about their headscarves. And I am sure that neither one cared what I was wearing. But all I was wearing was a suit. My kippah was hidden away. What, I wondered, would happen if I suddenly put it on, inspired by their own pride in their outward religious garb? Probably nothing.
I also knew that, it being the Sabbath, when it came time to go home, I’d be walking. I’d walked that route before, many times, as a teen. There was a time when the 161 bus would not drive through Hampstead after 1:00 a.m. I was told it was because the noise would wake slumbering Hampsteadians. I don’t know if that was the real reason. But if I’d stayed downtown too late, and managed to catch the last metro, I’d have to walk all the way home into Cote Saint Luc because the westbound 161 wouldn’t go any further than the Plamondon metro station.
But when it was indeed time to leave the rabbi’s house that night, I felt different. Emboldened by a good meal, passionate debate, and maybe just a few too many l’chaims, I left the rabbi’s house and made my way home. On foot. My kippah atop my head.
And nothing happened.
But then I was in familiar territory. Nothing was likely going to happen to me in either Hampstead or Cote Saint Luc. On the other hand, our pre-supper prayer service was held in a part of town where Jews had suffered random attacks before. Jews who looked more like Jews than I do, even with a kippah on my head.
And what about the kippah itself? It’s just a regular kippah. Small, black suede to match my dark suit. I tend to wear that one a lot because it’s one of the only kippoth that sticks to my bald head. But I have another one I wear often. I bought it in a Judaica store, so I know it really is a kippah. Crocheted black wool, with red, yellow, and green designs. The colours of Jamaica. A kippah that Bob Marley might have worn. I’ve been wearing it for years. It’s bigger than most kippoth, and slides down snugly over my head, almost to my ears. It’s another one of the only kippoth that won’t fall off my head. Jewish people tell me how much they like my kippah. And while some Gentiles might wonder if I’d become more religious, many of them don’t realize it’s a kippah at all. It could just be a hat.
One morning, heading into my job at CJAD, I got on the elevator. Just before the doors closed Muslim Council of Montreal President Imam Salam Elmanyawi got on as well. We smiled and bade each other a good morning. And I noticed we were both wearing the same kind of head covering. His was white. I pointed that out to him as a joke. “We’re both wearing the same thing on our heads, Imam.” We both laughed, and parted ways when the elevator doors opened.
And nothing happened.
I’m still skittish about wearing the other one in public. Tensions are high all over the world. Jews and Jewish institutions are being attacked in London, Paris, Berlin, in Sydney, Australia, in Boston and Miami, in Italy and in New Jersey. And in Toronto.
A recent column in Salon.com suggested that Israel’s attacks on Gaza somehow makes the recent rise in anti-Semitism understandable, and further suggested that Israel and its supporters tend to use the Holocaust to justify brutality against the Palestinians. Both arguments are horrible things to say. The brutality in Gaza, the human tragedy, cannot be justified. But there can also never be any excuse, justification, or tacit permission for anti-Semitic attacks. It wasn’t right pre-1948. And it isn’t right now.
But, heck, I didn’t do anything. I didn’t kill Christ. I don’t run the networks or the banks. I don’t bake unleavened bread with the blood of Christian children. And I did not fire rockets at Gaza.
So why am I so afraid to wear my kippah out in public?