A proposed law that would ban all religious attire from the public sector has Jews in Quebec on edge.
One rabbi has found a clever way to fight the dreaded kippah ban: he stamped his head covering with the blue-and-white Fleur-de-lys — the province’s flag.
“I think protests are great,” Rabbi Yisroel Bernath said in an interview with the Forward. “But I thought this would be a great way to make a positive statement. They want to ban the kippah? Let’s put a kippah on our heads!”
Bill 60, named the Charter of Quebec Values and put forward by the nationalist Parti Quebecois, would establish what it has called religious neutrality by banning “conspicuous” and “overt” religious symbols like hijabs, kippahs and turbans, from the public sector.
In Quebec, this includes civil servants, daycare workers, judges, doctors, nurses, and police officers, among others.
Bernath, who works at Chabad in Montreal’s Notre-Dame-de-Grace neighborhood, first came up with the idea right after the proposal was announced, when a photoshopped picture of a Fleur-de-lys kippah that he posted on Facebook went viral.
“People kept asking me ‘Are you going to make it?’” Bernath said. Though he had the will, finding the proper fabric was a real challenge.
“I wanted it to be made in Quebec,” he stressed. Ultimately, he found a local kippah-maker and the label reads “Fabrique au Quebec” (made in Quebec).
Bernath’s kippah can be found at qkippah.com for $10. Though the website warns of its limited edition — only 400 have been made so far — the yarmulke has already found a niche of devoted customers. According to Bernath, he sold 100 yesterday, and only has about 80 left.
“I bought 60 and distributed them to my congregation, Rabbi Schachar Orenstein of Montreal’s Spanish and Portuguese synagogue told the Canadian Jewish News. “Many doctors at the Jewish [General Hospital] are wearing them. If I had the budget, I would purchase for the entire hospital staff,” he added. In November, the Montreal Jewish General Hospital said it would defy the Charter, considered “patently discriminatory.”
But for Bernath, the biggest surprise has been the amount of support he has gotten from non-Jews in the community. Because most of the kippahs are purchased online, he is able to keep track of the names of the owners. A lot of them, he said, are not Jewish.
“The uniqueness in Montreal is that everyone lives together,” he said.
To remind Quebec Premier Pauline Marois — who spearheads the push for the Charter — of that legacy, Bernath has sent her a kippah of her own, signed “Happy Hanukkah from the Jewish community!”
The timing is no coincidence. “It’s Hanukkah all over again in a way,” Bernath explained. “In the times of Hanukkah, that’s basically what the Syrian-Greeks said to the Jews. [They were] trying to make everyone into the Syrian-Greeks and that’s what [Marois] is trying to do.”
Anne Cohen is the Forward’s deputy digital media editor. When she’s not looking for the secret Jewish history of Voodoo in New Orleans, or making lists about Ruth Bader Ginsburg, she writes for The Assimilator. She graduated from the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism with an M.S. magazine concentration in 2012.