"Excuse me, are you Jewish?" I get asked this question about 100 times from the exit of the Subway to my apartment.
They're Jews on a mission and they're quite persistent. I don't know whether to ignore them (seems rude), say yes (leads to a longer encounter), or say no (lie). There's probably a better answer (see below) but Sukkot in Brooklyn pulls out a funny characteristic for New Yorkers.
The Hasidic Jews who celebrate and flock to the streets to shake their lulavs and etrogs with you are trying to hasten the coming of the Messiah. The more blessings the better. Literally. It's like a big tally - we just need enough points to win. It's more direct contact with religion than most New Yorkers typically contend with.
But during this week another phenomenon emerges. New Yorkers smile. If you're patient enough, you'll see someone pop up from the subway to be greeted by a team of mitzvah makers, maybe first with a puzzled look, and then, as they confirm their Jewish identity (or just ask What is this all about?), a smile make its way across their face.
We New Yorkers aren't used to having strangers greet us, having strangers engage us in an unfamiliar activity. We put up barriers. Signs even. But when we do let our guard down (albeit with a lot of nudging) a different side emerges.