I happen to be one of those people who look very Jewish, not in an I-have-brown-curly-hair way, but in a straight out of Fiddler on the Roof kind of way. Last time I saw my father he told me I looked like I walked right out of the Vilna Ghetto. We get it, I look like 4,000 years of Jewish History. No matter how much I highlight my hair, I still look uncomfortably like Anne Frank. Fine by me. I embrace it, however it does get wearing when strangers constantly want to talk through their complex relationship with their Jewish identities with me at Starbucks.
My friend Meredith and I were standing in line at Starbucks when she mentioned she would like to get lunch at Chick-fil-A to which I obviously responded “I can’t eat there because it’s not Kosher.” Marriage material, I know. It was then that the guy in front of me turned around and butt in with a “Wow. You keep Kosher STILL.” Um … STILL? I’m sorry, were you at my fifth birthday party at the ceramics center? Do I know you? He then barked out another weirdly worded question. “Have you lived in Israel YET?” This guy had bizarre grammar choices. Meredith was taken a back by this freak, but not me. As someone who exudes more Jewishness than Barbara Streisand in Yentl, I’m used to people trying to “bagel” with me. Yup, I said “Bagel,” you know, when someone tries to bond with you by awkwardly and sometimes not so subtly by letting you in on the fact that they’re Jewish.
I can’t take credit for the term, but it is brilliant. Lord knows we had a bageler on our hands, but this bageler was an amateur. Upon noticing a fellow Jew in line at the supermarket, a tasteful, professional bageler would break out the good ol’ “Oh, I forgot the challah!” It works like a charm. Less is more. I felt bad for this guy so I helped him out, “Judging from your hair, I see you too are part of the tribe.” Of course he had a massive Jew fro. “Yes,” he responded in a highly socially awkward way. Good talk. Glad we did this.
We finally got up to the register and the barista asked the bageler what his name was so they could write it on his cup. “Neil,” he said, and then turns around and looks me dead in the eye and says “I mean Nachhhhhmann.” Oh, boy. Sweet Sweet Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.
Why do we feel the need to bagel? Is it because being Jewish is special and we all want to reach out to our fellow Jewish brothers and sisters to establish a sense of community no matter where we are … OR … is it because we need to scout out who is Jewish at all times just in case there’s a pogrom or something? Or is that just me? Either way, why do I have to be bageled all the time, sometimes I want to bagel too! And so I will admit I have been guilty of bageling others, and not just regular bageling, but competitive bageling. The absolute worst kind.
I was doing some work in Starbucks when a young man wearing a yarmulke sat down across from me at the table and started studying Talmud. I must mention that 99 percent of all bageling happens at Starbucks. That is a REAL statistic. The young man was deep into his Talmud studies and this was my time to shine. I wanted to be slick but still let Talmud Kid know he was in the presence of a big Jew. I let out a few subtle “oy veys” and kept it classy. All of a sudden this other kid across the table, let’s call him “Moses” just for the hell of it, popped up out of nowhere with a “What mesechta (volume) are you learning?” Oh screw you, Moses. What do you know? I knew it was Talmud too! Moses and Talmud Kid carried on with a very Jewish related conversation until I self consciously butt in with “Yeah I learned Talmud too because I went to a Jewish day school.” Silence. I was desperate and had hit an all time low. I was being competitive with Moses because I wanted Talmud Kid’s approval of my Jewishness and I wanted it NOW. To my disappointment, he was completely unimpressed by all the bageling.
A few minutes later, I had to go outside to make a phone call so I asked Talmud Kid and Moses to watch my laptop. “I trust you,” I said while I dazzled them with my bageling eyes. They got the picture. Clear as day. We were all Jews and could therefore leave our laptops with one another worry-free. Bageling at it’s finest.
(Art by Margarita Korol)