Aaron and Esther Silverstein were walking hand-in-hand in the Musée des Beaux Arts in Montreal. It was only a five hour drive from Boston, and now that they were retired, the older couple had the time to take relaxing visits to all of the wonderful places that had always surrounded them through their long and busy careers.
“Excuse me, Sir.” A uniformed security guard approached the couple. “If I could just get you to step aside for a moment.”
Puzzled but compliant, the married couple followed the official out of the flow of other patrons.
“Sir, I am sorry, but you’ll have to remove your headwear.”
It took a moment for Aaron to realize that he meant his kippah. “I’m afraid there is some sort of misunderstanding. You see, I’m Jewish, and as part of my religion, I…”
“Yes sir, I am aware that you are Jewish, however it is museum policy that no symbols or items partisan or religious be publicly displayed here. I’m very sorry, but you must remove your headwear immediately. It is for your own safety.”
“Not in the museum of course, but there have been several assaults against Jewish men recently, who were identified because of headwear such as yours.”
“But if you are only responsible for enforcing museum policy…”
“I’m saying this as a Canadian as well as in my capacity as a museum employee.”
“Aaron, maybe if you…”
“I understand your responsibility, but I cannot tolerate this level of prejudice. If the museum requires that I remove my kippah, I instead choose to leave, and insist that the admissions fee we paid be refunded.”
“You will have to speak to the management about that. I only know that you may not remain while wearing your yarmulke.”
“Fine. Please get your manager so I can discuss the matter of the refund.”
“You must go back to the museum entrance. I believe there will be some forms to fill out.”
“This is Canada, not Nazi Germany, young man. I am the offended party here, and if your establishment discriminates against Jews, I should not be the one to be filling out forms.”
“Please lower your voice, Sir.”
“Why should I? This is still a free country, isn’t it?”
“Sir, I must now escort you and your wife out of the museum. If you insist on continuing to raise your voice, I shall have to call the constables and have you arrested for public disorder.”
Aaron opened his mouth again, but Esther squeezed his arm. He looked down at her, and the plea in her eyes was insistent.
“Very well.” Esther still held onto his arm as they turned and walked back toward the entrance. Aaron looked around at the other patrons for the first time and was shocked to see the disdain on their faces. How had this happened? When had this happened? It was 2018, not 1940. This was Montreal, not Berlin.
For his wife’s sake, he filled out the required forms which stated they could receive notice by mail in six to eight weeks regarding their “request” for a refund.
On their way back to their car, they saw a small group of younger boys, maybe in their late teens. When the boys noticed Aaron, one called out. “Hey, Jew. What the f*ck you think you’re doing here?”
His pals egged him on and they started walking toward them while their leader continued with his insults. “Too bad Hitler didn’t finish the job, eh Jew?”
Aaron was fumbling with his car keys. He had to get Esther inside and get out of here.
“I’m talking to you, Jew.”
They were only a few feet away. At sixty-six years of age, there was no way he could even begin to fight them off.
“Stop. Get away from them. If you are not patronizing the museum, then you must leave.”
Aaron turned. It was the guard they’d had the problem with earlier.
“Who’s going to make us, stooge?”
“Hey, Felix. Some of his mates are coming.” The boys all looked and another three guards were running up.
“I have called the police. You have time to leave, but if you are still here when they arrive, you shall be arrested for trespassing.”
“We were only hassling these Jews…”
Felix stared into the guard’s eyes and only found resignation.
“Come on. Let’s blow. This place stinks.”
The five walked away and no one else said or did anything else until they were out of sight. Once they were, the others officials were dismissed leaving just the Silversteins and their original adversary.
“I told you that it was dangerous to wear your headgear, Sir. Montreal isn’t what it once was.”
“I didn’t know, but nothing excuses this sort of behavior.”
“I offer no excuses, Sir. I understand your plight.”
“How could you?”
The guard leaned and whispered in Aaron’s ear. “Before my grandfather changed it, our last name was Katz.”
Aaron offered his hand and the guard shook it.
“I would wish you a pleasant stay in our city, but I’m afraid it has already been ruined.”
“Thank you for your help, Mister…”
“Mr. Cameron. I think Montreal has lost its allure for us. We’ll take your advice and leave.”
He unlocked the door for Esther and she got in. Aaron stood there for a moment longer. “I don’t know who to feel more sorry for Mr. Cameron, you or me.”
“I must return to my duties now. Have a pleasant trip back home.” He turned and walked back toward the museum.
Aaron got in the car and pulled out of the parking lot. His grandfather had survived the Gross-Rosen concentration camp in Rogoźnica, and had emigrated to the United States in the late 1940s. He thought his children and grandchildren would inherit a better world, but the world has always hated the Jews. It would continue to hate them until Messiah came and the world would finally be repaired.
Aaron wondered what would happen to Jews like Katz on that day?
I just read an article written by Dr. Yvette Alt Miller called Banning the Kippah (also called a yarmulke), cataloging policies and even laws discouraging Jewish men from wearing their identifying headgear in nations such as Denmark, France, Sweden, Britain, Germany, and yes even Canada.
Fortunately, such is not the case (yet) in the United States, but I can see that the day might come, especially as various political and social movements discourage and even vilify men and women of faith.
Just recently, NBC published the article Study Shows Americans are Forgetting about the Holocaust. Once you forget history, you are bound to repeat it.
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” -George Santayana