#TousAvecUneKippa continues to spark social change in France.
The hashtag phenomenon (meaning “Everyone in a kippah”) was created in January 2016 when, in the aftermath of several violent anti-Semitic attacks, a Jewish community leader advised men to stop wearing their skullcaps in public, “until better days.”
The idea was simple: citizens were invited to take and share pictures of themselves wearing kippot in a display of solidarity with France’s beleaguered Jews.
In only a few short days, the phenomenon went viral, and photos of average citizens, politicians and celebrities wearing kippot took social media by storm. Many were moved to take the campaign off-line, donning skullcaps in their daily lives and sparking changes they would never have anticipated.
Collette (last name withheld), a 23-year-old nursing student living in Paris, says it was “an honour” to post her first selfie in a kippah: “It was eye-opening. It made me proud to stand beside French citizens under threat, and it led to a ton of new Twitter followers.”
The experience left Collette feeling responsible to continue her campaign in the streets – and before she knew it, she wouldn’t leave home without a kippah.
“It’s a political statement,” she says, “but they also look pretty great. I love the velvet ones.”
Collette is not alone. In fact, so many French men and women found it hard to take off their kippot that #TousAvecUneKippa has spawned a trend in the world’s fashion capital, with decorative, personalized, vintage and ironic kippot appearing on runways and couturiers across the country.
After a few short weeks, Collette found herself in a community of activists and trendsetters who were noticing more and more changes the longer they wore a kippah.
Philippe, 30, is a graphic designer who collects vintage kippot from American bar and bat mitzvah parties of the 1980s.
“At first, it was funny,” he says. “I’d order a baguette, they’d give me a bagel. My butcher wouldn’t sell me pork.”
“I started getting letters from the bank,” says Michel, 41, a tattoo artist and competitive slam poet, his eyes welling up, “telling me that my credit score had been upgraded. They never gave me a reason.”
Henrietta, 32, found herself growing frustrated at the assumptions she encountered: “A woman walked up to me the other day and said ‘I know a young man in Tolouse – Erik – he’s also been wearing a kippah lately. Do you know him? Erik? In Tolouse?’
“I nearly lost it. Why should I know some random guy in Toulouse? Because we’re both on social media? Does she think we all know each other?”
The incidents keep piling up. Louis, 24, returned to university to find that he had been transferred to pre-med. Louisa, 47, bought an expensive duvet set, only to find holes cut in the sheets.
Predictably, right-wing politicians and pundits began denouncing the group as a fifth column of French society.
“This is how they work,” said one pundit. “They own and control the social media, and now they’re using it to
undermine our democracy. “I bet Mark Zuckerberg wears a kippah.”
As relationships with friends and families grew strained, these non-Jewish kippah wearers began to frequent the few stores, parks, restaurants and churches where they felt welcome – until almost all of them wound up living in a single neighbourhood, which quickly became known as The Twittle (short for “Twitter shtetl”).
Thankfully, no violence has yet been reported, but threatening graffiti has appeared in the neighbourhood, promising “No forgiveness for the ones who crucified our values.”
There is a silver lining: the situation has been a welcome distraction for France’s Jews, who have used the time to remove their kippot, change their names, and integrate seamlessly into secular French society.
“It was a rough few centuries,” says Marie Girard (formerly Miriam Greenbaum), “but at least we’ve gotten rid of anti-Semitism for good.”