Excuse Me, Are You Jewish?

Around the time of any major Jewish holiday, a Hasidic man may ask you, “Excuse me, are you Jewish?” This is a fairly personal question, and members of the Berkeley Carroll community have very different reactions to being asked.

Hasidic Jews are members of famously insular and ultra-orthodox Jewish sects with their roots in Eastern Europe. However, many Hasidic Jews now live in Brooklyn and other places around the world. Menachem, a Hasidic man who was out on 7th Avenue and asks the “are you Jewish?” question on the holiday Sukkot (a major Jewish festival celebrated in the fall), said that the community in Park Slope had been reacting very well to his outreach. Mendy (Farthest to the right in the photo above), another Hasidic Jew, said: “We are here to bring people closer to God and to ultimately make the world a better place for all mankind. This will bring Messiah closer.” Mendy also said that the community in Park Slope had been very welcoming.

Berkeley Carroll students have different reactions to this practice. Some students have no issue with being asked this question. Devon Grover (‘20) noted that: “We’re in a country where you are able to practice your religion, and I’m happy about that.” Jake Pellet (‘20) said: “I understand what their goal is and to me it does not feel intrusive because you can simply walk away”. Emily Li (‘20) had a similar opinion saying that she didn’t mind the question because you can say no and not be affected.

Other Berkeley Carroll students feel that this question is pushy. Ben Kaplen (‘20) noted: “I think that they are intrusive and invading other people’s privacy and that it is none of their business”. He later went on to say that he definitely supports the Jewish men’s right to ask people if they are Jewish, but thinks that it is not an appropriate thing to ask.

Some other members of the BC community see both sides of the matter. Hannah Berman (‘17) said “Whenever someone asks me if I am Jewish on the street I don’t ever own up to it …I find it a little invasive, but otherwise I think it’s good for them because they’re finding a way to get more people involved in the religion [which they feel is] important so I don’t take a real issue with it.” Ayden Cherry (‘20) agreed that the Hasidic Jews have the right to ask the question, but noted that “they should be a lot more sensitive to people and maybe ask it in a more polite way.”
For American Studies teacher Mr. Andrew Stein, this practice is a jumping off point for discussion about how people should get involved in religion. He said, “ I don’t feel that religion should be a thing that’s pushed on people…, it should derive from what someone internally feels and wants, so I don’t necessarily agree with that way of branding Judaism. ….personally I’m not that into it, but if that’s the way they celebrate it then that’s cool with me but I’m just not going to participate in it.”

New York City, and Brooklyn in particular, is by far the largest Hasidic community in the United States, so the sight of Hasidic men on the streets is not unusual. Perhaps the “are you Jewish?” question doesn’t phase many New Yorkers since New York street life is lively and chaotic at times. 6th grade Humanities teacher Mr. Geoff Agnor said: “It was really unusual for me to experience that because that never happened to me in Los Angeles, it only happened to me in Brooklyn… and like any Brooklynite I became accustomed to and I think what was surprising to me was that I didn’t think that Jews proselytized the way Christians do… I think for some people they find it kind of invasive, or annoying, but I’m not sure [that it’s much different than] walking down 7th avenue and having someone say ‘Hey! Do you care about the environment?’”

Whether you think this is an appropriate question to ask or not, it is a long-standing Park Slope tradition and will likely continue to be a familiar sight every fall. While the practice is welcomed more by some than others, members of the BC community seem to agree that it is an important freedom that is being exercised, and that this freedom should be respected.

Mendy (right) and another Hasidic Jewish man talking to passers-by on 7th Avenue.