The Jewish Handshake

Jack Zeller

There is something remarkable about how one Jew greets another who is otherwise a stranger. Jews feel an immediate kinship for other Jews -- a feeling that non-Jewish friends often describe with amazement and envy.

The universality of the enthusiastic greeting of one Jew to another is what we tried to capture when we selected our organizational name "Kulanu", the Hebrew word meaning "all of us." The choice of this name came out of a long meeting in which we tried to find one word to define our thoughts and goal.

Jews are often to be found in unlikely places. The prophets foretold that the Diaspora would be worldwide. And our siddur repeatedly refers to the four corners of the earth.

One purpose of Kulanu is to preserve and enhance the enthusiasm of one Jew meeting another, even if it occurs in the most unlikely place, the Jew is of a darker skin color or different appearance, or the Jew is non-rabbinic in origin or a newly arrived Jew by choice.

Our goal is to ask all Jews (Kulanu is composed of secularists, religiously identified, and dati supporters) to consider the spiritually elevating experience of befriending other Jews as a treasured birthright that must be experienced -- not simply learned in books, heard in sermons, or described by our bubbes and zeydes. This practice of doing is deliberate, delightful, and full of surprise and meaning. This practice is self-identifying and critical to our identity.

Jews who do or do not not belong to synagogues or other Jewish organizations phone Kulanu and ask how they can visit the Shinlung Jewish community in India, the Abayudaya in Uganda, the anusim ("Marranos") in Brazil or Santa Fe, as if this were a most Jewishly intuitive and reasonable request. And it is! Kulanu wants to make it easier.

Jews travel. We have traveled far and wide, often against our will, to find a more likely place to survive. Now, even those of us who have been fortunate enough to travel often will find that the pleasure of travel is richly enhanced by meeting Jews. We encourage you to travel for this pleasure. We suggest contacting one of the many communities we assist. The accommodations are not Hiltonesque, but then again our ancestors who have given us the opportunity to do this did not think of luxury. Their reward was the warm greeting, learning about the quality of local Jewish life, and discussing how Divine Providence intended them to behave.

Since the Jewish communities we deal with have suffered from chronic and almost complete isolation, your visit with them and continued correspondence can have a profound and electrifying effect. You may be asked the most difficult questions with the sincere belief that Western Jews must know it all. And when you ask your own questions and find the reply is a more penetrating question, you know that we are all part of K'lal Yisrael. You may start your journey thinking you are helping another, only to find you are the recipient.

For what can be more moving than to grapple with the nature and destiny of our identity? Kulanu, all of us, are the better for this experience, for we are much more the same than different.

Much of Jewish living has occurred in the Diaspora. We've been there far longer than in Eretz Yisrael. And we will probably be there for a long time to come. Never before in Jewish history has it been easier to meet remote and virtually ignored or newly developing Jewish communities. We can do it by phone, fax, e-mail, and best of all, by an in-person handshake. Many of us have done some or all of the above. You shouldn't miss out!