Wherever you might find yourself in this vast and fast-paced world, you'll stumble into a synagogue or a kosher restaurant and you'll turn to the couple sitting at the table adjacent to yours, or the person sitting next to you in synagogue and you'll find yourself playing this game. My parents, who are seasoned travelers, have hundreds of stories of the people they've met along the way, people with which they have found common connections, all by playing Jewish geography. My husband will simply hear a British accent and he'll instantly strike up a conversation with the Brits and start throwing my family name into the mix. Coming from a large British family on my dad's side, I try to remind him that just because they have an accent doesn't mean they know my family. But more often than not, it turns out that they do. It just so happens that we - our nation - happen to be quite spectacular at this game. You'll toss a few names and locations out and - lo and behold - you'll find out that you're either related, went to school with their cousin or was at their brother's wedding. And despite being a nation of 13+ million people worldwide, we are separated by far less than the 'standard' six degrees of separation. Now eat that, Kevin Bacon...
A few years ago, my husband and I wandered into the kosher restaurant in Florence and ended up - by chance - meeting a couple who were good friends of neighbors of ours. In Prague, we sat in a restaurant at a table next to a young married couple. And within minutes, we discovered that the young man was a nephew of a friend of ours. Three summers ago, we ate Friday night dinner on a canal in Venice with Chabad. And I was delighted to discover that the spirited young man who was our server that evening was the grandson of my first grade teacher, a teacher I had absolutely loved. We shared some beautiful memories of her and he was thrilled to hear stories about her that he had never heard before. On that same Shabbat, I ended up sitting next to another fellow traveler at the synagogue that just so happened to be the first cousin of one of my closest friends.
When they say that the Jewish world is a small one, they are seriously not kidding.
When these boys - OUR boys - were kidnapped, you might have said to yourself, I don't really know these boys. As small as the Jewish world is, it's not possible that we have a connection to every Jewish person we see. I mean, despite all our success at Jewish geography, it's not only improbable, but downright impossible. Right?
Over this last heart-wrenching week, I've discovered that one of the kidnapped boys is roommates with the son of a good friend of mine. He and his other roommates are sick with worry and eagerly awaiting his return. One of the other kidnapped boys lives next door to my son's friend.
And that's when it hit me.
This was not my son. And it wasn't yours. But it could have been.
Playing Jewish geography isn't just fun, or a way to kill time while sitting in a strange place far from home. It's much more than that. It signifies this thin - and sometimes invisible - yet steely-strong thread that connects us all to one another by more than just blood. This past week has been a painful one for all of us. We watch the minutes and the hours go by without any news or proof of life and we are sick with worry. But this week has also been a remarkable one. We, as a nation, have pulled together in a united and global show of support in order to bring these boys home. Together, women all over the world have baked challah this week, saying a special prayer specially for these boys. And I can't help but think about the fact that we will be eating this challah tonight while these three families will have to spend yet another painful Shabbat without their boys. We are protesting together. Whether you're standing in Times Square, in the JCC Toronto or in the local school in Chicago, we may be physically separated by thousands of miles, but that's just a stupid thing called distance. In spirit - which is what really counts - we are doing this together. And this Friday night, we are collectively lighting an extra three candles. Take a moment and try to imagine the powerful message that sends. That every single Jewish home will be lit up a little bit brighter with our fervent wish that those flames of hope and prayer will reach heavenward. And whether you're traipsing through Thailand, on a business trip in Hong Kong, on vacation in Wasaga Beach or sitting at home wherever that may be, we are all praying together for the safe return of our boys.
Because we know these boys.
They are your sons' roommates, your friends' neighbors, your nephews' classmates.
And we need to bring them home.