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Are you the kind of person who seems to be a magnet for conversations and interaction with strangers?  Salespeople, waiters, fellow passengers on planes or trains – you get the idea.  I guess that I am never rude so the conversation is bound to continue.  What is most curious and captivating about these random interactions is the Jewish or Israel angle that leads the conversation to continue longer than one would expect.

Last week I was in Boston on a less than 24-hour business trip that I expected to be intense so when it was time to leave town I really wanted to get out quickly because I was driving home and feared the ever-increasing congestion on the roads.  (Plug here:  Read Rosabeth Moss Kanter’s’ new book “Move” for some insight and solutions on this national nightmare…but I digress…)  One of my colleagues was nice enough to walk me out into the taxi-deprived streets of Boston to help me flag one down.  Walked about a block and found a taxi sitting in front of small hotel and sure enough, he was free.  When we talked about where I was going, I instantly knew that I was in for one of “those” conversations.

Russian.  I know that dialect intimately, after working with Russian Jewish emigres for over 14 years.  What I didn’t know was whether or not he was Jewish but soon enough (of course!) I would know the whole life story…which begins with him complaining about Uber and how his income has been minimized by the “capitalist bastards” who have no right from the government to drive people around.  No permits, no license.  I suppose he has a point but well, this is America after all and we love our new “sharing economy” which I thought should appeal to him but I knew, when I asked him where he was from and he replied “the Soviet Union” I knew a whole lot about what was prompting his rant.  I also knew that he wouldn’t say that if he wasn’t Jewish.

So I asked him when he came to this country and he knew, in that moment, that I must be a landsman as this is the question that Jews ask of emigres, usually when they first meet.  He turned his head around for a moment to check me out and to make the kind of contact that Jews have when they meet each other, that knowing look that gives permission for a change in tone and direction in the conversation – to speak of the things that we intimately understand, whether it be geography or experience.  It was also his choice at that moment to make a turn that was a detour to our destination.  But I knew…he wanted to talk.

And talk he did.  He lived in Netanya (Israel) for many years after he emigrated from the Soviet Union.  But his children lived in America and his wife missed them so they moved to the U.S.  I told him how I loved Netanya and particularly the sunset on Shabbat from high above the sea.  He turned around to smile and then made another left turn that was taking us farther away from where I was going.  And yet still I did not protest.  This was not the usual conversation struck up by strangers – this man of many years and many countries needed to talk to another Jew today as he scoured the streets of Boston looking for fares, and I guess some friendship.

We talked of the recent Supreme Court decision on the status of citizenship and Jerusalem (he was furious, I was not surprised).  We talked about Boston’s miserable winter (that was worse than Soviet Union!) and how much we both miss the aroma of the streets of Tel Aviv and the Mediterranean.

My taxi fare was double, maybe triple what it should have been and I was late getting to my car and even later getting home that night.  But there was something deeply satisfying about finding that time with a stranger who happened to be a Russian-Jewish emigre and an Israeli and a Bostonian (and did I say, also Red Sox fan?! – yes, that’s a good thing!) that created a connection for me that day that was more resonant than the work I did all day on behalf of the Jewish community in my consulting practice.

Sometimes it’s good to be destined to have the company and conversation of strangers.  When I am approached the next time by someone who feels like striking up a conversation, I will knowingly smile and reciprocate.  And remember Boris of Boston.

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