After Attack, An Uproar Over A Call For French Jews To Quit Wearing Yarmulkes : Parallels A Jewish community leader in the southern city of Marseille has sparked controversy by calling on Jews to stop wearing skullcaps after a teacher was the victim of an anti-Semitic attack.
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After Attack, An Uproar Over A Call For French Jews To Quit Wearing Yarmulkes

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After Attack, An Uproar Over A Call For French Jews To Quit Wearing Yarmulkes

After Attack, An Uproar Over A Call For French Jews To Quit Wearing Yarmulkes

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Times are also tense in France right now. In the southern city of Marseilles this week, a 15-year-old boy who said he was inspired by ISIS attacked a Jewish teacher. In response, the head of the Jewish community gave a safety tip about skullcaps that has infuriated some people. Here's NPR's Eleanor Beardsley.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ZVI AMMAR: (Speaking French).

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Speaking on the radio, Zvi Ammar, head of Marseille's large Jewish community said it might be better if Jews in Marseilles for the time being stopped wearing their skullcaps, known in Hebrew as a kippah - at least, he said, until these barbarians calm down. He was referring to an immigrant Turkish-Kurd highschooler who set upon a Jewish teacher with a butcher knife. The attack by the young radical this week has horrified the country, but so has Ammar's proposal. France's head rabbi, Haim Korsia, called it defeatist.

HAIM KORSIA: (Through interpreter) To suggest this is like saying Jews bear some of the responsibility for being attacked, this is the same thinking as those who would say a woman is guilty of a sexual attack because her skirt wasn't long enough.

BEARDSLEY: Several of the recent terrorist attacks in France have specifically targeted Jews. National Jewish community leader Joel Mergui says Jews know the threat posed by young extremists.

JOEL MERGUI: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: "But we're not going to stop going to stadiums or cafes or concert halls," he says. "And so Jews will continue to wear the kippah."

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Foreign language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Foreign language spoken).

BEARDSLEY: An Israeli journalist secretly filmed himself walking through some of Paris' Muslim neighborhoods wearing a kippah last year. Broadcast on French television, the clip shows him drawing some unsavory comments. A group of young men can be heard comparing him to a dog. French officials on the left and right have also denounced the proposal for Jews their skullcaps. Parliamentarian Xavier Bertrand spoke on a popular radio show.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

XAVIER BERTRAND: (Through interpreter) If the Jews of Marseille don't wear their kippah, France is no longer France because it'll mean letting those who want to change our way of living and values win.

BEARDSLEY: Ten-thousand soldiers now patrol the streets of France. Nowhere is their presence more visible than in Paris' traditional Jewish quarter, Le Marais. Clothing shop owner Stephan Levy says he feels safe, but things have changed in the last couple years.

STEPHAN LEVY: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: "Now sometimes I think it's less risky to wear a baseball cap or a hat rather than a kippah," he says, "not only in France but everywhere because let's face it, these days Jews are targeted.

(CROSSTALK IN FRENCH)

BEARDSLEY: Teacher Avraham Scharbit is wearing his kippah. So is his 4-year-old son sitting in a seat on the back of his bike.

AVRAHAM SCHARBIT: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: "Yes, sometimes I wear a cap instead of a kippah but not always," he says. "I do both. It's not a big deal." Scharbit says he's not afraid and France is a good place to raise his children. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris.

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