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German Government Official Recommends Jews Exercise Caution When Wearing A Kippah


Let's stick with Germany for a moment and look at a disturbing trend in that country. The German government says anti-Semitic crimes were up 20% last year. Over the weekend, the country's top official in charge of fighting anti-Semitism was reported saying he does not recommend Jews wear a kippah, or skullcap, in all parts of the country. Deidre Berger directs the American Jewish Committee's Ramer Institute for German-Jewish relations in Berlin.



SHAPIRO: How did people in Germany respond to these remarks from Felix Klein, who's the man responsible for Germany's efforts to combat anti-Semitism?

BERGER: You know, I think most Germans who heard this were really shocked. There's a deep-seated belief and conviction among many in Germany and people of goodwill that anti-Semitism was stamped out in the post-war years here in Germany. And it really was a basis for creating the Federal Republic of Germany on liberal democratic values. So the notion that it's not safe for someone who's Jewish to wear a kippah in Germany is quite astonishing for most Germans.

SHAPIRO: Have you seen a lot of signs that, in fact, anti-Semitism is not stamped out? Is there a lot of evidence of it these days?

BERGER: There's more and more evidence. Those of us in the Jewish community, particularly those - we live more openly as Jews, attend Jewish events, our children and schools - we know that there's definitely been a more open manifestation of anti-Semitism for a number of years now. It's very difficult to measure. The statistics are rising, but they are also better at collecting statistics, to the credit of Germany, I would say, and also civil society. But we feel it in sports field, in schools, comments made casually at dinner parties. It's really definitely a feeling of there's more going on than there used to be.

SHAPIRO: What form does it take? Is it mostly language, acts of violence, Internet harassment?

BERGER: There's a lot of Internet harassment. There's a lot of verbal assaults. The number of actual physical attacks is, fortunately, fairly low, so about 60 last year - 60 too many. But we're mostly talking about a different kind of secondary verbal assault in terms of anti-Semitism.

SHAPIRO: Are Jews in Germany already hiding external markers of religion?

BERGER: Yes, they have for quite some time. Jews in Germany who wear yarmulkes often wear baseball caps to hide their yarmulkes because there is a feeling of unease. There aren't incidents all the time. And yet, one doesn't want to court that sort of danger. That said, of course, there's a great wish that this doesn't have to be, that one can wear a yarmulke openly. And here on the streets of Berlin, generally, it is no problem. But no one wants to be the person where it is a problem.


BERGER: And even - it's not just wearing kippahs. It's also speaking Hebrew, it's wearing Magen David Jewish star necklaces. Any outward sign can be a problem.

SHAPIRO: In response to the statement saying that it may not be safe for Jews to wear a kippah in public, the U.S. ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell, tweeted the opposite is true. Wear your kippah. Wear your friend's kippah. Borrow a kippah and wear it for our Jewish neighbors. Educate people that we are a diverse society, he said. So which approach do you think more people are adopting in Germany today?

BERGER: I think it was important what U.S. Ambassador Grenell said. It is, of course, the right thing to do to wear open and outward signs of being Jewish. And the more there's acceptance of it, the more there's discussion of it, the easier it will be to do so. But I think no one can recommend to people themselves who wear yarmulkes as to whether or not in which parts of their city they should openly walk around with a yarmulke. Generally, it's no problem. But there are certain areas where one might feel a little more constricted. It's a personal decision but it's - in public, it's important for us as AJC and for everyone to say, be outward. Don't be afraid. Jews live in Germany. There's flourishing Jewish life, and it needs to be public.

SHAPIRO: Deidre Berger of the American Jewish Committee Berlin, thank you so much.

BERGER: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.