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Wednesday
Jun052019

Yarmulkes, Yiddishkeit and Popularity

By Levi Liberow

 Two recent incidents made Jews and Jewish ideas popular, even if briefly, around the world.

The first of course was the miraculous yet tragic event in the Chabad House of Poway, California.

Following Rabbi Goldstein’s lead, many shluchim took advantage of the empathy generated by the media reports for Jews in general, and Chabad in particular, to spread awareness of “A Moment of Silence.”

The second incident was when the German federal commissioner on fighting antisemitism, Felix Klein, cautioned in response to a spike in antisemitic attacks in the country, that it isn’t safe for Jews to walk around with a yarmulke, as it makes them targets of attacks from Muslims and Nazis.

Now, the percentage of Berlin’s Jews who regularly wear yarmulkes is significantly lower than the percentage among Brooklyn’s, or even Miami’s, Jewish population who do so. Still, the sharp response from countless Jewish organizations, including many secular ones, was sharp and unequivocal. “Not wearing yarmulkes is giving in to terror and antisemitism;” “That’s precisely what these hooligans want,” and others similar statements were made.

Yarmulke marches were arranged around the continent, and many Jews who typically don’t wear kippahs wore one just to make a point.

The best reaction of all, was when the front page of a widespread German daily, the Bild, published on the front page a cut-out kippah for readers to assemble, complete with an explanatory video on the newspaper’s website.

“Show your solidarity with your Jewish neighbors, make your own kippah in four simple steps and stand up against antisemitism!” the paper urged.

***

A human being is a social being, and as such, has a deep need to feel validated by his surroundings. That’s why we need to choose a society that upholds the values we do.

There’s nothing more gratifying than seeing something you worked hard for becoming popular and accepted.

I heard once an interesting explanation of why “FFBs” love hearing stories of Baalei Teshuva who discovered the truth of Yiddishkeit at a later stage in their life. Why do we need to hear about someone discovering something we know to be true from day one?

Turns out, that someone from the outside who discovered what you know to be true, is the best way to make you, the insider, believe in it. It’s reassuring to know that your truth is something an “outsider” can appreciate as well.

So yes, it’s nice when people respect our values and give us prime-time media to talk about them.

It’s good and useful when the world turns to us and seeks guidance and inspiration in the face of tragedy.

However, popularity is a tool, not an ideal.

We can’t get addicted to popularity. By no means is it an indicator that something is or isn’t true and correct, of course, nor is it an indicator that the world is ready or not ready to hear something we know is right.

We all know the famous teaching of the Rebbe about “umekarvan laTorah” — how we must bring Jews close to the Torah, not the opposite.

We unquestionably must engage with the world and bring them closer to Torah, but not take our orders from it, even regarding what they ostensibly are prepared, or not prepared, to hear.

Our job as shluchim of the Rebbe is not only to be available as the go-to place for answers when the world is looking for them. We need to be proactive and reach out to them also when they’re not asking for it, even when they’re busy with the mundane regular news. We are here to try and interest them with the truth of Hashem and the Rebbe’s message of imminent redemption.

***

A final note on popularity: Everything popular started out as something unpopular that a group of stubborn and unwavering people pushed through.

3,331 years ago, when we got the Torah, it was very unpopular. Idol worship, murder, theft, and lying were all once very popular.

Today, because of our persistence and a few other factors, many forms of these once popular acts, are very unpopular in large parts of the world, at least enough for people to be ashamed of doing them in public.

Popularity has to build up, I guess.

We’re very into popularity. But not just being popular; we’re into making Torah, Yiddishkeit, and Moshiach popular. Creating popularity for Jewish ideals is a top Moshiach value.

We have to find ways to draw the world’s attention to the values of Torah, not to make us feel validated, but to make the world feel elevated. ■

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