Irene Rabinowitz
New Englander by birth, Israeli by choice.

Degrees of separation Jew style

There is this inane game that still pops up every so often in conversations and media: Six degrees of Kevin Bacon, kind of based on the idea that all people on the planet, all billions of us (even in North Korea?) are connected by only six acquaintances away from each other. The actor seems good natured about it and has not discouraged it. I am two degrees separated from him because my friend waited on him in a shop. So give or take a half million, there are maybe thirteen million Jews on the planet, almost half of which live in Israel, another five million in New York, and the remainder living in the diaspora, sometimes in really tiny places, as I do, where it is really as diaspora as you can get. Two new Jews moved to town while I have been in Israel, so there is growth factor; she has rabbis in her family, so they have also lessened the assimilation percentage of our very small Jewish population. I get it when it turns out that one of the Jews where I live in New England has a person in their life who I know; it’s when it happens six thousand miles away that I find interesting.

So, if there are thirteen million of us, why do we keep bumping into each other with only a degree or so of separation? A kind Times of Israel peep invited me for Shabbat dinner with her husband and their friends. It could have been dodgy for either of us since we really did not know each other. It was a wonderful night and I will always be thankful for her generosity and willingness to welcome a stranger. I have really only spent time with a couple of people while in Israel, one of whom my Shabbat hostess also knows. The social media connection might be the reason, but she told me of several scenarios during which she discovered that her friends were connected with people that she knows in pretty diverse places around the globe. We looked at each other and nodded “small world”.

My time in Israel coincided with the Women in Green vigil at the Prime Minister’s residence. Previously, I wrote about how comfortable I felt with these women and their mission for sovereignty in Judea, Samaria, and the Jordan Valley. I went back on the last day of the vigil to listen to the speakers and try to learn more. Women in Green co-founder Nadia Matar took time out of a very busy day to stand and translate some of the speakers for me when I was only catching every third word of fast talkers. I want to buy her a Superwoman Cape, that’s how much I admire her. While there, a gentleman came over and asked me where I was from. He made aliyah from Boston over twenty years ago. When I told him that I was a Providence, Rhode Island native, he started firing names at me. Sure enough. Small Jewish world.

It got a lot smaller. A dream of many years was fulfilled when I went to Rachel’s Tomb and then on to the Ma’arat HaMachpela. We were a small group of maybe fifteen people traveling from Jerusalem to Hevron, mainly American but also a family from Chile. When we had lunch in the little cafeteria in Hevron, I sat with a woman, Elaine, who lives in Monsey, New York. As we shared our stories, we both screeched to a halt in the conversation, staring at each other in wonder. We grew up one block away from each in Providence, went to all the same schools (I am five years older, so our paths did not cross that we know of) from kindergarten through high school and she was friendly with our tenant’s daughter. Our parents were in the same hospital, Miriam Hospital, at the same time in 2008 prior to dying. We realized that we might have actually been in the hospital visiting at the same time. We both remember when the Orthodox synagogue was created on Summit Avenue, right near where we lived and I filled her in on the recent death of our mutual favorite teacher from elementary school. Really small Jewish world. We walked together for awhile when we returned to Jerusalem to continue the conversation.

There has been much written, here and elsewhere, about the division among Jews. Diaspora versus Israeli; secular versus religious; religious versus other religious; who dresses modestly, who doesn’t; women’s access to ritual vs. traditional ritual; etc. In Israel, it seems inflated by the differences in beliefs regarding the future of Israel and the true goals of Zionism. Wiser folks than I have tackled this. I do not have anything to add, no answers that have not already been raised.

What I do know is that there is something dynamic that happens when Jews meet one on one and take the time to listen to each other.  It does not really matter, unless someone is so rigid that they cannot see the person beyond the label, what or how we believe; it just matters that we are Jews. There are people we connect with because we recognize their intrinsic goodness, without challenging how they got there. The woman who invited me for Shabbat probably did so because she understands the important nature of Jewish connections; it is evident by her degrees of separation with so many others. The Haredi guy, Akiva, who has become a trusted pal became one because we both recognize that connections among Jews, even or especially with those who express Judaism differently, are vital to our mutual understanding (as well as our similar sense of humor about the human condition). Two women sharing lunch in Hevron find that they have more in common than they would have thought: connection with their hometown and a need to be in that city holy to millions of Jews. The pure acceptance of the degree of separation is a gift to be cherished. Each connection and the opportunity to listen and learn makes our sometimes fractured community better for all Jews. One tribe? Maybe not ever. But many tribes that make a whole? Could be.

About the Author
Irene Rabinowitz made aliyah in November 2014 and lives in Jerusalem. Prior to making aliyah, she lived in a small odd town at the tip of Cape Cod for 28 years. She lived in New York City for 16 years as a young adult (or old child), but is a Rhode Islander by birth. Irene has served as a local elected official and retired from a long career in non-profit management at the end of 2013, after serving as the Executive Director of Helping Our Women for 18 years. While still consulting with NGOs in both Israel and abroad, she has most recently been the Director of Development at Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance.
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