There is, among Jews, a collective sense of community and history. It is stronger than anything I have encountered among other nations and peoples. If a Brit were traveling and came across a fellow Brit, they'd talk and share their thoughts, co-travelers that happen to be in the same space at the same time. If an American needed help while abroad, he/she would seek the nearest American Embassy, sure help would be awaiting. Certainly when two lone travelers from the same area meet up, they feel a united sense of commonality, but put those same people next to each other in the same city in their own home, and they likely would never speak.
It would never occur to citizens of either of those nations to assume they were welcome for a meal in a stranger's house, even a place to sleep, or whatever they needed. Half a dozen times a day, I am likely to speak to a total stranger here in Israel.
The rain begins to fall and everyone on the bus speaks about the wonder of rain. Anything you want to know about the bus' destination - just ask the person next to you.
When I told people I was traveling to England, several came over and offered to put me in touch with their family and friends. When I had a question about Amira studying in Hungary (she ended up not going), without hesitation, I picked up the phone and called a rabbi in Budapest and without hesitation, he answered all my questions. If I go practically anywhere in the world, I will almost instantaneously have a safe haven, a place to get food, learn more about the place.
I was with my brother in Paris many years ago, lost, hungry, tired. I was missing my husband, on my way with my brother to Israel, and just wished I'd booked the flight straight through instead of allowing for a brief tour.
I looked up and saw a couple walking - they could have been walking on the streets of Brooklyn or Israel...I approached them without hesitation. They were Jews and in that silent way we communicate - they would provide whatever assistance they could. My French wasn't good enough. They didn't speak English. I didn't speak Yiddish...Hebrew, they asked? Hebrew it was. They told me where I was, where we needed to go. And when we got to the first place, the store owner sat us down, fed us, and then drew us maps telling us where we needed to go, what trains, etc.
Years later, I was sitting in the Rome airport, tired and anxious to come home. I had more than 6 hours before my flight, but I was too tired to tour, my shoulder was aching. A woman came over and asked if I spoke Hebrew. I answered that I did and before I could say another word, she crumpled into the seat next to me and started to cry. She couldn't communicate with anyone there. She was hungry, had no money.
Air Italia had bumped her off a flight from NY while all her family was put onboard. She was scheduled her for another flight 9 hours later, my flight. She's been alone for three hours, scared, hungry. They'd given her vouchers to a restaurant that wasn't kosher and other than some Israeli shekels, she had no money with her.
It never occurred to her that I would do anything but help her. It never occurred to me to do anything but get up, pick up the backpack that was killing my shoulder, and begin walking her through getting food for her and sitting and talking with her. I got Air Italia to call her family in the States so she could tell them what happened and call her husband, who was waiting for her in Israel and would waste a trip to the airport if he wasn't told that she wasn't allowed on the train.
After she'd eaten, I stayed with her. We sat together and talked or read, waiting for the flight. Then, they announced that the departure gate for our flight had changed from Gate 5 to Gate 3. I heard the announcement in Italian (which I didn't understand) and English (which I did).
I told her we had to move and she started to cry again - what if I hadn't been there to tell her? But I am, I assured her and we rose together to begin to walk to the new gate. I saw a bunch of Israelis and so I turned and told them the flight had been changed to a different gate.
"You understand Italian?" one of the women asked me.
"No, they said it in English too," I answered. They smiled and thanked me and we all moved to the new gate. They could live hundreds of miles from me, or even worlds apart, and still we had that connection.
I was on a train going to Manchester and a woman with a baby walked up to me and asked me if I needed help - she was Jewish, lived in Manchester and wondered if I had a place to stay. I told her I was booked into a hotel but needed to find a cab. When we left the train, she asked a policeman where the taxis are and then translated what he said (which was kind of funny because I speak English and understood (and could easily have asked myself), but she felt the need to repeat back to me what he was saying). Then she asked her taxi driver how much he wanted to go out of his way and drop me first - I got a bargain of a ride, she was delayed a few minute - and both of us knew it was that magical, blessed connection.
Once our were traveling in the north of Israel and my husband had a terrible headache, bordering on a migraine. It was late enough that the pharmacies were closed. I walked over to the nearest house where there was a light on and knocked. My in-laws from the States were a bit surprised - you don't do that in NY.
A woman answered and I explained that my husband needed some medication. She welcomed me into her home and gave me water and pills while everyone was outside. Then the woman asked if perhaps he wanted to come in and lie down for a while till the medication began to work. She was almost upset that we didn't take her up on the offer, assuring me he would feel much better if he took that extra time and she wasn't at all worried about the children in the car. They were welcome too - she had toys from her grandchildren in the corner just waiting to be played with. In what world does this happen? The Jewish world, of course.
About two years ago, I took a friend from India on a tour of the Old City of Jerusalem and as we walked and as I talked, a woman came up and asked me in Hebrew to give a cup of warm soup to Shoshana. Instinctively, I took the cup that was thrust in my direction and then realized I didn't have a clue who Shoshana was.
"She is sitting at the bottom on the steps, towards the Western Wall." The woman answered.
My friend from India was astounded - that doesn't happen in New Delhi. Shoshana smiled and blessed me and we continued on our tour.
This weekend, Aliza invited a friend from Australia who is in school here until the school year starts there. Aliza is already sad that her friend will be leaving soon.
I've been invited to speak in India in March...I'm thinking about going. The first step, everyone suggests, is to reach out and find the Jews there. That's what we do before we go, when we are there - find community.
In as many places as there are Jews, that's how many open invitations I have around the world. It is a blessing to have this thread tie us together, this sense of community that transcends all cultural differences. We may have been born in different lands, speak different languages, but there is this tie that connects us.
It is what makes us mourn when a Jew is hurt anywhere in the world; it is what made the Israeli rescue mission to the tsunami not only offer universal aid, but also search out not only missing Israelis, but missing Jews as well.
It is what spurred Israel to send planes to Yemen and Ethiopia to bring the Jews out safely from oppression; and warn Europe's governments that Israel is forever watching. It is what urges us to call out to the Jews in France, Ireland, Scotland, Sweden, German...to come home now to Israel.
Today's blessing is one we live with every minute of every day - the unbroken, indefinable and yet distinct connection that we share; that sense of community, of unity.
Everywhere I have ever gone in my life, I knew that help was just a Jewish door away. That is one of the most amazing blessings in my life...