Are You Juish?

This past week marked the Jewish holiday of Sukkot. (When I was growing up, this was called Succos. Somewhere between the years 5720 and 5770 there was a name change.  If a Jmail with notification of the change was sent out, I didn’t get it.)  From what I know, this holiday commemorates the  marking  of the harvest.  It is one of those rare Jewish holidays that is not mournful and sober…more a celebration.   In other words,  the usual, ” they tried to kill us, they failed, now let’s eat”,  is not the  theme  at play here.   During this week, orthodox Jews will ordinarily take their meals in a representation of a  hut called a Sukkah. Other symbols of the harvest that  make their appearance during this week are the esrog, a lemon-like fruit, and the lulav, a palm-like  frond.  Despite years of attending Hebrew school, sadly, this more or less exhausts my knowledge on the subject.

This week also brought to my neighborhood a horde of orthodox young men and boys, (‘black hats’, as Michael Chabon calls them) who felt compelled to stop every person who came their way with the query, “Are you Jewish?” (see note below) Except, for some reason that’s unclear to me, the question always comes out, “Are you Juish”?  There may be some hidden meaning to that slight slurring .  It may be some kind of shibboleth…almost like a secret handshake.   At any rate, these guys were both everywhere and relentless.  When  someone did answer that they were indeed Jewish,  that person was then asked to hold the esrog and shake the lulav while some kind of prayer was recited.  Apparently,   it’s considered a mitzvah, a good deed, to get them to perform this ritual.   I never know for sure whether it’s a mitzvah for the person doing the coercing or  for the potential convert. 

Ordinarily, one can expect to be accosted while walking outside on the streets but an office or a store is usually a safe haven.  However, early in the week when Zil was alone in the office some of the ‘black hats’ came INTO the office asking her if she was ‘juish’.  This seemed to me to be a violation of some unwritten law…a breach of protocol.  Not to offend anyone, but it reminded me of the stories of bears now making their way into suburban back yards because there are too many bears or too little food in the wild.  Evidently, my office was no longer sacrosanct.  This development raised the threat level, in my mind,  to amber.

The next day I saw a young man  pedaling his bike down Seventh Avenue with a small  Sukkah in tow.  A Sukkahmobile.  He and several of his comrades set up shop by the curb just outside my office.  They were now persuading people to go into the  mobile Sukkah , to perform the mitzvah.  Now I was really in trouble.  There would be no leaving the office without having to either lie about my heritage or be paraded onto the float.  Neither option was appealing.  At one point in the day  I needed to leave the office and take my motor scooter  on an errand.  I donned my helmet and steeled myself as I set out towards my scooter which was parked just beyond the Sukkahmobile.   An amazing thing happened.  No one stopped me or  more than glanced in my direction.   It’s as if the helmet was semitic  kryptonite.  Evidently, the helmet gave me enough of a ‘bad boy’ look that there was no point in stopping me. (‘Bad boy’ Jews are rare).I was home free!  So, for the remainder of the week, whenever I needed to go anywhere , I would just grab my helmet and walk around the neighborhood like that.  Looking more than a bit like a doofus and certainly suffering from acute helmet hair….. but with absolute impunity.

NOTE:  My friend Evets has a unique way of dealing with this.  He claims (and I have no reason to doubt him other than he makes things up from time to time) that what follows is his standard conversation:

Black Hat: “Excuse me, are you Juish?”  

Evets  “Are you?”

B H (non-plussed while regarding himself):  “Of course I am.!”

Evets: “That’s funny, you don’t look Jewish”. 



My hokiday outfit

My holiday outfit


8 Responses to “Are You Juish?”

  1. Helen Says:

    Well done Neil! 🙂

  2. Liliane Leiser Says:

    Well done, Neil.

    Helen’s Mother—(Yiddisheh Moma)

  3. David Says:

    Neil, this is one for the New Yorker! It is absolutely hilarious.

  4. other jane Says:

    Yes, Sukkot (the MOST modern spelling). Some years ago I had a job “doing” events—Jewish events. It was Sukkot and I was supposed to come up with an event; The Purim event had attracted thousands, now what?
    The first step was to find out what Sukkot was, not so easy. It turns out to be the Festival of Booths. Possibly little temporary structures for the harvesters to sleep in—or some other thing that I don’t actually remember. But the challenge of celebrating booths will stay with me forever. BTW, it can’t just be any booth. The top has to be open–or maybe closed, whichever. It doesn’t count if you do it wrong. Ask the Blackhats.

    • ironicman Says:

      wow…that’s a lot of information! some of it i already knew. for example, i knew the booth had to either be open or closed at the top. altho, i believe the talmuid has some discussion about retractable roofs. those rabbis thought of everything.

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