Wednesday, December 26, 2012

To Bagel

My husband was on the West Side of Cleveland (where there are very few Jews) for a bris appointment with new parents.  On the way home, he stopped by a pharmacy to pick up a few items.  The man standing behind him in line leaned in and said, with a distinctive New York accent:

"Ya can't even get a decent knish around here!"

Bingo, husband.  You've been bageled.

Bageling is when a person wants an obviously "Jewish" looking Jew (ie, wearing a yarmulke, buying latke mix at the grocery) to know that he, too, is Jewish.  I've been bageled numerous times, and I've bageled others too (they don't always appreciate it).  I love it when people bagel me because it gives me the opportunity to connect with a fellow Jew, but more, it shows me that this person is proud of his Judaism and wants to connect too.

My brother was in an airport once and a guy came over to him and simply said, "CHOLENT!"  I'm not kidding you.  That was the bagel.  That guy wanted my obviously Jewish brother to know that he, too, was a fellow member of the tribe.

I was at the Children's Museum in Baltimore on a Friday afternoon and looked at my watch, motioning to my kids that we were going to get ready to leave.  The woman sitting next to me said, "It's almost Shabbos - we better get going too!"  It was important to her that I know that she was cognizant and observant of Shabbos.

On the flip side, I was at a bank opening an account, and the the man helping me out was wearing a nametag that read, "Josh Goldstein."  He asked me, among other things, my mother's maiden name, which is very Jewish-sounding.  He seemed like a pretty friendly guy, so I told it to him, smiled and said, "Can't get a more Jewish name than that!"  He seemed a bit uncomfortable with the bagel.  Maybe it felt off to him professionally.

Another bank teller in the branch I always frequent has a very Jewish name.  Before Rosh Hashanah I was in there and I was thinking, "Should I wish him a Happy New Year?"  I spent the whole time in line pondering this question, and when I finally got to the front, mustered up the courage and wished him a Happy New Year.  His face lit up and he wished me one right back.

To bagel or not to bagel?  Do you like being bageled?  Have you ever bageled someone else?  Good or bad results?

38 comments:

  1. I love to be bageled! And I've been known to do my fair share of bageling, usually with positive results.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Bageling is not just a Jewish thing. Outside of Utah it is common for Mormons to spot others "in the tribe". We wear a few distinctive things that can be recognized by the trained eye. So funny that it happens among others as well!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Rarely happens to me, although my last name is unmistakeably Jewish. When it has happened, my feelings about it depend on the tone. I don't like people acting too 'knowing', or as if we were in cahoots. A subtle mention of something Jewish in a tone that suggests that I know what they are talking about is fine. A witty remark about something besides ourselves that suggests that we both know we are both Jewish is excellent.

    Growing up (Reform) there was a constant, dropped-voice, parenthetical reference to Jewishness that I found and find irritating and confusing: "There's a new director of the xyz (she's not Jewish), and she looks like she will be . . . "; "We ran into some old friends last week (they're not Jewish), and they said abc . . . "; "The man who owns the store (Jewish) told us . . . ". And on and on. I never understood that.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "A witty remark about something besides ourselves that suggests that we both know we are both Jewish is excellent" - that is such a "you" line.

      So the parenthetical references were pretty much about who is and isn't Jewish? That is truly very interesting.

      Delete
    2. Anonymous/OrthopraxDecember 26, 2012 at 3:39 PM

      I think the parenthetical references are common among the older generation. I hear this from my parents all the time, yet they're not judging people and don't restrict their friendships based on religion, yet there is this tribal instinct to identify a fellow Jew. As I said elsewhere, they often get it wrong because of a misleading name.

      Delete
    3. Anon/Orthoprax, do you really think it is a 'tribal instinct'? Instinct? If so, it's not just Jewish instinct, is it? My colleagues with very strong political views do the same kind of parenthetical statements when discussing other people, where in parentheses is stated where on the (tiny) part of their spectrum the other people stand.

      Ruchi, Yes, the parenthetical remarks were ONLY about who is and isn't Jewish. Anon/Orthoprax's description is totally accurate with respect to my experience: it's not judging, and can be quite a friendly reference, but is this basic 'us/them' thing that drives me crazy when talking about someone in a context that doesn't require it AT ALL.

      Sometimes the parentheses included related items: "He went to my high school (married a Gentile woman) and I heard they sold the family business . . . "; "The teacher (who isn't Jewish, but his wife is) is an expert in learning disabilities . . . "; "Her cousin (who wasn't raised Jewish but found out her birth mother was Jewish) moved to Nevada . . . . ".

      Delete
    4. I never heard this word to refer to it... Cute!

      Such things make me uneasy because - although Jewish - I grew up non-religious, with a weird (Jewish but rare) last name, on the outskirts of the community, surrounded by non-Jews. Threw my Jew-dar totally off, to the extent that your name could be Rivki Sharfenbergersteinenstrasser and unless that was followed by "the Jew" when we were introduced (or you were wearing a tichel etc) I wouldn't assume anything, or wish you a good Yom Tov or Shabbos or anything, fearing it would be presumptuous.

      Delete
    5. Anonymous/OrthopraxDecember 26, 2012 at 4:03 PM

      Instinct isn't the right word. My parents grew up in a time when one was, indeed, often judged for being a Jew, so for them it was probably helpful to know they were among friends, and to point that out to others. It became a habit that stuck.

      Delete
    6. Anon/Orthoprax, that's a great point.

      I think the term is silly, or at least 'tries too hard'. Is it trying to suggest a game of horseshoes, only it's bagels thrown around people?

      Ruchi, I don't know why you find the parenthetical reference so interesting. But you might find it interesting that my highly assimilated mother might have agreed with you about a "Jewish essence" (she wouldn't go along with 'soul', I think). If in conversation with someone else the other person mentioned that a third person was Jewish, my mother would exclaim, "I always THOUGHT she was Jewish!" or "Really? I never would have guessed it!" So yes, it mattered who was 'us' and who was 'them' and she believed she had J-dar and probably did. Except there was absolutely no metaphysical content there. Weird.

      Delete
  4. Never heard the term, but am certainly familiar with the concept. I get stopped in the grocery store with all kinds of questions, from what is kosher to when does a holiday start. I am always happy to help, and appreciate people's desire to connect.

    I have just stopped covering my hair because of my divorce, and I am feeling a little sad that I am no longer as identifiable as an Ortho woman. Wearing a long skirt can go either way; wearing a long skirt with a hat is a dead give-away.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Wow. That's such an interesting perspective. I sometimes feel that way with a shaitel (wig) - "in the know" Jews can spot it, but for most people, it's not a very loud signal. But if I'm wearing a headscarf - I wonder how many people would identify that with Judaism as they would a man's kippah.

      Delete
  5. Anonymous/OrthopraxDecember 26, 2012 at 3:23 PM

    If someone came over to me in an airport and said "cholent" and nothing more I'd probably call security. (OK, not really, if there were no other factors involved) :) I like connecting with other people, but the mere shared knowledge of the word "cholent" is not much of a connection.

    A lot of people have Jewish-sounding names who aren't Jewish, and a lot of Jewish, observant people have neutral or even non-Jewish sounding names, so maybe that's why Josh Goldstin looked uncomfortable.

    People of my parents' generation, sure, they are always interested in whether a person is Jewish and look to the name for guidance. But I am less into "the color of one's skin" and more into the "content of one's character".

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Bwahaha! My brother was stunned for a moment there, for sure. But in a way the desperate attempt was cute in and of itself. Like, I really have nothing to say but I want to connect anyway.

      Delete
  6. Anonymous/OrthopraxDecember 26, 2012 at 3:37 PM

    As for being bageled: I once arrived at a work-related luncheon for which a kosher meal had been ordered for me, and only for me. When I arrived with a few coworkers, the Hispanic maitre d' said sotto voce that my meal had arrived. I semi-seriously asked him how he knew it was for me... we weren't wearing nametags or anything, and all he said was "I've been in this business a long time". I was wearing what I thought was a pretty natural-looking custom sheitel, so I just got a good laugh that a maitre d' is so experienced that he can even recognize a skin part for what it is.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm sure it was more than the shaitel though. Although I have found that non-Jews who work in the Jewish food business [which it doesn't sound like your example was] know an amazing amount about Judaism - religiously and culturally. I love chatting with them about it and they are usually glad to share.

      Delete
    2. Anonymous/OrthopraxDecember 26, 2012 at 4:15 PM

      Sheitel, skirt, and oh yeah, half-sleeve shirt over long-sleeve shell :)

      Delete
  7. My last name is an obviously Jewish name by USA standards but (like many Jewish names in the USA) is by most Germans perceived as an obviously German (not Jewish) name. I have been to Germany and people ask me if my grandparents or parents are German. [Would this be called 'pretzeling'?] If I reply that it's a Jewish name, it always leads to an interesting conversation.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Alfred Rosenberg was a leading Nazi. I guess Americans would have thought he was Jewish, too.

      Delete
    2. Hamlet had Jewish friends...

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosencrantz_and_Guildenstern

      Delete
  8. Just last week buying seltzer I was asked by a bageler if I am buying kosher water, then asked if I have my "woolen" kippah on because of the cold weather...

    ReplyDelete
  9. I am sometimes unsure how I should greet people I pass on the street when walking on Shabbos or Yom Tov. This is in Midwest suburbia where some sort of greeting is the norm.

    If they're somewhat dressed up, I will assume they are Jewish and celebrating and will greet with my typical synagogue greeting of "Good Shabbos." That's not a problem.

    If they're working in their yard or walking in sweats or walking their dog or something like that and I know that they're Jewish, I will say "Shabbat Shalom." I worry that it might seem like maybe I am nagging or reminding them that it's Shabbos and implicitly criticizing their chosen activity. But it always appears to be welcomed and returned as a friendly Jew-Jew greeting, so maybe I shouldn't worry about it.

    If they're doing the above activities and I don't know them and have no reason to think they're Jewish, I will say a generic greeting like "Hello" or just smile and nod, since it would be presumptuous and odd to wish someone non-Jewish a good holiday that they don't celebrate. But then I worry that, if they are actually Jewish and familiar with the traditional "Shabbat Shalom" or "Good Shabbos" greetings that they might be offended at not being greeted in the Jew-Jew way.

    What does everyone else do?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Extensive conversation here :)

      http://outoftheorthobox.blogspot.com/2012/07/saturday-joggers.html?m=1

      Delete
    2. Thanks! I think I read that post back when it was first posted, though not all the comments. It's about a situation that is the reverse of my question, but some of the comments address my situation, specifically the "implicitly criticizing" concern which appears to not be a problem.

      A few comments suggest a generic "Hello" as a middle ground, but I'm not sure that all Jews would see this as a middle ground. I worry it could come off as failing, or even refusing, to recognize their Jewishness. But I have a tendency to overthink things.

      Delete
    3. Goodness, welcome to the club. I have stressed about that myself.

      Delete
    4. Learned two new expressions....bageling(only knew it in tennis, before) and Jewdar....

      Delete
  10. I was once on the road with my father when suddenly we were broadsided by a young Russian girl and her boyfriend, in her (very expensive) car that had been driven off the lot 2 days before that. We were just getting past the shock of it when the girl, noticing my father's yarmulka, suddenly whined to her boyfriend, "I have to pick up my dress for my brother's bar mitzvah soon!"

    It was not the only time I've been bageled, but it was the most memorable, since she obviously only sought to curry my father's favor to soften him up. And we, as rachmanim bnei rachmanim, will always respond to that.

    ReplyDelete
  11. I am usually the bageler as opposed to the bagelee, as my given name is super waspy and doesn't say "Jew" at all (unsurprisingly, given that I'm a convert). Although that said, I've been bageled a couple of times, usually because someone notices that I'm wearing a magen David necklace or something like that. I don't think bageling is a frum/secular thing at all; I've bageled (and been bageled by) people who are more secular than I am, at about the same level, religiously, and who are more frum than I am.

    The best bageling I ever did was probably when I was in grad school. I studied in the U.K. in a town with very, very few Jews. For whatever reason, a Hasidic group (Satmars, I think, based on the headgear on the men, but I could be wrong) was holding some kind of a Shabbaton or something in a couple of buildings on campus that could be rented out. I was walking up to the library to do some research for my dissertation and happened to pass a family from this Shabbaton coming the other way. As we passed each other, I wished them a good Shabbos, and after they got over their momentary shock, they wished me one back.

    The best time I was bageled was by a gentleman who came in for a service at the consulate and noticed that I was wearing a magen David necklace, then informed me that he runs a kosher restaurant elsewhere in China. I haven't had a chance to go there yet, but it was both random and cool. I think bageling happens way more often in places like China and Japan where there are hardly any Jews, because there are so few of us that if you run across someone who is Jewish, you kind of want to compare notes and, I don't know, spin a dreidel or something.

    I was also pretzeled recently on a vacation to Thailand- right after leaving an Israeli falafel place. I speak zero German and do not, so far as I know, give off a particularly German vibe. I kind of wish I knew what made the woman who pretzeled me think I did!

    ReplyDelete
  12. Bageled In Airport BathroomDecember 27, 2012 at 4:27 PM

    I'm BT, have been wearing a yarmulka and tzitzis in public for a few years now, and have gotten bageled quite a few times! I think it's hilarious such a word was coined for what is really at its core a beautiful exercise in a Jew trying to make a connection with his people, feeling an immediate connection to a stranger who is really his brother!

    Here's one that stands out: Washing my hands at the sink of an airport bathroom, there was a boy probably no more than twelve or thirteen washing his hands in the adjacent sink, who, upon noticing me, actually started singing Adon Olam! I was caught off guard but managed to smile at him!

    Now, there are actually halachos of what we may or may not do or say in the bathroom. Technically it is forbidden to speak there, especially holy matters of Torah and prayers! That said, I am still convinced the Master of the Universe took more nachas and pleasure from this bareheaded Jewish boy singing His praises in an airport restroom than we could ever fathom!

    ReplyDelete
  13. Happens to me a LOT, and I'm thrilled to know there's a word for it. Just 2 days ago at the pharmacy, this random guy--- didn't look Jewish at all--- I wasn't even making eye contact with him---- all of a sudden, he says "Shalom Aleichem!". So I said "Aleichem Shalom" and had my kids say it too. It's going to happen a lot to me since I do snoods/hats/tichels more than shaitels (out of sheer laziness---- it costs time and money to keep shaitels looking nice when you have young children!) What's always fun is MONTHS before Rosh HaShanah or Channukah when a store clerk randomly asks me when the holiday starts as if I'm a walking calendar. I never have my calendar with me so I offer to tell them the Hebrew date because that never changes..... :)

    ReplyDelete
  14. I remember when I lived in LA and didn't keep Shabbos yet. I saw a Hasidic man walking to Shul and I was wearing workout clothes. I wished him a good Shabbos and his face lit up. Made my day!

    ReplyDelete
  15. Does anyone know where the term comes from? My family calls is bageling also, but we rarely find anyone who uses it that way. I figured we were just weird, so its good to know that others use it as well.

    By the way, there is an Israeli version of this. Its when a traditional Israeli wants to show you that he/she has deep religious feelings although their outward appearance does not signal this. I get it because of my kippa, I assume, and it often happens in cabs. I have no idea what to call this one though.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I first heard this term from Rabbi Mordechai Becher, but I don't know its origin.

      Delete
  16. As an Orthodox women I've been "bageled" many times by people that were not recognizably Jewish, espcially when travelling outside of NYC.

    ReplyDelete
  17. I was watching my kids in my front yard the second day of yom tov (I think it was sukkos) and a guy driving by yells out "chag samaoch". I barely managed to nod in response, with my mind racing whether he's Israeli or simply non-observant yet Jewish enough to acknowledge my religiosity and yom tov observance.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Can you tell me the etymology of the term "bageling someone"?

    Thanks!

    ReplyDelete

The purpose of OOTOB is Jewish unity via mutual respect and education, and we reserve the right to decline or edit any comments. Comments are moderated, so it may take some time for your comment to appear. Thank you for your participation!