As a day-school student in Canada, my teacher referred to the Jewish people as a pile of apples. "If you take one apple from the middle of the pile," she taught, "they will all tumble down." So too are the Jewish people - if one community faces tragedy or has cause for celebration, the rest of the Jewish world mourns or rejoices together.
This concept of connectedness has often been reinforced during my travels throughout the world. While meeting different Jewish communities and learning about each community's unique attributes and practices, their similarities and shared heritage with one another also became apparent.
MY DISCOVERY of Jewish communities around the globe began during a United Synagogue Youth summer program to Eastern Europe and Israel. Upon arriving at a synagogue in Prague we quickly realized that very few members of the congregation spoke English. Capitalizing on my Jewish education, I effortlessly switched to Hebrew to communicate with members of the congregation. When I opened the Siddur to pray, I noticed that while the vernacular was in Czech, the Hebrew was the same text used in many other places, allowing me to follow the services easily and comfortably. This experience demonstrated the linguistic connectedness of the Jewish people and the power of a shared language.
Later on this journey, we met a remarkable rabbi who highlighted another aspect of Jewish connectedness - our joint history - and the importance of maintaining this history as part of our collective memory. He also stressed the importance of learning from the past to ensure that future generations of Jews maintain a bright and vibrant Jewish community worldwide.
This rabbi moved from the US to Prague to help revitalize the Jewish community there. My friends had trouble comprehending why someone with a comfortable life in America wanted to move to Prague. The rabbi responded: When rabbis and community leaders first came to North America to establish the Jewish community, they were faced with many challenges. There were few Jews who wanted to join their communities and discouragement from those who were living in the established Jewish communities in Europe. But if these "pioneers" had not taken risks, the vibrant and diverse Jewish community in North America would not exist today. I see my job in reviving the European Jewish community in the same fashion - someone must enable Jews still living in Europe to rediscover their Jewish identity and to create a new Jewish community that will attract people to move here and make it flourish.
SEVERAL YEARS ago, I traveled to Uganda on a mission organized through Hillel of Greater Toronto and American Jewish World Service. Although the trip's main focus was not the interaction with the Jewish community, we were able to spend time with the Abayudaya, the Ugandan Jews. It is remarkable to discover that in a village in the middle of Uganda lives a small but vibrant Jewish community. Its leaders took us on a tour, showing us houses, the community center and the Jewish day schools (which Christian and Muslim children attend because of its standard of education). As we entered the synagogue I immediately noticed a bookshelf with a humash with Rashi's commentary for teaching Torah. This was the same book that I used throughout my Jewish elementary school education in Toronto. And I realized how similar their Jewish education must be to my own.
Our "tour guide" opened the aron hakodesh, situated toward the back of the room, to reveal a Torah scroll written on klaf - parchment - that was rolled in a similar fashion to Torahs in other places. This exposed me to yet another aspect of Jewish connectedness - our religious unity, as we are united by the centrality of the Torah. This document has not only survived for hundreds of years in the same form, but plays a large role in religious services in all Jewish communities, even those that are remote and isolated.
During the upcoming holiday of Succot we traditionally hold the Arba Minim (the four species) together. A famous midrash teaches that the palm branch, myrtle, willow and citrus fruit represent Jews who study Torah and keep mitzvot to varying degrees. This year, as Succot approaches, I hope that we can think about Jewish peoplehood in a different way - that every Jew, whether he is an elementary school pupil in Uganda, a rabbi living in Prague or a friend living in North America or in Israel - is part of a strong and unified worldwide Jewish community.
The writer is a graduate student at York University in Toronto, Canada.