My hands, accustomed by years of training, wound the smooth black leather straps of my tefillin as I removed them after completing the morning prayers. My mind, however, was drawn not to the ancient hide that bound my soul to its Creator, but to the swarming crowd around me.

I was nineteen years old and on my first trip abroad, and what better a place to spend a summer than Venice, Italy?

My flight had left New York the previous evening and, save for the boisterous singing of a few French students sporting “I love NYC” t‑shirts in the row behind me, had made for a peaceful trip to Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport, where I was now spending a one-hour stopover.

A voice from behind us chimed in: “To think people don’t understand that you’re laying tefillin.”“This is the last boarding call for flight 832 to Bangladesh,” came a crackling voice over the loudspeaker . . . People milled about . . . A family of five laden with bags and a screaming baby ran to make their flight . . . A businessman dressed in an expensive suit leisurely perused a paper . . . Such a vibrant and varied display of humanity could be found here.

Avi, my friend and traveling partner, laughed.

“It’s funny how people react when you pray in the airport. Some don’t seem to notice, others don’t get it. But then sometimes a person looks, walks a little bit, and then turns back for a second glance—that’s certainly a Jew. Seeing us has somehow touched that person.”

A voice from behind us chimed in:

“Yeah, to think how many people don’t understand that you're laying tefillin.”

Avi and I simultaneously turned around. In the row of chairs behind us sat the source of the voice—a middle-aged man sporting a blue Hawaiian shirt, shorts, and dark shades perched above his forehead, and now pleasantly smiling at us. A moment of silence passed between us as we took each other in.

Three Jews bumping into each other in an international European airport: there had to be some inner meaning behind it all.

“Do you want to put on tefillin yourself?” I finally asked, my voice cracking slightly.

He looked into my eyes for a moment, and then shook his head.

“No . . .”

He had a story, though.

“I live on a small island off of Florida. Very few people live there, and even fewer Jews. But then there’s the rabbi across the street. He’s the best neighbor one could ask for. His kids have tzitzit; they’re so well behaved . . . I watch them with pride. But where I’m at in life, I’m not up to putting on tefillin. When I grew up, my grandfather was orthodox; he laid tefillin everyday and then went to his kosher deli. But where I am at now . . .”

Again he shook his head, and then with a deep sigh he stood up, pulling his travel-bag over his shoulder and stretching slightly. Looking at Avi and me, he reached out and placed his large hands on our shoulders.

In a perfect world, I told myself, none of this would have happened“Look, we’re connected together, no matter what. It may not be how you guys want—but when I got off the plane from Miami, my wife asked me where I wanted to sit. I saw you two and said, ‘I’m sitting with my boys.’”

He removed his hands and walked towards a lady standing off in the distance. The two of them turned to us, smiled, and then merged into the swarming crowd, seemingly forever lost in the sands of time.

Things felt odd, as if they ought not to have ended this way. After all, I had so many questions that had been left unanswered: Who was he? What he did for a living? Had his grandfather worked in the deli, or only eaten there . . . I hadn“t even asked for his name!

In a perfect world, I told myself, we would have put on tefillin, cried a little, laughed a little, then stayed in touch. Reality had seemed to leave me alone, my tefillin still in my hands, in the center of a swirling mass of travelers.

His last words ran through my mind. “Look, we’re connected together, no matter what.”

True, doing a mitzvah together would have bound us as one, but perhaps he was right, we were connected no matter what. There was the bond of one Jew to his fellow, and what was more, there was the effect that our very presence in the airport seemed to have on him—hadn’t he walked over and initiated a conversation with us? If the tzitzit of his neighbor’s children had swayed him to speak to us, then perhaps our conversation with him would bring him to do even more next time!

True, I hadn’t even asked for his name. Yet somehow, even without names, I know him. He was right, we are connected.