Several years ago, I worked as the assistant to the assistant to the President of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. It was actually a pretty boring job, but it did give me an opportunity to meet many very interesting people.
One day, I was called into the President's office to meet some visitors to the University. My boss wasn't with me, and I didn't understand why I was invited on my own. It had never happened before.
The reason became apparent fairly quickly. Sitting with the President of BGU was the Ambassador of the Old Country and his wife. After a few sentences, the connection became even more apparent. They were from the same city as I. Normally, when I meet someone from my town, I ask what school they had gone to, what shul they hadn't attended, or what youth group they had belonged to. But I wasn't going to play with the AMBASSADOR, who, I assumed, would not have heard of the very small Jewish school I had attended for 12 years. The conversation petered out, and I was sent back to my desk.
When I got home, I wrote an email to my sister and told her whom I had met. She wrote back that yeh, the Ambassador (who was, in fact, Jewish) had married a classmate of hers. In the end, not only would they have heard of my school, they had attended it.
I learned my lesson.
Always, always play Jewish Geography, aka the You're from? do you know? game.
I can often find acquaintances in common with the remotest of people, sometimes even friends, but once in a long while you find family.
A few months ago, we were at a friends' house for Friday night dinner. These friends had also invited another couple whom I knew, but wasn't really that friendly with, and another man whom we did not know at all and to whom we needed to be introduced. As always, I was introduced by my name, and where I was from. That's how it's done among immigrants - no matter how long you've been in a place. The woman I knew, but with whom I wasn't that friendly - let's call her Liz - said "I didn't know you were from that city!!!!!!!!!!"
"I had an uncle who was married to a woman who's brother lived there for years! He was a rabbi there," she told me.
That rabbi has a son who is married to my first cousin.
Liz and I are now, not only FB friends, but close family. Because her either maternal or paternal - I'm not sure which - uncle's wife's brother's son is married to my mother's brother's daughter.
While the relationship is not always so close, sometimes you can discover family history.
Recently a young olah - let's call her Gisele - from some European Old Country came into my office at BGU (not the President's office. I've moved on from that job to one that is far more boring). We chatted a bit while she was waiting to go into a meeting. We hadn't ever met before but chatting to strangers is one of the few things I do well. I asked her if she had family in Israel. No, she didn't, and she told me how hard it has been without any family support. She had come all alone.
"Yeh, I understand, I also came alone. It was a million years ago, but I was alone for a long time", I told her.
She asked where I was from.
OMG!!!! was her answer when I told her city and Old Country.
HER BEST FRIEND in the tiny Jewish community in the village Gisele is from is from there!!!!!
And while I didn't know the girl (Gisele is probably 30 years younger than I), I certainly knew her parents.
It was 9:00 AM Beer Sheva time, 8:00 AM in European Old Country. But this didn't stop Gisele from whatsapping her BEST FRIEND "GUESS WHO I JUST MET!!!!"
When Gisele came out of the meeting she had come to the office for, she made straight for my desk.
"She knows you!!! and your family!!!! and she went to school with your brother's kids!!!!!!! And some of them made aliya!!!"
She stopped. "But I guess you knew that last part already."
I nodded yes.
She laughed, said she'll come visit me again, and left.
The encounter totally made my day.
These kinds of things happen all the time.
The son of our friends of 34 years is engaged to the daughter of friends of my daughter-in-law-of-one-year's sister's husband's family. We will see them at the wedding.
A friend from shul's mother's uncle was the man my High School back in the Old Country was named after.
My daughter sublet her apartment in Beer Sheva to the son of my cousin's neighbors.
My current desk mate went to primary school with my desk mate from when I was at the aformentioned President's office. They hadn't seen each other in nearly 50 years until they went to a reunion of their school and spent the evening talking about me.