My family has lived in our current Chestnut Hill home for 16 years. The neighborhood is quite pleasant and our relations with our neighbors cordial. Very few of these folks, however, have become our friends over the years. And there are only a smattering of Jewish people in the vicinity. Or so we thought.
Because of COVID-19, our young adult daughters, their partners and my husband arranged for our annual break-fast meal outdoors on the deck, despite the chill in the air, in order to maximize health and safety. In the midst of our preparations, we suddenly heard a familiar though unexpected sound coming from the adjacent yard: Could it really be the blast of a shofar? Or, for that matter, several blasts?
We had no idea who these neighbors were in the adjacent yard, but as I strained to peek over our shared fence, I could see a family arranging an outdoor meal on a deck that, of course, could only have been a break-fast. Ever read “Through the Looking Glass”? There, in a parallel universe in my distinctively non-Jewish neighborhood, an identical end-of-fast meal ritual was taking place.
At this point, my Jewish tribal instincts were in full gear, but because of the height of the fence and the depth of their yard, there was simply no gracious way to shout “Shana tova!” without appearing fanatical.
So we bided our time and I remarked to my husband it was a near certainty that a sukkah was going to appear in that yard very soon. Sure enough, within a day or two, through the thick vegetation, I spied a really classy sukkah. At this point, I was, of course, determined to meet these folks, and even wrangle an invitation to sit in their beautiful sukkah.
First, we needed to figure out which house on the parallel street backed up to our yard, as we had no idea. Setting out on an evening walk, we determined the location by means of GPS, as it was not at all obvious. A check for a mezuzah on the doorpost clinched our discovery.
A day later, we walked by the house in the late afternoon, rang the bell and the rest is history! We were graciously welcomed, an initial acquaintance made and I finally got to examine the sukkah up close and personal.
But there’s more: two remarkable coincidences emanated from our connection to our newly discovered Jewish neighbors. First, we actually belong to the very same synagogue, Congregation Kehillath Israel in Brookline, and second, the condominium unit they used to live in near Coolidge Corner is the very apartment occupied by my aunt, uncle, cousins and my grandmother throughout my childhood. I knew that space, as well as my own childhood home, having spent countless hours there for all holiday celebrations and more.
Our new friends came by a few nights ago for a chilly socially-distanced wine and cheese encounter on our porch, and we schmoozed for hours. Though younger than us with school-age children who attend the same public schools as our grown daughters, we had no trouble finding endless topics to explore.
Our new friends have lived in their home for eight years and even had a sukkah for most of that period. However, it was hard to see if you weren’t looking that closely. But for that shofar blast, our paths may never have crossed.
COVID-19 brought both of our families outside for break-fast, and the clarion call of the shofar drew our attention. Here was a silver lining in the midst of a deadly pandemic creating new friendships based on our shared Jewish heritage. Now that’s a tale worth celebrating in our autumnal season of joy.
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