So, what is a Red Sea Pedestrian anyway? If you've read Tanach or seen The Prince of Egypt or The Ten Commandments or Life of Brian, you know. The short answer is, a Jew.
We're Jews, but we're also walkers, wanderers in an endless sea of faces. That's right, not only are we Jewish, but we're also New Yorkers. Beat us over the head with Woody Allen and call us Katz.
New York is the city of millions of anonymous faces, or to be less depressing, hundreds of people waiting to be met and discovered. But somehow, the sea seems even more vast when you're one of a few, when your particular species of fish is on the endangered list. Or, to look on the bright side, a rarer breed.
One sweltering day this past summer, I was walking in Columbus Circle, heading for the travelling sauna that is the subway, when I thought I should probably preempt the dehydration and pick up a drink from one of those hot dog carts NYC seems to have on back order. This was when Gatorade had just become Kosher, a milestone for us on the Orthodox end of things. Finally, a product that had technically been Kosher for years now had the reassuring label! So naturally, I went for the most plastic-looking flavor, some kind of techno-sounding blue liquid.
Now, I'm normally a bit of a food nut, the type who won't pick up a snack with artificial flavors or anything that advertises "Real Fruit Flavor." But this was New York in July. It looked like the fountain of life to me.
The man behind the cart, a shortish skinny guy fresh off the plane from somewhere looked up at me and asked: "What's that?"
He pointed at my chest to be clear. I realized he was referring to my Magen David necklace, which I constantly wear because yes, I want everyone who comes within eight feet of me to know where I come from, at least religiously speaking.
"Oh, this?" I asked casually, trying not to sound like I had a complete stranger poking me in the chest, "It's a Star of David."
"What's it mean?" he asked, "Is it from where you come from? Where'd you come from?"
"Um... here? New York? It means I'm Jewish. It's a Jewish symbol."
He took his pointing hand back and looked at me like I'd just declared Play-Doh a new gourmet seasoning.
"Oh." he said, handing me my change, "Well don't worry about that. That's alright here."
I was in too much of a rush and a little surprised to have the presence of mind to ask where he'd come from, where it wasn't alright. Somehow the comment stuck with me.
That's alright here.
I can feel lucky, I guess, that I live in a place and time where it is alright to be Jewish, not like the world where my parents and grandparents grew up.
Or I can wonder what he was implying, or better yet laugh the thing off as another typical New York daily event.
I'm one fish in a sea where, at least for now, it's alright to be a pedestrian. It's okay to have crossed the Red Sea on land a few thousand years ago. I kind of like it.
And the Gatorade tasted like cough-syrup flavored plastic.