New Jew in Town: Jewish Geography Should be an Olympic Sport

Everyone has a favorite Jewish geography story. Mine takes place in Paris in the summer of 2005. My friends and I, on a Louisiana State University study abroad program, were sitting under the Eiffel Tower with a bottle of wine and some cheese.

Jews in Paris

Apparently a certain amount of wine makes a group of SEC football fans think it’s perfectly okay to start chanting a football cheer in arguably the most romantic spot in the world, completely ruining the ambiance of our fellow picnickers.
But not everyone was appalled at le Americains embarrasant. Our antics led a group of guys from the University of Georgia (one of LSU’s rivals) to walk over. Like many Jews, I have an innate ability to recognize other Jews, and when these guys mentioned that they were in a Jewish fraternity, well, I could have told them that.
When one of the guys told us he was from Atlanta, I initiated the Jewish geography process.  It was – as it usually is — a long shot.  I have a handful of cousins my age who live in Atlanta; Atlanta not only has 77,000 Jews in its metro area but 5.5 million people in general.
But these two guys not only knew the first cousin I asked about – they carpooled to Hebrew school together.
That story stands out because it originated in a foreign country, but I have these moments all the time.
At the small congregation my husband’s family belongs to in Shreveport, a couple thought my maiden name sounded familiar. It turns out they had once lived next door to my cousins in Alabama (in — fun fact — what would later become Natalee Holloway’s house). I randomly met a rabbi in a cupcake shop in Portland, Oregon who knew one of my best friends from Sunday school in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. When Leora Itman (of TC Jewfolk fame!) and I became friends on Facebook, I saw we had a friend in common – my best friend from high school’s freshman year roommate at Emory University, who is from Pennsylvania and happens to be Jewish.
It feels like every other time I meet a young Jewish adult in Minneapolis (which, thanks to working at Federation, is pretty much every day), we know someone in common, whether it’s my rabbi from Baton Rouge or an acquaintance from my summer camp in Mississippi who went to school in the Midwest.
For me, moving to a new place where I didn’t know a soul was an exciting adventure. But I have to admit; making these connections is comforting and makes me feel like a part of a community – something I didn’t even realize I was missing.
Seven years ago in Paris, after a glass of wine and, likely, an entire block of cheese, I was completely sure the universe was trying to tell me something. I was definitely going to marry one of the guys who carpooled with my cousin in Georgia and just happened to bump into me 4000 miles across the world under the twinkling lights of the Eiffel Tower. In reality, I never saw them again.  Maybe Jewish geography doesn’t always serve a deeper purpose, but it is pretty fun.
What about you? Do you have a favorite Jewish geography story?
By the way, here are my networks: Louisiana State University, NFTY Southern, and Henry S. Jacobs Camp in Utica, MS. Know anyone in those networks? Come find me at one of Federation’s upcoming Young Leadership events and let’s play Jewish geography (said in my best game show announcer voice, of course).