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Haven't We Met Someplace Before?

By Deborah Biskin Levine

"Haven't we met someplace before?" is a popular (though insincere) pick-up line used in single's bars. It's also an earnest and commonly asked question by Jews meeting when meeting other Jews. Why do we frequently feel as if we have met each other before and why do we care?

There is no doubt that Jews have an affinity for other Jews. My mother keeps a running mental list of Jewish celebrities and athletes. She says things to my father like, "Irving, did you know that James Brolin is Jewish?" My dad then looks up from his crossword puzzle and replies, "Miriam, no he's not, he's married to Barbra Streisand and she's Jewish." My mother answers, "close enough." James Brolin is an honorary Jew by marriage.

My mom is not the only one who collects and catalogues Jews. My kids are huge fans of the Adam Sandler Chanukah songs. Why? What makes his lyrics strike a chord? The words to his melodies chronicle many of the famous Jews in American society. Would a similar song for Lutherans or Baptists find an audience? I don't think so.

Wherever I go, I love talking to strangers on trains, buses, taxis, grocery stores and beauty salons. It makes otherwise mundane situations intriguing. I can discuss almost anything with anyone and for some reason, total strangers confide in me. If I think there is even the remotest possibility, I try to figure out if my victims are Jewish. Why? I have a theory.

The holiday of Shavuot is just around the corner. It's one of the three pilgrimage festivals (the shalosh regalim). Compared with its sister holidays, Sukkot and Pesach, there are few rituals associated with Shavuoth. On Sukkot we build a sukkah and use a lulav and etrog following specific and detailed guidelines. On Passover, we clean like crazy, ridding our homes of the chametz and then participate in two sedarim which are steeped in pageantry and ritual. On Shavuoth it is customary to eat dairy foods (particularly blintzes) and stay up all night studying Torah. Easy stuff contrasted to what is expected of us on Sukkot and Pesach. Shavuoth is a holiday where we kind of sit back and appreciate what we've been given-- the harvest and the biggest gift of all--The Torah.

How does Shavuoth relate to Jews seeking out other Jews? On Shavuoth, for the first time God revealed himself to the entire people of Israel. Previously, he had only shown Himself to individuals - Abraham and Moses. Some surmise that if God hadn't declared Himself to all Jews, then this nation of skeptics would have doubted His existence. As the Jewish people stood there awed and transfixed, God gave us the Torah. Our tradition holds that all Jews were present at Mount Sinai, even those who were not yet born. Thus, in some mystical sense, we were all together for one moment in history. Each of us stood at Sinai regardless of our level or religiosity, our gender, our income or any other extraneous factors. We were all there as Jews.

Perhaps connecting with other Jews is our collective attempt to recapture that incredible experience when we were in the same place--united before God. Jews often comment that when they meet another Jew that there is an indefinable connection that one cannot be described adequately with words. Maybe we actually did meet somewhere before. Possibly the Jewish man sitting next to you on the subway in New York or the little girl on the bus in Israel may have stood beside you at Sinai, and just maybe that is the bond that is so difficult to define.

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Deborah Biskin Levine is a freelance writer living in Albany, New York. Her first book, entitled Acts of Lovingkindness (JPS) is expected out next summer.

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from the May 2000 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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