Kin & Kind

There is a popular game in the Jewish world commonly known as “Jewish Geography.” Get two Jews that don’t know each other together and give them a set amount of time to figure out who they know in common. The game is a variant of the ‘six-degrees of separation’ idea. Jewish Geography is tougher though. In it, you only win if you can find a first-degree link between the both of you. And for extra points, the link should also be Jewish, otherwise where’s the challenge? I have played the games many times and seen it played countless others and I can tell you that without any doubt, people in Israel are the fastest players by far. Six-degrees of separation? Don’t make me laugh.

I was told by a good friend of mine from New York that you know you are a New Yorker when you can find anything you want within a ten-block radius of your home; and that you are a true New Yorker when you are able to reduce that radius to five blocks. The equivalent test for immigrants to Israel is related to Jewish Geography. You win when it finally happens that you are the nexus between two native Israelis. Now, this is tougher than you would expect. Israelis are masters at Jewish Geography because the country is small, and growing up here you end up belonging to all sorts of organizations along the way and building a social network that quickly reaches almost anyone. Most Israelis serve in the armed forces, and if you’ve done that for two or three years that will pretty much set you up as a champion Jewish Geography player.

But if you grew up elsewhere you never built those networks, or rather, you built them somewhere else. So if two locals find that you are the link between them, that changes things. At that point your immigrant status changes. You’ve gone from being from ‘over yonder’ and now, my friend, you from here (and can you hear the echoes of the original Hebrew in that awkward phrase?). You are now a local, hell, you might have even gone local. Congratulations, you are now one of ‘us,’ no longer on probation. You have joined the clan.

In a very real sense, you are now kin.

I had been in Israel for less than a year the first time that it turned out I was the winning link in somebody else’s game. This happened without me being present at the game of course, so I heard about it days later. Interestingly, both of the players were very surprised at how the game ended. I’m pretty sure that they expected to have some retired colonel as their link. In fact they were so surprised that each took the time to give me a call and tell me in precise detail how little time it had taken them to think about me. That small insignificant moment, when two friends of mine both realized that they knew me, marked a significant event in my own life. It marked and important transition for me and the funny thing is that I wasn’t even there.

I did not know at the time what it would mean to be of this place and this time; to be kin to these people. Truth be told, sixteen years later I’m still looking for the answer and by now I’m pretty sure that there isn’t a single, all-encompassing, answer.

This blog will attempt to chronicle my kin and explain our life here to the world and hopefully to ourselves as well. Or to borrow and mangle a phrase from Shakespeare, this is my take on my Kin & Kind. Israel and Israelis explained. Yeah, right.

What can you expect to find here? More or less weekly chronicles of life, politics, business, and education in Israel falling largely in one of the following categories:

  • Shooting yourself in the foot syndrome.
  • Foot in mouth disease (also known as “Tis better to remain silent and appear foolish…”).
  • Man bites dog. Is that kosher?
  • Department of corrections. Mine and everyone else’s.
  • Can you power-lunch over hummus?
  • OK. I did not see that one coming.
  • The Lens Maker’s Disciple.

If you have any ideas or requests for a specific topic, do let me know. Questions, comments, disagreements, always welcome.



About the Author
Benjamin Levy is the CEO of IsItYou, Ltd; an Israeli start-up specializing in mobile face recognition; He was born forty-six years ago in Mexico City and lived for a long time in California. Today he is married to an Israeli and the proud father of three. To date, he’s managed to fit in getting three degrees, launch a democratic school, hold eight proper jobs, completed over eighty consulting assignments, and worked in 61 countries, and fourteen of the world’s time zones at last count; His favorite line of poetry comes from Rainier Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet: “to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language.”