Fate or Meeting a Long-Lost Friend in the Holocaust Museum
November 11, 2022
I met my ex-husband waiting for a bus at Haifa’s central station. I was by myself because the person I went into Haifa with wanted to stay and shop, while I wanted to get back to the kibbutz where I was living to start getting ready to fly to England in two days. We briefly chatted while waiting for the bus to Tiberias, then, once the bus came and I sat down, he slowly walked down the aisle and sat next to me. We talked, somehow; I had enough Hebrew and he had enough English to hold a conversation. He visited me the next day and we exchanged addresses. Over the next six months we corresponded and when I made aliya (moved to Israel), we met again, beginning our very romantic romance that didn’t end romantically.
Shortly after my family and I moved to Virginia, knowing no one, I took my daughters to a children’s festival. I was alone with them since my husband, who wouldn’t have wanted to go there and would have suggested something else, had briefly returned to Israel to deal with his green card. After sitting down, I looked behind me to see how full the auditorium was, and, there, a few rows behind us was a friend who I had lost touch with when I went away to college. Our friendship was a foundation upon which my life in Virginia depended.
The latest fateful encounter was a few days ago in Jerusalem. Some people have religious revelations there; I had a supremely human one.
In the midst of the emotional experience that is Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Museum, I saw a friend from New York who I hadn’t seen in over 10 years. I was watching a short video on the experiences of Bulgarian Jews during the Holocaust, a special interest since I’m translating and condensing survivors’ stories from there for the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. As I watched, I noticed a woman to my left who was also watching the movie. She seemed familiar, but I couldn’t place her. I stepped back as if to turn away. Then I thought that I can’t walk away just because I couldn’t remember her name.
I turned to her and said, “I know you. I’m Laura.” She looked at me with eyes full of the sadness that weighs on you in that museum. Then they widened into excitement, and said, “I’m G.” And in that moment, we remembered each other. We hugged with all the emotion that bears down on you there, but also from the deep well of disappointment that had been our lives when we had last been in touch, each dealing with our turbulent divorces from our husbands.
How to explain how unexpected this encounter was? Neither of us lives in Jerusalem, or even Israel for that matter. Both of us on vacation, in a large, busy museum with our minds engrossed. It is not a people-watching place. An unexplainable meeting. Fate.
It turns out that she was showing Israel to her second husband and the next week they would visit her daughter (who had been a childhood friend of older daughter’s) who now lives in Tel Aviv. They visited the museum the previous day, but hadn’t finished, so they came back and started where they had gotten up to when the museum closed. I thought that I wouldn’t get in since they said that there were no entry tickets.
Once in, though, if either of us had gone at a different pace or turned to look at something else, there would not have been that moment of recognition.
We hugged and cried, loudly. (I wonder what the people who saw us thought had brought us to that emotional state at that spot.)
We talked for a few minutes, it was hard to stop, but there was still so much more of the museum to experience. We arranged to meet later that day at her hotel, which was a few minutes from mine. As I continued, my thoughts were full of excitement and surprise at our meeting, reconnecting.
Fate? Something brought us together. Made those other chance encounters happen too. Not many over a lifetime, but they had been significant, had brought so much to my life. Those people at those moments. Me at those moments.
What is it that we want from friendships, relationships? To feel heard and be asked to listen. To be encouraged and give support.
I was in Jerusalem for three days and it was fascinating. But I was not moved. I did not experience a connection to God, or the force that is.
I reconnected with a friend.
It makes me wonder if friendships are part of the essence that is. Part of the fiber that connects all living things. The people, who may be briefly in our lives or present for much of it, bring us deeper into ourselves. They accompany us as we—timidly, irreverently, thoughtfully, naively, trustingly—trod our path. Perhaps what connects us—that otherworldly thread—is that we each need something outside of the self to help us fully become ourselves, to experience and appreciate our lives and who we are, in all that is.
That is an incredible confluence of events put in motion to bring you to the precise spot as your old friend. I think it's so interesting to hear these stories about connections, people bumping into each other, thousands of miles from home. I think, if one of them had slept in that day or missed their bus, etc., they wouldn't have made the connection. What are the odds of something like that? It's mind-boggling. Serendipitous? And to meet in such a moving, meaningful place as the Holocaust museum. That is so powerful. It must have added to the emotional connection of the moment.
Your thoughts on friendship are so thought-provoking, and something I've been struggling with myself as I've largely backed away from social media these days, and in so doing, I leave behind so many different connections. I must figure out how to keep in touch with those people that give my life meaning and leave behind the stress of social media. A conundrum.
On an unrelated note: celebrations in Ukraine today as they retake Kherson. There has been much to feel optimistic about this week!
Posted by: Margaret | November 11, 2022 at 09:27 PM
Margaret, as a friend who I met in an unusual, modern way, I see that sometimes we can say "thank you" to those algorithms and social media. Can you imagine, not too long ago people lived most of their lives in one village, with the same people? I imagine that you will find the balance (and continue reconfiguring it) that works for you: keeping you balanced, engaged, and energized.
Posted by: Laura of RToaW | November 12, 2022 at 01:44 AM
Yes, I am thankful for the disparate connections and algorithms that sometimes manage to work out for the good. To think, we met blogging about politics. :)
Posted by: Margaret | November 12, 2022 at 11:02 PM
And we're still taking a pause from our measured writing to do some serious ranting! May the arc of justice rise!
Posted by: Laura of RToaW | November 13, 2022 at 01:37 AM