How French Jews Should Respond to the Current Crisis
The problem for French Jews is a complex one, involving fear, security, identity, religious freedom of expression, the French policy of secularism, and courage. At the heart of the problem is freedom of religion and the ability to express it. Not wearing the kippa will ensure more safety for the Jewish community. But it will also mean two things: Jews censoring their Jewish identity and not acknowledging their faith; and Islamists setting the agenda on how to behave.
It is natural that people are afraid. Those who are afraid will opt not to wear a kippa and reveal their Jewish identity. A reasonable, if somewhat timorous, compromise is wearing some other head covering, a hat or cap, either instead of or over a kippa to ensure more safety, especially in areas with a considerable Muslim population.
A third response is a stronger appeal not only for governmental and police support, but to the compassion and goodwill of the French population, both to prevent Islamist attacks and also to reduce and to legally punish antisemitic utterances and behavior.
A fourth alternative is greater Jewish precautions and defense measures. Jewish children don’t go to schools where they are harassed. This is somewhat feasible since only one third of them go to state schools: one third go to Catholic schools, and one third to Jewish schools. Some vigilante groups have been set up to deal with the issue.
A fifth alternative is to avoid the issue by leaving France. In 2015, 9,880 French Jews left for Israel.
As an outsider free from attacks in France, one might suggest the proper though risky course for French Jews. It is having the courage to be afraid. Members of the Jewish community should defy the Islamist terrorists and proudly display their religious faith with the kippa. Fear means subservience. Conscience should not make cowards of us all.