“Excuse me, are you Jewish?”
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It’s a question heard on the streets of New York and other cities this time of year as members of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement approach other Jews and ask them to shake the lulav and the etrog — a sheath of palm fronds and a citrus fruit — in observance of Sukkot.
Chabad’s so-called “mitzvah campaigns,” which take place on several major Jewish holidays, endeavor to expose nonreligious Jews to ritual practice. But they also have another motive: to advance the number of mitzvahs in the world to hasten the arrival of the Messiah.
For the thousands of Chabadniks who comb city streets in pairs over Sukkot, efficiency is paramount: They aim to discern who is Jewish before they even broach the subject: “Excuse me….” But it’s not easy figuring out who is a member of the tribe and who is not, even in the most Jewish city in America.