It is a pretty rude thing to do. I think the correct thing is probably to say yes, but I'm terribly sorry that I've forgotten you name. I'd be tempted to say yes, you embarrassed me like this the last time we met too.
If I recall, gellchom, you are a rabbi's wife, which makes it even more awkward since you probably meet a lot of people in the congregation at the same time. From their point of view, it's easy to remember who you are because of your role, so you can't even turn the question back to them.
Actually, he's a cantor, not a rabbi, but exactly the same situation. And it's a very large congregation, and of course not everyone attends services and other events as much as others. So I often find myself not knowing names I probably should, in addition to zillions that I couldn't reasonably be expected to. I hope they don't realize!
But to be fair, this "who am I?" bit doesn't seem to come from congregants. It's not even always older people. I simply cannot fathom why anyone would do this. But it's happened to me several times over the years, both when I was a kid and now, too.
Do you suppose that the people who pull this tell themselves, "It's their own fault if they're embarrassed; they should remember me"? I don't think they stop and consider that the person is a whole lot less likely to be thinking, "Oh, I'm so awful for not remembering this lovely person" than "!!%&$! you for putting me on the spot like this!"
Out of context is usually the problem, I agree. And when it's only out of context for one person, that's doubly unfair! I mean, if you run into your dentist at the supermarket, it's equally out of context for both of you. But take this lady I wrote about. I only know her at all because of a mutual friend in Israel. She was in last week from Florida for a bat mitzvah. Now, when she comes here, I'm one of the few people she knows in this city, and she knows I'm the cantor's wife, so she expects to see me at this synagogue. But I'm
not expecting to see her
. So I'm at a real disadvantage, because she could be anyone I've ever met, from anywhere -- if I had done it to her, she'd only have to go through at most a dozen names of women she knows, but only slightly, in this city.
I think I once posted about a time I was talking to some congregant's relative from out of town who said she had been here for "the bar mitzvah." THE bar mitzvah?! We've been here almost 31 years, and there are up to 50 in a year. So, from her point of view, having only been here once, "the" -- but how could she possibly expect me to know what she meant?
I admit I'm not as good with names or faces as I'd like to be. But I think that this is just mean -- forcing me to insult them if I can't immediately remember. DavidH, I'll never say it aloud, but your response of "I'd be tempted to say yes, you embarrassed me like this the last time we met too" is just what I'll think inside to make myself feel a bit better!