Bagel Theory – True Stories !


As developed by Jessica Levine Kupferberg on several years ago, “The Bagel Theory” (

…..stands for the principle that we Jews, regardless of how observant or affiliated we are, have a powerful need to connect with one another. To that end, we find ways to “bagel” each other — basically, to “out” ourselves to fellow Jews.

There are two ways to bagel. The brave or simply unimaginative will tell you straight out that they are Jewish (a plain bagel). But the more creative will concoct subtler and even sublime ways to let you know that they, too, are in the know. (These bagels are often the best; like their doughy counterparts, cultural bagels are more flavorful when there is more to chew on.)

Many Jews I have talked to have testified to such experiences. Kupferberg’s theory represents something very deep about the Jewish people and their desire to connect to one another. Perhaps this can be developed further in another posting.  For now, I would like to invite all of my friends, students and acquaintances to submit their “bagel theory” stories – including as much detail as possible – date, location, content of bageling experience to me for posting on my blog.

Thanks for your participation!

Thanks for your participation!


  1. It is difficult to enumerate how often my wife and I are “bagel”ed because it happens so often! Admittedly, I am not just on the receiving end, I am a long-time “bagel”er, with an impressive record dating back to my childhood. I agree completely with your assertion that the Jewish soul yearns to connect, proudly, to our nation at large. The most humorous example of “bagel”ing that comes to mind occurred last summer in Office Depot. My wife and I were looking at some pocket calendars, when a smiling stranger poked his head around the aisle and remarked: “Check this one out – it even lists Rosh Hashana!” Talk about subtle! In any event, we love it, we embrace it, and hope to reciprocate the purity and innocence of any Jew’s longing for connection.

  2. My good friend, Raphael Dovid Hyman, from Seattle, added this wonderful account:

    Chance Encounter in the Grand Canyon

    Raphael Dovid Hyman, Seattle, WA:

    In 1975, I was a senior at a Catholic university in Los Angeles. I had no intention of joining their religion, but I did my best to assimilate into the university’s mainstream campus life. Tanned from working as a lifeguard, hiking in the mountains on weekends and playing tennis, I had sun bleached hair and looked like countless other young men who enjoyed the Southern California lifestyle.

    I majored in English and loved studying the classics. In my endeavor to “fit in,” I applied for and was selected to be a member of the school’s elite service organization, which included a number of perks. And I enjoyed a friendship with the university president, who humored me about being one of the few Jews there. While I took his comments in stride, I was sensitive about my background and blatantly Jewish last name.

    In the fall of my senior year, I happened to see a notice on a bulletin board in the cafeteria for an organized backpacking trip into the Grand Canyon over the upcoming New Years weekend. It was for college students from around the country and promised to be an exciting adventure. Realizing that I might not have the time or flexibility to enjoy such an experience after graduating, I decided to go. I did my best to recruit some of my friends to come along. But all of them were planning more conventional ways to celebrate New Years.

    I was unfazed and determined to go by myself. The drive from Los Angeles to the Grand Canyon was about eight hours, and the only form of entertainment I had back then was an AM radio in my 1969 Chevy Nova. I left L.A. at about five in the morning to meet the group on the edge of the canyon’s southern rim at the appointed time. The plan was to head down into the canyon and make camp at the bottom by nightfall. When I arrived, the sun was still high in the sky. I took my backpack and hiking gear out of the car, put on my boots and went to meet the rest of the group near the trailhead.

    About twenty of us gathered together and the group leader identified himself. He asked us in turn to introduce ourselves and to name our respective schools. I stood directly across from the leader, and as we finished introductions, he looked at me and asked if I would be willing to take up the rear of the group to make sure no one got separated. I was happy to oblige and the group started down the trail into the canyon.

    The Grand Canyon is a wonderful place to visit anytime of the year, but winter is particularly special. A small fraction of the summer’s visitors come to the park, there is far less traffic on the trails and the crisp, cool air is much more pleasant for hiking than the desert sun that often reaches into the 90s during the summer.

    We headed down and I took my position as the last in the group. Stunning views of the canyon under billowy white clouds were breathtaking. About ten minutes into our descent to the canyon floor, I noticed that a member of our group begin to slow down, letting others pass him. As he fell back in the line and reached me, he picked up his pace, walking right next to me.

    He was short—a bit taller than five-feet. A shock of thick red hair protruded from under his cap, and he had an energetic stride to his step. After a couple of minutes, where the only sound was an occasional bird calling and boots crunching on the dirt and gravel trail, the redhead turned toward me.

    “Hyman, that’s a Jewish name isn’t it?” he asked. Not sure what his agenda might be, I answered, “Yeah, my grandparents were from Russia.” He stuck out his hand and said with a big smile, “Andy Weiss, Stanford.” We exchanged the obligatory Jewish geography questions, i.e., “Do you know so-and-so” from the respective areas where we were living and shared no common friends or relatives. As we continued walking, I mentioned that I was considering changing my last name to a less obvious Jewish one.

    At that comment, he jumped in front of me and stopped—forcing me to stop as well, with the rest of the group moving ahead. “How dare you!” He said with a noticeable change in his voice and facial expression. “Just because you find your last name inconvenient, you are going to wipe out three thousand years of your heritage with the stroke of a pen?”

    Andy was poking his finger into my chest as he spoke. Needless to say, I was totally unprepared to hear what this fellow was saying to me. Here he was, a total stranger just a few minutes before, but a fellow Jew. And only another Jew would have the wherewithal to say exactly what needs to be said, regardless of what the fallout might be.

    I thought about his comment for few moments and faced the reality that he was right. In my desire to assimilate, I was about to sacrifice the last vestige of my heritage. I looked into Andy’s eyes, and in a voice barely above a whisper, said, “Thanks—you’re absolutely correct.”

    We all proceeded into the canyon, made camp and had a fabulous weekend with campfires, hikes around the canyon floor and a swim in the ice-cold Colorado river on New Years day for the more foolhardy folks in our group, which included Andy and me. While he and I enjoyed each other’s company on the trip, we didn’t stay in touch afterward. But the young redhead from Stanford made an impact on my life that kept me from disappearing along with future generations of Jews. There are no chance encounters.

  3. I just wanted to add a couple of bagel stories, one from this past Friday, April 30th, and two from a couple of years ago:

    This past Friday, I took my 12 year old son to buy some new sneakers. It was Erev Shabbat and we were in a hurry. Out from behind one of the shoe display racks, a lady in her mid to late thirties, with long reddish hair, held the hand of her seven-year old daughter. “Are you Jewish?” she asked. “Because my daughter said that she thinks you are. My name is Tammy Golden and my daughter’s name is Cindy.”

    A bit of a no-brainer. Here I was, with black felt kippa on ritual fringes hanging prominently down my sides, at a shoe store with my son who was also donning the ritual gear.

    It turns out that the woman is a descendant of a famous Russian revolutionary from the early part of the last century.

    She, like all bagelers the world over, knew I was Jewish…but it was her way of saying that she was, too.

  4. Here are the other two stories, both from Overland Park, Kansas:

    Right after Simchat Torah two years ago, I was walking into the local Walmart Neighborhood market, when I was accosted by a husband and wife in their mid-sixties.

    “All right – what’s with the Palm Branch?”

    “Excuse me?”

    “What’s with the Palm Branch…?”

    “You mean the Lulav? Uh…the Torah commands us to to take four species every day of the holiday of Succos and …”

    “We know that.”


    “What we want to know is the symbolism behind it.”

    I spent a couple of minutes giving them one of the explanations that I’d learned over the years. I introduced myself and told them a little bit about our Kollel.

    “Y’see that Harvey,” the wife quipped, winking to her husband. “We stopped someone to find out something about the holiday, because we saw he was Jewish. AND WE GOT A RABBI!”

  5. Here’s the last one for today:

    It was a few days before Passover 2008. I was sent on a mission by the Rebbetzin to pick up a few products at the Price Chopper story on 103rd and Mission in Kansas City.

    After making my way up and down the aisles for 10 minutes or so, I arrived at the dairy case refrigerator.

    I picked up one or two yogurts to see what Kosher certification they had. From behind, I heard the soft voice of an elderly lady.

    I turned around, and a petite woman in her late seventies was looking straight at me.

    “You know Hen House?” she asked.

    Hen House is the major carrier of Kosher, including Passover products in Kansas City.

    “Yes….” I answered hesitatingly, not knowing where this conversation was going.

    “Well………Some things they have there……..and some things they have here!”

  6. Sonya from Seattle was at a clothing store on 15th Street about 10 years ago. The girl behind the desk said to her, “You just look so much like a New York Jew”.
    “Excuse me?” Sonya was startled.
    “Because I’m from New York and I’m Jewish”.
    You see, in Seattle, not a lot of people have European-Jewish ethnic features…
    “Anyway”, Sonya continued, I eventually ended up inviting her for Rosh Hashanah…..”

  7. Got Bageled today (May 17th) at Volunteer Park – Capitol Hill – Seattle. I was at the park with 19 third graders from the Academy, when a moustached man in his early fifties entered the playground area with who seemed to be an adopted African-American 2 year-old boy.

    “Are you from some sort of Jewish institution?” he asked
    “Yes”, I said, “From the Hebrew Academy”
    “I could tell”, he explained, “from your Yarmulkes.”
    He added, “I’m Jewish, too. Is that Temple Sinai still up the street?”

    Bageled at Volunteer Park.

  8. Bageled at Trader Joes on May 29th. In the poultry section. To one side: kosher empire chicken; to the left, organic Trader Joe’s chicken. As I was shopping, a tall gentleman with tight, short curly hair says to me, “Don’t take all the dark meat. Good Shabbos!”

  9. My brother, Hillel, was in some store in KC, when a woman walked over to him and asked: “Excuse me Sir, I noticed that you’re wearing a skullcap. I saw a football skullcap the other day, and I wanted to know, are those Rabbi approved?!”

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