Skip To Content
Back to Opinion

Ditch the Safety Pin and Don a Kippah To Make Your Jewishness More Visible Under Trump

In the wake of Donald Trump’s victory, with the Southern Poverty Law Center reporting over 400 incidents of “hateful harassment and assault,” and Steve Bannon designated as chief strategist for the White House — how important is it to get our response to fear exactly right? Can we feel our way through various responses, even if some of them are fraught or others lead to charges of slacktivism?

Aaron Steinberg-Madow is a 25-year old progressive Jewish communal professional living in the Bay Area. Since the election, he says, he has “never been more afraid” in his “entire life.” For now, he is trying to spur others to action with a campaign called Hineni: Jews on the Streets in Trump’s America.

The campaign calls for Jews to wear a kippah (or some other religious symbol like a Star of David or hamsa) as an act of solidarity with those most vulnerable. As the Hineni website says, “Our message is that of Abraham to G-d: Hineni, I am here, to do what is necessary. As public Jews in this moment, we will leverage our Jewishness to be there for and with all those who are under attack.”

Aaron plans to order kippot and buttons that say “solidarity” in Hebrew, English, Arabic and Spanish. He was inspired to include Arabic by Israeli writer Almog Behar’s short story “Ana Min Al-Yahoud,” (Arabic for “I am one of the Jews.”) Aaron sees the inclusion of Arabic on a kippah as “radically subversive.” He wants to send a message of support for “the rights of Arabic speakers in the U.S. to live in freedom and dignity.” But the campaign is intended to show solidarity to all groups affected by Trump’s racism and xenophobia — including people of color and LGBTQ individuals.

Aaron Steinberg-Maddow Image by Courtesy

Still, Aaron’s campaign raises some difficult questions. Might a kippah — sometimes associated with more conservative values and with certain brands of right-wing Israeli nationalism — signal the opposite message than the one the campaign intends? And might conspicuous religious garb increase our apparent differences at a time when unity is needed? Unlike other cultural signifiers — food, music, dance and language — which can be enjoyed across ethnic boundaries, religions, as discrete theological systems, are arguably more specifically bounded.

I admit that I hesitate to even write these words, not wanting to contribute to prejudiced sentiment against any group, religious or otherwise. Still, I find, these questions are nagging at me.

Aaron has thought this through. As for not wanting to signal right-wing Israeli nationalism, he has chosen to wear a kippah that does not resemble the knitted kind favored by Israeli settlers. Plus, he insists, this is the time “to assert a bold particularism in the service of universalism.”

The idea of wearing something to signal solidarity isn’t new. In the week since Trump’s victory, some have taken to wearing a safety pin to indicate to those most vulnerable that the pin-wearer is able and wiling to serve as an ally.

Some would mock such campaigns as slacktivism. To that, I would echo Aaron’s remark that “wearing a kippah is not the end of the road; it’s just the beginning.” Americans can march in the streets and call their senators to call on Trump to rescind the appointment of Bannon. North American Jews can place pressure on Jewish Federations of North America to respond to Trump’s victory in a way that signals pressure and concern, rather than the disturbingly warm message the organization did send. You don’t have to be American to donate money to groups like the American Civil Liberties Union, Planned Parenthood or Southern Poverty Law Center. And everyone can use this as an opportunity to encourage coalitions to address oppression in various corners of the globe.

Even if some symbolic acts threaten to devolve into slacktivism, one could argue that everyone deserves to participate in campaigns that comfort and embolden. Aaron admits that “the only times I’ve really felt not so afraid is when I’ve been organizing.” I relate to Aaron’s emotional experience. When I write, when I engage with others in a public way, when I declare allyship, I feel a little better — not necessarily just about myself (which is, admittedly, about ego), but about the present and the future.

Many of Trump’s most disturbing policies will have ripple effects across the border and across the globe. Many of his hateful actions and rhetoric have already made us think of our own history and are spurring us to do what we can to resist. The alternative to action — however symbolic — is to risk drowning in our own fear and rage.

Mira Sucharov is associate professor of political science at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. Follow her on Twitter, @Sucharov

I hope you appreciated this article. Before you go, I’d like to ask you to please support the Forward’s award-winning, nonprofit journalism during this critical time.

Now more than ever, American Jews need independent news they can trust, with reporting driven by truth, not ideology. We serve you, not any ideological agenda.

At a time when other newsrooms are closing or cutting back, the Forward has removed its paywall and invested additional resources to report on the ground from Israel and around the U.S. on the impact of the war, rising antisemitism and the protests on college campuses.

Readers like you make it all possible. Support our work by becoming a Forward Member and connect with our journalism and your community.

Make a gift of any size and become a Forward member today. You’ll support our mission to tell the American Jewish story fully and fairly. 

— Rachel Fishman Feddersen, Publisher and CEO

Join our mission to tell the Jewish story fully and fairly.

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.