My Kippa: Gone Forever in Jerusalem


VIOLENCE TO LOVE 
IN THE STREETS OF THE OLD CITY
 By Sherry Gutes for MakomMakers Blog

"I was suddenly surrounded by at least a dozen more boys, all closing in on me and taunting me. I spoke to them with a firm voice, telling them to back off and leave me alone, but they did not."


My kippah – my favorite kippah - is gone. It was large, white and lacey, and it had a rainbow ribbon with a Magen David (Jewish Star) woven through it. I have had it for about six years. I would save it to wear only on Shabbat when I am in Jerusalem. I feel fortunate to have worn it for three Shabbatot this year. This Shabbat was the last time I will ever wear it. It is gone – forever. And it’s not a good story.

I am in Jerusalem now as a participant in the Educators Summer Seminar at Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center. Yesterday, on Shabbat afternoon, our group of 20 took a late afternoon walking tour of the Old City, led by Aryeh, our experienced tour guide.

We walked down Agron Street, through the Mamila Mall, up the stairs and through the Jaffa Gate to enter the Old City. Arye stopped here and there to explain what we were seeing, its historical and Jewish significance. As we walked through the ancient streets of the Old City, we saw scores of couples and families enjoying a beautiful Shabbat afternoon, walking around, perhaps going to visit friends, perhaps going to the Kotel. Not far from the Cardo area, the original ‘main street’ of the city, it happened.

As we passed by a group of young boys who were 9 or 10 years old, one boy came up to me, pointed to my kippah, and said ‘Reformi?’ (meaning, ‘Are you a Reform Jew?’) I smiled back and said, in Hebrew, that I just wear a kippah, I said Shabbat Shalom, and continued to walk with my colleagues. 

I was suddenly surrounded by at least a dozen more boys, all closing in on me and taunting me. I spoke to them with a firm voice, telling them to back off and leave me alone, but they did not.

One of our colleagues ran to get our guide, yet before he could arrive, one young boy punched me in the back of my head while another ripped my kippah off. By this time I was screaming at them to leave me alone and not to touch me. The group continued to surround me and now was just inches from me. It was terrifying. These were little boys. How did they learn this behavior?

I will add that at this point, the male adults standing near the boys did nothing to stop this harassment that had now turned to violence. And the women standing on a balcony overlooking this also said nothing.

Our guide arrived and shooed them away, yet they kept at it. They then shoved two of my colleagues. Our guide wisely decided to get us out of there, and as we walked out, the boys continued to follow us, taunting all the way. The group of boys had grown significantly by now.

Every time they came near us, our guide stopped them with a firm voice. At one point, he tried to reason with them, but to no avail. They followed us into the main plaza of the Old City, continuing their taunting. I identified the young boy who hit me as well as the one who was holding my kippah. 

We continued our walk, with our guide confronting them when they moved close to us. At no time did any adult intervene, even though they were witnesses and willing bystanders. A soldier passed by, saw what was going on, and spoke with the boys. They pulled back for a bit. The soldier left, and they continued their taunts.

An elderly man came walking by and, seeing this scene, went to speak with the boys, who immediately left the area. Minutes later, three of the boys returned, with one boy holding the hand of a man I presume was his father. Our guide, two of our Israeli colleagues, and two other colleagues who are fluent in Hebrew told the father what had occurred. There was no acknowledgement of any wrongdoing nor any apology. The boys, for the first time, were completely silent.

My colleagues spoke with them about ‘sinat hinam’ – baseless hatred. How can this be, that Jews attack other Jews? They spoke about respecting one another if we are to be able to live as a free people. They said that Jews have different ways to observe, and different ways to pray to God. And that too many people hate Jews. Why do we do this to one another? 

The discussion was fruitless, yet was important to have. Our guide said that in all his years of guiding, he had never seen anything like this. I believe him. Yet I also know that the divisions in the Jewish world continue to grow larger.

Back to the children. These young boys had to be carefully taught to act in such a way, and to engage in what I can only describe as a mob of gangsters. I cannot and will not make comparisons to the Shoah, during which German children were carefully taught to hate Jews. And after years of being taught such hatred….

Those who know me well know that I do not wear a kippah to make any political statement. I wear a kippah when I teach, when I daven (pray), on Shabbat and when I am in a holy place. Jerusalem is at the top of that list of holy places. I thought briefly last night, as we were on our way to the Tower of David Light Show, that I am done with wearing a kippah here, if this is going to be the reaction. I do not want to call attention to myself or, G-d forbid, cause any incident.

As I was waiting to leave for the evening activity, our Rabbi, who had just been told by some of my colleagues of the incident, looks at me and asks ‘where’s your kippah?’ I told him I was done wearing it, for the reasons stated above. He replied that if I stop wearing it, then the bullies win. He called the incident disgusting and completely unacceptable on every level. I still protested.

And then this Orthodox Rabbi, whom I met just a few days ago, takes off his own large black kippah and says ‘then I will give you my kippah to wear’. It was a magnificent and loving gesture that I will never forget.


I went back up to my hotel room and got another kippah.This incident does not represent the Israel that I love so much. It is about a small group of bullies who believe they know what authentic Judaism is. I will never change their minds or even get them to understand that there are many flavors of Judaism, and we must somehow learn to respect one another. 

I admit that I am shaken by what happened on Shabbat afternoon. 

And I will miss my favorite kippah.








My Kippa: Gone Forever in Jerusalem My Kippa: Gone Forever in Jerusalem Reviewed by MakomNY on June 23, 2019 Rating: 5

3 comments:

  1. Hey PL!

    This is a horrible and unsurprising story. I mourn the loss of your kipah and agree that you must wear a Kipah because that is your right. Do not be put off.

    I also celebrate the Orthodox Rabbi who is a mensch and proper Jew who understood that he had just witnessed an act by Jews so reprehensible that many believe it was the cause of the destruction of the 2nd Temple and the loss of Jewish autonomy for nearly 2000 years.

    Even though a woman wearing a kipah does not work for him, he understood that it worked for you and brought you closer to God, our people, our tradition or whatever warm Jewish fuzzies it gives you, and respected your right as a Jew to choose that custom that is not even a halachic Mitzvah.

    Stay strong my friend, and אל תיתן לממזרים להוריד אותך!

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  2. Thank you for having the strength to share this expereince. It is inspiring that even in this hate-filled, frightening moment you were able to find a light in the Rabbi's of gesture of love . Sending you lots of love.

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