Wear Your Yarmulke Tighter

Shalom Chaverim (hello friends),

What a week.

I returned from an incredible eight days in Israel last week just in time to spend Shabbat with my family. Little did I or any of us expect that Shabbat — our day of community, connection, and peace — would be shattered by the horrific shootings at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.

It has been a week of mourning, heartbreak, anger, and fear across the country and the Jewish world. At the same time, as I am hearing from colleagues in every city, the outpouring of love, solidarity, and support for Pittsburgh and Jewish communities everywhere has been heartening and inspiring.

With deep gratitude to all of the people who immediately sprang into action, we came together Sunday afternoon for a moving vigil on Boston Common, while synagogues and communities from all across Greater Boston created vigils and ceremonies of their own. We were surrounded and buoyed by our elected officials, law enforcement professionals, and leaders and friends from every faith community.

Among the many powerful speeches that we heard on the Common, one moment really stood out for me. Toward the end of his impassioned speech of identification with the Jewish community, Shaykh Yasir F. Fahmy, Senior Imam of the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center, paused for a moment and looked intensely at the crowd.

“I’d like to say one more thing to the young people in the Jewish community in particular,” he said, “which is exactly what I would tell my community. Today, wear your yarmulke tighter.​ Don’t fear your faith. Be confident, be strong, and hold your head strong.”

What a metaphor and what a message. Clearly, he was not speaking literally, nor encouraging all Jews to wear yarmulkes. He was alluding to the outward symbol of Jewish identity and our willingness to express our Jewish identities publicly, proud of our heritage, and confident in who we are. What a loving and encouraging charge in the face of anti-Semitic terror that aims to strike fear in our hearts and drive us into hiding.

I was asked after the vigil whether I thought people should be afraid. It’s not a question of should, I responded. It is human to feel fear. We just cannot become our fear. We cannot let fear tear us apart — inside or out — nor drive us away from the people and the places where we come together in joy and prayer, celebration and hope.

In this spirit, I look forward to joining with Jewish communities around the world to attend synagogue on our Solidarity Shabbat and stand together with our brothers and sisters in Pittsburgh. I encourage as many of us as possible to “wear your yarmulke tighter” and to take part in this powerful expression of unity and solidarity. If you are interested, CJP has more information and a list of participating Greater Boston-area congregations.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Marc Baker

Read my speech from the Boston Vigil for Pittsburgh.
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Marc Baker

About the Author

CJP President and CEO Rabbi Marc Baker is an educator, writer, and leadership mentor who is devoting his life to Jewish learning and building Jewish communities.