Berlin activists to distribute 10,000 kippas in city’s parks on Sunday

Berlin activists to distribute 10,000 kippas in city’s parks on Sunday

Individuals will wear the skullcaps on their own, experience vulnerability of being Jewish in Germany, organizers say

Luke Tress is a video journalist and tech reporter for the Times of Israel

People wear kippas at a demonstration in Berlin, April 25, 2018. (AP/Markus Schreiber)
People wear kippas at a demonstration in Berlin, April 25, 2018. (AP/Markus Schreiber)

Following a spate of anti-Semitic incidents in Germany, and widespread displays of solidarity with Berlin’s Jewish community, activists in the city are to distribute 10,000 kippas to passersby in the city’s public places in another kind of demonstration on Sunday. The goal, organizers said, is a more personal and less political rally against anti-Semitism in the city.

The kippas will be given out by small groups of Jewish and non-Jewish volunteers in the city’s parks. The event is complementary to the “Berlin Wears Kippa” event that took place Wednesday, organizers said.

At that event, around 2,000 participants donned kippas together at a rally in front of the city’s synagogue. Sunday’s event, called “#kippaheadsup,” will encourage people who are not politically active or tied to the issue to wear a kippa on their own and experience the feeling of vulnerability that can come with wearing something identifiably Jewish during their daily life.

“Yesterday we wore a kippa, but in a safe space,” said Anne, 30, one of the event’s organizers, on Thursday. “A lot of people don’t have any markers that marginalize them and maybe they can get more sensitive to that,” added Anne, who declined to give her last name because she has a politics-related job in the German parliament.

The core group organizing the event, which includes Jews and non-Jews, is making an effort to keep the event nonpartisan, and focus the spotlight on the people on the ground. Previous events, including Wednesday’s, have been politicized to some extent by all sides, organizers said.

People take part in the ‘Berlin Wears Kippa’ event, with more than 2,000 Jews and non-Jews wearing the traditional skullcap to show solidarity with Jews on April 25, 2018, in Berlin, after Germany has been rocked by a series of anti-Semitic incidents. (AFP/Tobias Schwarz)

“We’re trying not to put a stamp of political parties on it. We don’t want talking heads, we don’t want politicians to use it,” Anne said. “We’re just citizens of Berlin who felt the need to do something.”

A small protest in the city’s Neukoelln district on Wednesday, the heart of the capital’s Muslim community, may have been organized by far-right provocateurs, rather than protesters sincere about combating anti-Semitism, Anne said.

Jannik Schaefer, 29, said he decided to get involved in organizing the upcoming demonstration after hearing casual anti-Semitism at a bar last week. The next day, a 19-year-old Syrian refugee attacked two young men wearing kippas in Berlin, shouting “Yahud” — “Jew,” in Arabic — as he whipped one with a belt.

The victim of the assault, 21-year-old Israeli Arab Adam Armush, posted a video online of the attack. It went viral, drawing widespread condemnation. Armush said he wore the kippa to see if it was safe to walk on the streets dressed as a Jew.

Following the attack, the head of Germany’s Central Council of Jews, Josef Schuster, advised German Jews against wearing kippas in public in an interview with broadcaster Radioeins.

“I was quite taken aback. After a few hours this feeling persisted. I don’t want to live in a city where this is the norm. I told my girlfriend I’m going to wear a kippa. She said, ‘No, don’t wear one, it’s dangerous,’ so I said we would all wear one,” Schaefer said.

Event organizer Jannik Schaefer (Courtesy)

The core group of four or five organizers connected through friends and started coordinating the event with the help of local Jewish community groups, that also helped facilitate a speedy order of 10,000 kippas from Israel. Around 120 volunteers will distribute the kippas around Berlin.

Schaefer, who is not Jewish, participated in the mass rally on Wednesday, which was attended by Berlin Mayor Michael Mueller. He left still wearing his kippa, he said.

“I had to go through the question, ‘Do I take it off now, or do I leave it on?’ so I left it on. So as soon as you enter the real world where it’s not everybody that wears one, it becomes a new experience, something you have to process and feel out,” Schaefer said. “We want to raise people’s awareness, feel some sympathy and get a little closer,” he said.

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