Wearing a kippah for solidarity and visibility

I do not like wearing a kippah. I grew up in a Reform synagogue where few people wore them, including the rabbi. The gendered nature of it bothers me. (Why, in some “egalitarian” synagogues are men forced to wear them, but not women?) And, quite frankly, I don’t like being told what to wear.

But I put on a kippah last week. I’m going to wear this visible symbol of my Jewishness all day, every day, for the foreseeable future. I’m not wearing it to remind myself that God is above me, one of the explanations for the custom. This isn’t about God. It’s about this: Since the surprise of Election Day, members of the alt-right, white nationalist groups and racists, misogynists, Islamophobes, homophobes, ableists (against the disabled) and, of course, anti-Semites of every stripe have been emboldened. As a Jew, I want the bigots and their victims alike to know that I stand with the outsiders.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, there has been a massive uptick in hate crimes since Nov. 8. By Nov. 11 — about 72 hours into this new reality — the SPLC had counted 201 “incidents of hateful harassment and intimidation since Election Day.”

On Nov. 10, I stumbled across whywereafraid.com, a blog that compiles news articles, tweets, Facebook and other social media posts that document a hate incident. It gets updated every 10 or 20 minutes. My gut wrenched as I scrolled through it.

• In Pittsburg, right here in the Bay Area, a man on Twitter reports a house decked out with a banner that reads: “You can hang a nigger from a tree. Equal rights he’ll never see!”

• In a parking garage at San Jose State University, a sophomore Muslim psychology student says she was attacked by a man who “grabbed her hijab from behind and yanked it backward.”

• In Los Angeles, a woman reports that she was pumping gas into her car, which has “liberal bumper stickers,” when a male stranger said, “I should grab you by the pussy.”

• Also in L.A.: A substitute teacher was recorded telling an 11-year-old Latina, “If you were born here, your parents got to go. They will leave you behind, and you will be in foster care.”

• Since Election Day, swastika graffiti has been popping up all over, including dorm rooms and sidewalks in New York City. In the so-called City of Brotherly Love, graffiti on a Philadelphia shop window spelled out “Sieg Heil” and “Trump,” but with the “T” replaced by a swastika.

• Har Shalom, a synagogue in Missoula, Montana, sought police protection “after American Nazi party fliers accusing Jews of controlling the media were dropped in residential areas of the city.”

• Vox.com writer Lee Drutman received an envelope containing “four pages’ worth of anti-Semitic propaganda.” Of course, throughout the campaign, Jewish members of the media were targeted by assorted online bigots.

• At a Veterans Day parade in Petaluma, some knuckleheads who really missed the point of the parade showed up with Confederate flags.

So far I haven’t heard of any physical attacks on Jews. The swastikas, of course, should trouble us. But the incident in San Jose is the one that sent me over the edge. Attacks on hijab-wearing women are happening elsewhere; there was one on a bus in Queens, New York, and in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where a man forced a woman to remove her hijab by threatening to set her on fire. Violently forcing a person to remove an article of religious clothing should horrify you as Jews.

During the campaign I was disgusted by the social media attacks on my Jewish colleagues in the press, which featured disturbing imagery and language. Just a swarm of online trolls, I thought. Now, however, I can see that the United States is in a new environment of hate.

As a white man, my minority status isn’t always visible. That’s why last week I went to a local Judaica shop and bought two kippot — so visceral is my revulsion at the increasing attacks on all minorities. As a Jew, I am an outsider. And so I stand in solidarity with all outsiders.

“Now is exactly the time to wear our kippahs and tsitsit out. To be ‘Jews on the street,’ as new Eastern European Jewish immigrants so strongly tried to hide and assimilate into white WASPyness,” a friend of mine wrote on Facebook the other day. “We need to be visible right now and shed this shame. People’s hijabs are literally being torn off.”

I don’t know that it’s shame that has kept kippot off of liberal Jewish heads. But it is time to put them on.

Wearing a kippah is for me not just an act of solidarity and visibility; it is a reminder that none of this is normal.

This is not normal. This is not normal. This is not normal. That will be my mantra in the coming weeks, months and years.

I’m not the only person I know doing this. Since I first came out as a kippah-wearer last week, I have heard from about a dozen other Jewish friends and acquaintances doing the same all over the country.

Join our movement. Be a Jew. Show the world you’re a Jew. Show our fellow minorities that we are with them, that we are in this together.

The hate is here. The bigotry is real. It is vocal, and it is visible. Things will get worse. And as they do, I will stand with the Muslim woman in San Jose and others like her. Unlike the old kippah I wore when I visited synagogues that require it — small, black, as inconspicuous as it could be — my new ones have some color. You can’t miss them.

I won’t be an invisible minority any longer. I hope you’ll join me.

Report “hateful intimidation and harassment” to the Southern Poverty Law Center at splcenter.org/reporthate.

David A.M. Wilensky
David A.M. Wilensky

David A.M. Wilensky is the online editor of J. and "Jew in the Pew" columnist. He can be reached at david@jweekly.com.