I was in Israel recently when I ran into an old friend – acquaintance, student, not sure of the exact moniker. She saw me across the crowded dining room and made a special effort to come over and say hello. We gave each other a big hug, spoke for a bit and moved on. It’s always nice to see a familiar face when you’re far from home (or have come home!) and it was heart-warming.

Then it occurred to me. She lives in Los Angeles! Not only could we see each other more frequently if we wanted to but when we actually do see each other there, it lacks the excitement, the warmth, the sense of connection we experience here in Israel. In LA, we nod a curt hello and move on. We’re not unfriendly but we’re certainly not chatty.

What’s different? I don’t think it’s just the out-of-our-environment factor. I don’t think it’s just that we’re far from our homes, our routines, our daily demands. I don’t think it can be solely attributed to vacation mode.

I think it’s something else. The Jewish people is one family, with all the dysfunction inherent in that term perhaps, but one family nonetheless.

Living in the Diaspora, we tend to lose sight of that fact. In the land of Israel, it’s front and center. It’s up close and personal. However fractured and challenged, the sense of peoplehood remains.

In fact, perhaps one of the reasons there is so much strife and divisiveness is because we are one family. Because what you do affects me. Because what you do matters to me.

When we see other Jews in our hometowns, we recognize a familiar presence and, depending on the nature of our relationship, a connection.

But here in the holy land, we recognize family. We see past the layers to the sister across the room, to the souls connected across the centuries. We want to hug because we want, no need, to acknowledge that tie, to express it in concrete terms, to place ourselves solidly in the middle of that messy, noisy, boisterous, warm, loving, contrary entity that is the Jewish people.

That connection is so real, so much more powerful when we’re in Israel.

I think I will feel different when I see this woman back in LA. Because we shared a moment, however brief. Because we recognize our mutual interest in the country and its people. Because we felt bound as sisters.

But what about all my other friends, acquaintances, students outside Israel? I have to recognize them in the United States as well and treat them all like family. Because that is what they really are.