Have you ever been approached on the street by a man in a long black coat who asks, "Excuse me, are you Jewish?" It's a common enough occurrence in certain parts of NYC, something that's even more common around this time of the year as Jews are celebrating Sukkot. If you've ever wondered how and why they choose certain people to target for blessings, wonder no more: two “mitzvah campaigns” opened up to the Jewish Daily Forward about their evaluation process. And it involves "bageling" and forehead profiling.
Yisroel and Levi Pekar, a pair of 25-year-old twins from Crown Heights, gave the Daily Forward a lesson in "prospecting" for Jews. It's basically Rodger Dodger for the gefilte fish crowd:
First, said Yisroel, “we call it ‘racial profiling.’ Who looks Jewish?” (When asked to clarify later, Yisroel says it’s not about the nose — a “broad, clear forehead with no creases” indicates a non-Jew, while Jews’ foreheads are sometimes lined.) Next is detecting a subtle vibe of recognition, a process that Levi calls “bageling.” Third is playing the statistics game. One out of every five people in New York City are Jewish, said Yisroel. If you exclude African Americans and Asians, your odds are closer to one in three.
So, okay. Lots of profiling, which is to be expected. But who would have thought foreheads would contain the secrets of thousands of years of genealogy! We had also never heard the term "bageling" before now, but it's fairly common and it is derived from exactly what you imagine it is derived.
Doodie Miller, former Director of Operations at YU's University School Partnership, takes credit for inventing the term. Of course, you should be careful how you use it, since the term can also refer to a carbohydrate-laden sexual act or a Japanese plastic surgery craze (which of course involves foreheads, making this seem extra conspiratorial).
The two men add that there is a fourth way of telling if a person is Jewish: if they react to the simple question with rage. “He didn’t ignore me,” Yisroel said of one man who yelled at him. “In essence: mission accomplished.”