Maybe Greeks and Italians and Irish do this also, but I've always known this process as "Jewish Geography": you meet another Jew and immediately start comparing where you're from, where you went to school, who you both know in common or are related to in common and usually discover proof of the axiom that in the Jewish world we are all separated by no more than two degrees of separation.
Today's ulpan class was more proof of that. We were talking at the break about this very phenomenon. I recounted my favorite version: we had an estimator come to the house to give us an estimate for the cost of shipping our household goods to Israel. His name was "Mike". He spoke at some length to my husband and in the course of conversation asked him where we were moving to?
My husband told him we were moving to Israel. "Great," Mike said, "You'll love it there. That's where I'm from." Mike went on to tell us that he was married and living in the south Bay Area but his wife is Israeli and they have a child, and plan to move back to Israel in a few years. The two guys talked some more and my husband said that he himself had lived on a kibbutz in Israel a long time ago, and was looking forward to "going home."
"Really?" Mike asked. "Which kibbutz?"
"Oh, it's way down south in the Arava," my husband responded, thinking it was so out of the way Mike would not be familiar with it.
"I grew up on a kibbutz in the Arava," Mike persisted. "Which one were you at?"
"Yotvata," my husband said.
Mike looked at the forms on his clipboard again. "Wait a minute," he said. "You can't be Mike X________ -- you're wife's name is A_______, not S_______."
"My first wife was A_______ and she lived there with me," my husband said, with growing curiosity. "S_______is my current wife."
"MIKE!" Mike shouted, "I'm Micha! You taught me to play softball!"
Reunion time. They lived on the same kibbutz at the same time. My husband was his softball coach. Micha's parents moved away in his teens. The two of them then spent the next 30 minutes figuring out where Micha's parents had moved to, what his siblings were up to, and who of the kibbutzniks they were each still in touch with. Micha told us he was heading back to Israel for vacation next month and was going to Yotvata--"Everyone has wondered what happened to Big Mike! They're not going to believe I ran into you. I'll tell everyone!" Micha promised.
And he did. My husband went to visit Yotvata a couple of months ago and was greeted like a long-lost son. "We were just talking about you!" a couple of vatikim called out from their table in the cheder ochel.
So today at ulpan we were recounting various Jewish geography tales when a student from a more advanced class joined us. Hilary introduced herself to those of us who had not already met her, and in conversation with one of our newest students, found out that Elizabeth is from Milwaukee....as is Hilary. Elizabeth is a teacher....as are Hilary's parents....in the same school system. And Hilary's parents just made aliyah, as did Elizabeth. Shabbat dinner amongst the Milwaukee emigrant teaching staff is no doubt just around the corner.
By the way, are there any Pausners or Plotkins out there? We might be related. Let's play Jewish Genealogy Geography!
Photo courtesy of Kibbutz Yotvata