Map: Pittsburgh, PA, setting of “Are You Jewish?” by Sabrina Romano

This is a guest post by Sabrina Romano who contributed in response to the American Vignette call for submissions. The setting is Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Enjoy.

Every Friday before dusk, the Jewish community prepares for the Sabbath—a day of rest. Boys who attend the Yeshiva School in Squirrel Hill prepare by reaching out to fellow Jews. The Yeshiva School follows the Chabad- Lubavitch movement, a branch of Hasidism which concentrates on sponsoring the participation of Jewish commandments.

Multiple Yeshiva schools are located in Squirrel Hill separating boys and girls and elementary-aged children from high school-aged students. Founded in 1943, the Yeshiva schools teach the beliefs and writing in the Torah. Between pre-nursery and twelfth grade, approximately 400 students are enrolled in the Pittsburgh schools¹.

On Fridays before dusk, the boys’ mission is to get as many Jewish men as they can to receive the Tefillin commandment.

They stand outside the Giant Eagle and ask customers “Are you Jewish by any chance? Have a nice day!”

Each of the boys is wearing a navy blazer, a white button-down shirt, dark dress pants, and a black hat over his yarmulke. Some of the boys wear their shirt untucked and their blazer unbuttoned.

One older, fit gentleman, wearing a gray Pirates shirt, blue basketball shorts, and Nikes tells the boys that he is Jewish when he is exiting the store. The foursome congregates around him, excited that another person wants to receive the commandment. The boys do not take the man to a private place to perform the sacred commandment. They do the commandment publicly amidst Giant Eagle customers entering and exiting store, pushing carts, and chatting with each other. The man puts his blue, plastic bags filled with groceries down on the ledge. One boy takes out a long, black leather band called a Tefillin and a yarmulke from a bag labeled in Hebrew. After placing a yarmulke on the man’s head, they wrap the band around his hand and arm. The purpose of this action is twofold: to bind your dominant arm and hand to your heart and to know that God is present in your heart and mind. Next, they place a black block on top of the man’s forehead. Over the whirring cart tires on the pebbled pavement, a boy from the group says a blessing in Hebrew and the man repeats after each line.

Other customers don’t acknowledge the performance by talking about it or making faces. They see it as a Friday routine.

The boys unwrap the strap from the man’s arm, hand, and fingers, and place the block and yarmulke back into the vinyl bag.

“Congratulations,” one of the boys says to the man on receiving the commandment. According to their belief, the man is now closer to God. After the man gave a few dollars to them as a donation, the group agreed they would use the money to pay for a bus to downtown so they can give the commandments to more Jewish people.

Within five minutes, the process is over. The man picked up his grocery bags and continued with his evening.

¹ http://www.yeshivaschool.com/

Sabrina Romano is a junior studying nonfiction writing and communication and rhetoric at the University of Pittsburgh. She is a columnist at Untapped Cities where she writes about NYC vintage photography. She is also a staff writer for The Pitt News, the student-run newspaper at her school. You can contact her via email at Sabrina@untappedcities.com or follow her on Twitter @Sabby_Kat_.

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