May 11, 2007

Question asked, how I answered, and how I could have answered.

I was walking through Library Mall on the UW campus, past two young men, both dressed in religious garb. Despite the fact that I was wearing an iPod, one of them asked me a question. It was the classic question: "Are you Jewish?"

How I answered: "No. Sorry."

How I could have answered: "No, but I'm listening to Ron Silver narrate a Philip Roth novel."


Tim said...

"...past two young men, both dressed in religious garb."

So, who was profiling who?

Or, was it a case of mutual profiling?

And if so, what's wrong with that? Isn't that how dating works?

Der Hahn said...

I'm guessing the religious garb wasn't short-sleeve white shirts and black polyester slacks.

Ann Althouse said...

It was the traditional Orthodox clothing -- black hat, etc. They are reaching out to Jews in the community, and they just ask passersby if they're Jewish.

Revenant said...

It was the classic question: "Are you Jewish?"

I thought the classic college-campus religious question was "Would you like to attend a Bible Study?".

That's what I always got asked.

Matt Brown said...

Revenant: How did you respond? And, thinking about it now, what do you wish you had said in response?

Eli Blake said...

Be thankful that today we live in a society in one of the few places and times in the history of the planet where it is Jews who ask, 'Are you Jewish?' and the focus is on the last word, rather than the middle one.

Looking back across the long sweep of history and how Jews have fared throughout, that is indeed remarkable.

Revenant said...

How did you respond?

I said "No thanks, I'm not interested in Christianity".

Since this inevitably resulted in me having to explain that yes, I had been to church and Sunday school countless times over the year and no, I still wasn't interested and no, and yes, I was an atheist, not that its any of their business and no, I wasn't interested in a religious debate, I eventually switched to saying stuff like "No thanks, I'm Jewish".

They usually leave you alone then.

The Drill SGT said...

Ann said...Despite the fact that I was wearing an iPod

Is there something in the Talmud that forbids the use of iPods? Are they classified as crustaceans?

Ann Althouse said...

I thought having earbuds in was a way of saying "Don't talk to me" or at least "If you talk to me, I'm not going to hear you."

lurker2209 said...

I've gotten asked "Are you spiritual?" I think there are very few people who would answer no. Being spiritual can mean whatever you want it to mean. I guess that's an advantage with these sorts of "evangelism" questions. (Is there a better word than evangelism when the questions are asked by people who would never call themselves evangelical?)

JSF said...


The men you met were Lubavich(sp?) Rabbis who work at bringing secular jews back into the fold. When I was in college, there were a lot of us who left the campus for home cooked meal at the Rabbi's house every friday night. They accept that Jews are different in beliefs, I am secular but I felt at home. Since I was a man, they always put ask me to read prayers in Hebrew and put on Tfillin. I'm not sure what the Lubavich (Sp? again) rabbis have for the women.

TMink said...

Eli wrote: "Be thankful that today we live in a society in one of the few places and times in the history of the planet where it is Jews who ask, 'Are you Jewish?' and the focus is on the last word, rather than the middle one."

Thankful indeed. What a poignant, sad, and triumphant fact.

My best semester in graduate school, all my professors were Jewish. Yiddish started popping up in my sentences, it was wonderful.


Galvanized said...

Funny how geography works -- the classic question here in Texas is, "Whar's the bist BBQ et?" ;)

William the Coroner said...

You should have replied, "Funny, I don't look Jewish."

Or "No, I'm a bear." to totally mix ole jokes.

downtownlad said...

Very interesting, because the exact same thing happened to me today. And this hasn't happened to me in all the years I've lived in New York. I wonder if there is a special effort being made to recruit Jews back to Judaism today in particular?

Anyway - it happened on the subway, and I was with friends and was trying to brush the guy off. But I ended up getting into a good conversation with him. Turns out he knows somebody I worked with. When I explained I was agnostic and thought his beliefs were a bunch of make believe stories, he actually was quite receptive and stopped trying to convert me.

As an ethnic Jew, I've always appreciated the fact that the Jewish religion encourages people to question everything - including God. How very different than every other religion. No wonder Jews excel.

nanc said...

now, that's funny - you don't look jewish!

of course, i jest.

Revenant said...

Funny how geography works -- the classic question here in Texas is, "Whar's the bist BBQ et?" ;)

The correct answer to that question is, of course, "Memphis". :)

Albatross said...

The answer is "Memphis" if you want BBQ pork. For brisket, of course it's "Texas".

Bob said...

Albatross is mostly right, although I associate Memphis with ribs rather than pulled pork. For that, NC is the place to go. My own preference is for Texas brisket, though.

Sorry about the non-kosher theft of the thread, Ann. :)

hdhouse said...

Ann said "No. Sorry."

Sorry you aren't Jewish? I catch myself with the No-sorry response and it is like "have a good day" (as opposed to have a hellish day?).

"Why do you ask" draws a conversation. "NO" implies negativity as in "No was would I be Jewish". "Why would you think that?" implies I must look like one to you. (are you "one"?)

Yeah. I guess "unless there earth is about to explode, get lost, i'm listing to my pod" is most appropriate.

Just a pet peeve.

Bissage said...

If I were asked "Are you Jewish?" I’d answer: "No, but my wife is and I’m circumcised, is that close enough?"

Bad news, folks. It looks like they’ve taken that Ed Ames/Johnny Carson “Frontier Bris” video off of YouTube.


Ann Althouse said...

hdhouse said..."Ann said "No. Sorry." Sorry you aren't Jewish? I catch myself with the No-sorry response and it is like "have a good day" (as opposed to have a hellish day?)."

I'm glad someone finally said something about this part which is half of the reason I wrote the post. (The other half has not been talked about at all yet!)

Yes, of course, I think it's funny that I said "No. Sorry." It's an interesting thing to say. I didn't say it just as an automatic response that doesn't fit (like saying "you too" when the waiter says "enjoy your meal"). I meant it more in the sense of "sorry to disappoint you" or "sorry you didn't find what you were looking for." But it ends up expressing the idea that I'm sorry I'm not Jewish, which is something I like to think about.

And it's also interesting because of the way it demonstrates they are not looking for converts. They don't go on to say, "Don't be sorry. It's never too late to give your life to Judaism." If the Christians were out making contacts on Library Mall, calling out, "Have you accepted Jesus as your Lord and Savior?" and you looked at them nicely and said sincerely, "No, sorry," that would not be the end of it!

Ruth Anne Adams said...

Are you a self-loathing shiksa?

Simon said...

Eli Blake said...
"[T]oday we live in a society in one of the few places and times in the history of the planet where it is Jews who ask, 'Are you Jewish?' and the focus is on the last word, rather than the middle one."

Which makes a mockery of what a caller told Ann yesterday about 50% of the country, doesn't it.

Oligonicella said...

"You're rude to interrupt someone in obvious musican meditation."

Bissage said...

This “Are you Jewish?” thing kicked up a distant memory. Years ago I was dating my wife and we were in a liquor store to buy a bottle of wine. This old Jewish guy walks right up to her – ignores me completely -- and says, “You’re Jewish, right?”

She says yes and then this guy proceeds to give her a lesson in how to read the labels on the various Kosher wines. I was clearly uninvited so I made a polite excuse and walked away. After a while, I figured I’d waited long enough so I went back, nodded to him as I said “excuse me,” and then I turned to her and said something like “Honey, I think we’re going to be late.” He’s still ignoring me. My wife thanks him and he smiles kindly at her.

We bought our wine (non-Kosher, by the way) and we left without that ass-wipe having acknowledged my existence, whatsoever. Back in the car I was fairly annoyed and I said, “What was that all about?” She said, “Oh, he’s just a nice old man.” I responded, “Yeah, well maybe. Seems more to me like he was on some kind of weird rescue mission.”

dan said...


Sounds like outreach being done by Chabad-Lubavitch's Chabad on Campus International Foundation. link. A young Orthodox rabbi and his wife will set up on or near campus and do their best to provide support to the Jewish students by hosting Sabbath dinners , Torah lessons, holiday services, etc... While orthodox, the Lubavitch are of the belief that a Jew is a Jew is a Jew and all Jews (secular, reform, conservative, converted) should be respected and if possible supported. A far cry from the other Jewish orthodoxies which are very us and them. Of course, they'd like you to become more religious but they are not (too) pushy and very welcoming. As for Gentiles, the various Nations have their various beliefs, and the following of the seven Noatic Laws is the bottom line, and they wish you all the luck in the world at that, but they are definitely not interested in your conversion. Secular Jews like Dershowitz and Ed Koch are big fans, the Chabad House at Harvard which most predicted would never have a chance has hosted Sabbath dinners for the Law and Business students that numbered over four hundred, and generally speaking, business is booming. Each campus house is sponsored by donations from the local area and is not given any funding from headquarters in Brooklyn. Nor is money sent to headquarters in Brooklyn. Chabad almost single-handedly kept Judaism alive behind the Iron Curtain and in the Soviet Union during the Cold War, often at great risk. The seventh Lubavitch Rebbe was a great favorite of President Reagan and Reagan often asked him for advice on affairs concerning the Soviets.

Mortimer Brezny said...

What book was it? Roth used to be my favorite. I hope it wasn't Everyman.

Ann Althouse said...

"American Pastorale."

From Inwood said...

Prof A

My suggestion for your espirit de l'escalier is:

"No, but some of my best friends are."


“So, I should have been a pair of ragged claws scuttling across the floors of silent seas?”

dick said...

Back when I worked at 666 Fifth Ave, the Lubavichers used to park a bus on 6th Ave across from the Diamond Center at 47th St and ask every bearded man if he were Jewish. Since I wear a beard, they were always asking me every time I got close.
They never put any pressure on but as a total WASP (English/Welsh/Scot/Irish and protestant) and at the time I had very blond hair, I seemed a poor candidate for being Jewish but they still asked.

And I agree with Dan that they are definitely worthy of respect and support.

Eli Blake said...


First, anyone who actually thinks that life in America is like that in the Third Reich under Hitler is a complete blooming idiot. Obviously it's not.

That said, the caller could have made his or her point by pointing out that what has happened is inconsistent with American values. Bush did invade for the express purpose of changing their government. That isn't something that America does, or at least it shouldn't be. We are better than dictators who simply haul off and invade other countries (such as Saddam Hussein did in 1979 and 1990). Leave Hitler out of it. George Bush doesn't reflect an America which is a beacon for freedom and democracy.

dick said...

But Bush does reflect an America that leaves former enemies as democracies (think of Germany, Japan, Italy, Austria, etc). He is actually closer to our past than the LLL dems in Congress are.

From Inwood said...


So your answer to a guy who asked you "Are you Jewish" would've been:

"No but I live in a country with a President who, while not as bad as Hitler toward you Jews, runs the country in a way which is “inconsistent with American values… George Bush doesn't reflect an America which is a beacon for freedom and democracy.”

I suspect that that would’ve have flabbergasted them; it did me.

Little did they know what they were getting into when they asked you a question: everything is about George Bush. Especially when there’s a comparison to be made to Hitler!

And you, I suspect, get all roiled up by a Right Winger who says he/she doesn’t see your candidate as “reflect[ing] an America which is a beacon for freedom and democracy” & scream that such Right Winger is calling your patriotism into question!

BTW I take it that you see Wilson & FDR as bad guys for invading a country “for the express purpose of changing their (sic) government”.