What’s the hottest headwear in Montreal on these cold winter days? Surprisingly, it’s not woolen toques or fur hats. Lately, Quebecers wanting to make a fashionable, yet political, statement are wearing kippot covered in the Fleur-de-lis.
The kippot are the brainchild of a young Montreal rabbi who felt it was time for Jewish Quebecers to wear their opposition to Bill 60 not only on their sleeves, but also on their heads.
The province’s ruling nationalist Parti Quebecois, led by Premier Pauline Marois, tabled Bill 60 in the National Assembly in early November. The proposed legislation, also known as the Charter of Quebec Values, would ban the display of religious symbols and the wearing of religious garb by public employees.
“The best way to protest the charter is to wear religious symbols,” says Rabbi Yisroel Bernath. Known as “Montreal’s Hip Rabbi,” he is the spiritual director of Chabad Notre-Dame-de-Grace & Loyola Campus, and the Jewish chaplain at Concordia University.
Bernath, a 31-year-old transplant from Chicago, is astonished at how his Québec Kippa has taken off. Right after Bill 60 was tabled, he made a mock-up image of the skullcap and posted it on his Facebook and Twitter feeds. The link went viral, and people started asking him when he was going to actually make the kippot featuring the provincial symbol.
Initially, the rabbi and his friend Herschel Weil bought some white kippot and ironed on a Fleur-de-lis patch. Soon after, they found a fabric with the appropriate pattern and approached kippa-maker Rhonda Levy, asking her to make a batch of 400 kippot for them.
“I really wanted it to be made locally in Quebec,” Bernath emphasizes.
Bernath put the kippot on sale on the Internet for $10 apiece, and also gave some to Rodal’s Hebrew Bookstore & Gift Shop to sell. In less than a month, he’s sold 320 of them to Jews and non-Jews alike.
“It’s the only kippa I wear now,” Bernath says. “Sometimes I forget I’m wearing it and I’m surprised when I’m walking on the street and people give me a thumbs-up or a high five. Then I realize that they’re noticing my kippa.”
Bernath says he sees people wearing the Québec Kippa all over the city.
“I was at an event the other day and there must have been 50 people wearing the kippa,” he says. He was also recently at a wedding where the groom wore a Québec Kippa under the huppah.
The rabbi is also seeing photos of people wearing the protest headwear posted on social media. “#Québec Kippa is trending right now on Twitter in Quebec,” he reports.
As Bernath expected, not everyone is supportive of the skullcap’s message.
“There’s some backlash, and there have been some anti-Semitic comments,” he says. But none of this will deter him.
“If [Marois] says, ‘Don’t wear a kippa,’ I will wear a kippa,” he asserts.
The challenge facing the rabbi right now is how to meet the demand for the hot item. In addition to replenishing his inventory of the original Fleur-de-lis version, he is considering making another style with a Canadian flag pattern.
“We are really going to have to make more,” he says. “This is a kippa movement.”