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This network never fails us

November 24, 2016 23:22

Bonjour from beautiful Nice, where the family and I have been basking on the glorious Côte D'Azur for 10 days.

Set against the idyllic backdrop of cloudless, sapphire skies, the logistics of a Jewish holiday are anything but glorious.

As if arrival, late at night, in a battle-bus of a rental car, driving on the wrong side of the road, in the dark, to a location you've never visited, with a potty-training two-year-old wasn't a stressful enough way to start a getaway, the next morning was dedicated to a scouting mission/scavenger hunt to procure some kosher food, which can then only be deposited in the kitchen once you've boiled and scrubbed it back to its showroom status.

Relaxing yet?

But, for all of its initial challenges, my Jewish travel experiences have always been the most exceptional adverts for membership of our ancient and exclusive club.

Fights broke out over who would host me on weekends

Take last Thursday morning. At the poolside, I ran into a Jewish family. The husband - someone I'd never met - gave me the classic, slightly timid "Shalom" (just to make sure I was a card-carrying Semite) and then immediately handed me his phone, displaying the number of a certain Mendy Ouanunu.

"There's a synagogue less than 100m from here. The rabbi's away, but Mendy's his brother, so he'll run it this weekend."

Good old Mendy. By virtue of being the frummest guy in Nice last Friday, he'd been appointed rabbi. Mazeltov.

And, yes, the service was as quirky and higgledy-piggledy as you'd imagine. But, we were made to feel like royalty. And that's how it works the world over.

In Amsterdam, a guy physically jumped off the bimah (he was leading the service at the time) to tell me that my wife and I would be leaving with him for Shabbat dinner in 10 minutes.

In Paris, where I lived in 2004, I was adopted by a Sephardi community who cared for me to the point of near-obsession. Wonderful, generosity-filled obsession but obsession nonetheless. Fights broke out over who would host me on certain weekends. Actual fights.

In San Francisco, in the only kosher restaurant in the city, I met the Chabad family of Napa Valley. They've spent the past few years in the vineyards, just in case any observant Jews happen to come through.

It's just that none do. They're guaranteed a minyan twice each year, when the same family fly over to rent the same chateau. That's it.

Every day, in pretty much any city you can name, from Kathmandu to Kiev, this random generosity is being extended, offered by virtue of a shared "saw you at Sinai" connection.

It's as beautiful as it is insane.

Can you imagine inviting someone around your family table because they supported the same football team or wore the same trainer brand?

Of course not! That would be mad.

Yet, nothing feels more safe or normal than breaking challah with a complete stranger born to a very slightly similar bloodline.

And if you think it's enjoyable as the guest, believe me when I say it's just as special as the host.

Political stance, affiliation or observance never come into it. For that short time period, you're just Jews together in the same physical location.

This desire to help each other feels completely innate to us. It's that unspoken eleventh commandment, and the one we all keep.

I've no idea if the same phenomenon exists in other faiths or diasporas, but I truly hope it does.

Regardless, in a community that often seems hell bent on self-destruction over the daftest minutiae, let's celebrate and emulate our Mendy Ouanunus.

November 24, 2016 23:22

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