2017 a year for Jewish mysteries, rumination

(c) Oliver B. Pollak 

Oliver Pollak

RICHMOND, California — 2017 was an amazing year for five almost supernatural personal interactions. The story satisfies a long pent up interest in simultaneity. It certainly is better than 100 years ago, 1917, when America pitched into Europe’s war

At Passover in Jackson, Wyoming I gave a drash at the Second Seder about Mark Twain, who had visited Wyoming and wrote about anti-Semitism in Austria in 1899. At my table of ten were three people with Austrian roots, one of whom, with the last name of Clemens, was the great great niece of Mark Twain.

Next is the case of our October cruise from Vietnam to Burma. We palled with Lucky from Houston, she was the step aunt of Allison our Omaha synagogue director.

The holiday season brought three further alignments. Our Omaha university friend Joanie visited us. We met in 1997 and I invited her to sushi in a converted IHOP. She remembered me excitedly waiving a letter about a publication which I did not recall. My resume revealed it was the acceptance of research demonstrating that beginning in the early 1990s more women were filing bankruptcy than men. It made the front page of USA Today and was cited by Elizabeth Warren.

On Xmas Eve we went to the 25th annual Kung Pao Kosher Comedy in Chinatown. Would you believe that at our table for ten were two sisters, Lori and Jodi, born in Omaha who had moved to California, and we knew several people in common.

One final half Jewish frisson. Joanie tried unsuccessfully to get in touch with an English professor colleague who had retired to the Bay Area two months earlier. On December 29 we went to ‘Eat Saigon,’ a Pop up meal at Rick & Ann’s in Berkeley’s Claremont neighborhood. There were two seatings, 5:30 and 7:30. Traffic was easy, parking a snap, both rather unusual. We walk in and within 30 seconds Karen hears Nora and Dan, the people Joanie tried to reach. Nora in the disruption of the move did not open her university email. Their daughter had gifted them the pop up for their 42nd anniversary. We sat together, had a nice cava, an exquisite four course meal, and spirited conversation.

This raises the issue of people being in exactly the same place at the same time, the timing of improbabilities, the three-minute window, the coterminous, and network theory associated with six degrees of separation in community, faith, and the academic world.

We certainly are not alone in experiencing this phenomenon expressed as cosmic alignment, serendipity, plan, design, psychic, bashert, concatenation, juxtaposition, paranormal, inexplicable, coincidence, horoscope, kismet, fate, chance, luck, time warp and wrinkles in time.

Everyone has to be somewhere. If you keep moving, go out in public, are exposed in public spaces, you increase the potential for unique interactions. It happens with different degrees of affinity and complexity. Is there some larger force, something to be taken advantage of or manipulated? The Ven diagram, on gimbals. You can’t make it happen or encourage it. It’s a special spatial geography where time and space align, and the macrocosm and microcosm intersect.

It’s not stalking, self-positioning, hair curling extra-terrestrial X files, or Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone. There are many opportunities to meet people, we have just been fortunate to meet people with whom we were simpatico, friends.

Pollak, a professor emeritus of history at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, is a freelance writer now based in Richmond, California.





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