Friday, January 29, 2010

Reclaiming the keffiyeh for the Jews

If the Pope can wear a kippa, why can't a Jew wear a keffiyeh? In fact Jews in Arab countries have always worn them, Rapper Diwon tells Ruth Eglash of the Jerusalem Post:

It might be considered by some as a symbol of Palestinian “resistance” or solidarity, but for a group of young, hip US Jews, wearing a keffiyeh – especially one with blue embroidered Stars of David – is just as much their right as anyone else’s.

“We did have some negative comments [about the keffiyeh] when we initially sent it out to our mailing list,” Erez Shefar, founder and director of Shemspeed, a Jewish music label and promotion company that started selling the traditional Arab headdress about two weeks ago, told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.

“I think people tend to view Jews as Eastern European and often forget that 'Arab' Jews are also a massive part of our nation,” continued Shefar, a.k.a. Rapper Diwon, whose family on one side originates from Yemen and Ethiopia and on the other from Brooklyn, and pre-state (Israel) .

“Jews indigenous to the (Middle East) , such as my family, have worn some variation of the kefyah [cap/kippa] and keffiyeh [head/neck scarves] for thousands of years,” he said.

“The original purpose of the scarves was to provide protection from the sun and sand. When it comes to religious observance, the Muslim tradition of head covering originates from the Jewish tradition,” Shefar said.

However, he is not oblivious to the fact that this new “Israeli keffiyeh,” which has been selling fairly well, has already engendered controversy among some who feel it might be inappropriate for Jews to use it as a pro-Israel symbol.

“We have had some Arab friends take offense to our new scarf-remix,” acknowledged Shefar. “We have some Muslim rappers who have taken part in our Hip Hop Sulha series, which is a Jewish and Muslim reconciliation concert series featuring Hip Hop groups from around the world. We are having a concert in February and one of the performers has actually backed out because of these scarves.”

In an attempt to put people’s minds at ease, Shefar this week released a press statement to clarify the historical facts and to provide some context.

“As a Jew, I am not offended by the pope who wears a ‘kippa,’ and in the same respect, I don’t feel there is any reason for anyone to take offense to a Jewish person wearing a version of the keffiyeh, which they also identify with,” he said in the statement.

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