Now, the Jewish company Shemspeed is offering a keffiyeh that is an Israeli take on a traditional, Arab piece of clothing:
The Israeli Keffiyeh, with its intricate Star of David pattern in the center piece, and words AM ISRAEL CHAI (Jewish People Live) in Hebrew weaved into its fabric, this scarf illustrates a divine promise that the Jewish people are eternal. [Note from Sam: The Hebrew is more-accurately translated as “the nation of Israel lives.”]
The history of the keffiyeh, of course, is complex. Yasser Arafat popularized the scarf as a symbol of the so-called Palestinian resistance, and more recently, it has become a fashion statement in more-liberal circles:
As with other articles of clothing worn in wartime, such as the T-shirt, fatigues and khaki pants, the keffiyeh has been seen as chic among non-Arabs in the West. Keffiyehs became popular in the United States in the late 1980s, at the start of the First Intifada, when bohemian girls wore keffiyehs as scarves around their necks. In the early 2000s, keffiyehs were very popular among youths in Tokyo, who often wore them with camouflage clothing. The trend recurred in the mid-2000s in the United States, Europe, Canada and Australia, when the keffiyeh became popular as a fashion accessory, usually worn as a scarf around the neck in hipster circles. Stores such as Urban Outfitters and TopShop stocked the item. (After some controversy, however, Urban Outfitters pulled the item.) In spring 2008, keffiyehs in colors like purple and mauve were given away in issues of fashion magazines in Spain and France.
What prompted me to design a Jewish version of a keffiyeh/scarf is the fact that a traditional Arab head wear has become not only a symbol of injustice, but a fashion statement. In New York city one can not go anywhere with out seeing people on the street wearing them, they ranging from different ethnicity, color and background. The first thing that came to mind was:
Do they know what they are wearing?
Are they making a statement?
If so what is it? Or are they simply following fashion trends?
It is my sincere hope that this scarf would serve as a symbol of Jewish pride, unity of purpose, galvanizing Jews from different backgrounds and perhaps become as an iconic symbol of our future!!
The cultural conflict came to a head most recently when celebrity chef Rachel Ray wore a scarf in a Dunkin’ Donuts commercial that looked a little-too-much like a keffiyeh to some conservative commentators. However, it is very common to see them here in Israel — even on Jewish Israelis.
In Jerusalem, nearly every person who wears the keffiyeh is an Israeli Arab or a Palestinian. Still, the piece of clothing is still common in other parts of the country where there are few Arabs. I was walking through downtown Rishon Lezion — a city in the center of the country — when I saw a Jewish girl wearing one. Since I was new to the country at the time, I was confused. So I asked a friend about it.
The friend, a Jewish girl whose family originally came from Syria, said that wearing Arab-style clothing is very common among Mizrahi Jews (who come from the Middle East — as opposed to Ashkenazi Jews, who come from Europe and America). Mizrahi Jews, for example, can have as much in common with Arab culture as I do with American culture. (Just don’t call them Arabs, or they will likely kick your butt.) A good friend’s family originally came from Iraq, and her grandmother’s first language was Arabic. When they celebrate at weddings, they yell in that Arab style that is difficult to describe in words. If they would travel to the United States, many Americans could be forgiven for thinking that they are Arabs. In addition, many Israelis on the far left wear the keffiyeh out of political beliefs that critics describe as traitorous and pro-Palestinian. (Westerners who wear the scarf might do so out of a subconscious desire, as one psychologist put it, to “identify with the aggressor.”)
Still, a Jewish person — or anyone who sympathizes with Israel — can buy his own keffiyeh for $15 and join the cultural conflict discussion.
(Hat tip: Jewlicious)