I received a phone call from my future mother-in-law yesterday. That sounds like the beginning of an old and corny joke but in fact we get on rather well. She teaches a college course and as part of her introduction to the new semester and her new students, she told them a little about herself, including the fact that her daughter is marrying a "great English guy" who works for blah blah blah. A hand shot up and the accompanying voice asked whether the guy was Gil Ben Mori (okay she didn't use that name as it's my pen name - she used my real name). So after class the two had a chat and the upshot is that Mother-in-Law has invited her for Shabbat.
This encompasses three things that I love about being a Jew in Israel. Firstly, it's a pretty small world (not that I'd want to paint it...) - that my Mother-in-Law from Pittsburgh could find a British girl who knows me, not by name but by vague description, in her class is fairly random. Secondly and far more beautiful is the concept of "Kol yisrael areivim ze la ze" that all of the children of Israel have a responsibility towards each other which in this case was expressed through the third thing, the Mitzva of "Hachnasat Orchim" - welcoming guests - another beautiful concept.
The first point is something that I don't think comes as a surprise to most people - we are a small group in global terms and when 2 Jews come together, a favourite pastime is Jewish geographyduring which it is rare indeed to find absolutely nothing and no-one in common. There are two places in the world where I am genuinely surprised if I don't encounter someone I know; Brent Cross shopping centre in London and Emek Refaim Street in Jerusalem (in the past this latter choice would have been Ben Yehuda but times have changed). Connections are often strange - my American cousin who knows a South African / Australian couple with whom we are friendly for example, but I am past the point of not expecting an unusual connection to be made or to bump into someone I know in a bizarre place.
Christmas time in the UK is something which people make a big fuss over. The concept of having large numbers of family over to share in the festivities seems to be the cause of consternation, requiring weeks of planning ahead. This is something which I always found particularly mystifying as on a regular basis (every Friday night) we would welcome guests into our home. Even whilst at University, if we were hosting a meal, we would always make sure that there was an extra portion or two so that we could invite a person who had nowhere to spend Shabbat to join us. In contrast, the idea of welcoming in guests is fairly alien to the world around us - a great shame as it's a lovely concept.
These two points however are something that apply to Jewish communities all over the world. The concept of "Kol yisrael Areivim ze la ze" is something of which I have become more acutely aware since I made Aliyah. I have also become used to my friends commenting on little incidents which to my mind fit the same category. My latest incident happened whilst I was at a post box the other, posting a pile of what were very obviously invitations. As I turned to leave, the guy waiting behind me, wish me "Mazal Tov". Not a big deal perhaps but could it happen anywhere else?
A friend having financial difficulties due to an illness in the family was summoned to have a chat with his bank manager about the state of his overdraft. When he had finished tearfully explaining why he was in more than unusual debt, the bank manager not only extended his overdraft facility, he gave him NIS 50 from his own pocket.
My fiancee used to go into a certain fruit shop. She'd chat with the manager who after a while asked her if he could set her up on a shidduch (thankfully for me she declined!) - stories of this type are legion.
Whether it's the bus driver wishing me Shabbat Shalom, a shiur playing on the tape deck in the hairdressers or the "shidduch factor", I love the fact that I feel that people around me are similar to me and have a connection with me. I am here because I feel that this is the right place for a Jew to be making his life. I am amongst Am Yisrael and our destinies are tied together. This is home.