I forgot to bring a kippa to this week’s ‘Berlin Wears the Kippa’ rally, held in the aftermath of a recent anti-Semitic incident in an area of Berlin known to attract more foodies and trend-setters than bigots and hooligans. “Oh well, here I am four years after attending a similar rally against anti-Semitism at the Brandenburg Gate and all the speeches sound exactly the same,” I thought. I felt more glum and out of place than inspired by the crowd of 2500 or so people clapping and nodding their heads in response to the speeches.
One thing that has changed since 2014 is that Germany has a new anti-Semitism commissioner who will take office next week. One of Felix Klein’s top goals is to create a centralized database of anti-Semitic incidents. Better documentation of such hate crimes will lead to stronger response and prevention measures. But it’s not enough. I hope Mr. Klein will also take steps to increase community-level initiatives to confront hate crimes, the vast majority of which are already documented to come from the far right.
After my failed attempts to pursue volunteer work with the Jüdische Gemeinde (Berlin’s official Jewish Community) a few years ago, which I wrote about in Tikkun Daily, I turned my attention back to other pursuits. But now that I’m close to having a final manuscript for my book, A Place They Called Home, it’s time to revisit the question “What can I do?” I’ve been inspired by initiatives such as AVIVA Berlin’s efforts to promote Jewish-Muslim dialogue, the 2013 Jew in the Box exhibit at the Jewish Museum Berlin, and the Happy Hippie Jew Bus (which came to visit my students this week). Berlin is full of creative people who are indeed doing something.
Wearing a kippa to support the fight against anti-Semitism is an important symbolic measure, a starting point for more sustained community action. Berlin is a creative metropolis where top-down and bottom up initiatives can combine to foster an environment where Jewish leaders need not warn the Jewish community not to wear a kippa when walking around our city.
You can read an expanded version of this post on The Times of Israel Blog.