Meet the 'Are You Jewish?' Chabad Guys

How Do They Spot Members of the Tribe, Anyway?

Take My Lulav, Please: Yisroel Pekar approaches unsuspecting New Yorkers in Central Park with a question — ‘Are you Jewish? — and a gift of the lulav frond for Sukkot.
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Take My Lulav, Please: Yisroel Pekar approaches unsuspecting New Yorkers in Central Park with a question — ‘Are you Jewish? — and a gift of the lulav frond for Sukkot.

By Naomi Zeveloff

Published September 25, 2013, issue of October 04, 2013.
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“It’s, like, socially awkward not to say yes,” the man said.

The Pekars continued on. “Are you Jewish?” Yisroel asked a woman carrying a radiology textbook. “Of course she is!” Levi said. The woman said the blessing. Minutes later, five Israelis on bikes slowed down. One by one, they took the lulav and etrog in hand. Three more people stopped by, and then another two. The brothers moved quickly from person to person. In nearly two hours they talked to about 100 people; fewer than two dozen had done the ritual.

The Forward’s photographer snapped the encounters. Levi asked him, “Are you Jewish?”

Around 2 p.m., the brothers walked into a pavilion where a young viola player was eking out a mournful tune. Looking at his brother, Yisroel asked: “Do you want to ask the violinist if he’s Jewish?” “I do want to ask the violinist if he’s Jewish,” Levi replied, also mistaking the viola for a violin.

The pair walked slowly by the player’s open case, which was filled with coins and bills. Then, a distraction: more Israelis. At first, they rejected the lulav and etrog. Then, jokingly, dramatically, the Israelis gave in.

The viola player paused between songs, and Yisroel darted over. Is he Jewish? No, but he has a Jewish name: Tobias Kramer Roth.

A reporter asked Roth if he minded the interruption. “I thought it was great,” he said. “I’m interested in all things Jewish myself. I’m a Latter-day Saint.”

Naomi Zeveloff is the deputy culture editor of the Forward. She can be reached at Zeveloff@forward.com or on Twitter @NaomiZeveloff


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