For a couple years, in what seems like a lifetime ago, I taught university in Australia. The campus was very international, both in student body and staff, and I once had a colleague ask me if I identified with all other Americans. I said “no” and tried to explain how American culture is very regional, that it’s such a large country, but in the end I told her that being Jewish plays a much larger role in my identity. I don’t feel a connection with just any American I meet, but I do feel one with another Jew, regardless of where they come from. Despite the fact that it was a brief and seemingly inconsequential conversation, I never forgot the question nor stopped pondering the answer.

A few years later, I had the opportunity toYour souls are old friends from Sinai travel to Argentina and Uruguay with a dear friend of mine. She was heading there for a graduate school project but wanted a travel companion to do some exploring. I absolutely love experiencing new places; plus, I had heard that Buenos Aires has some of the most amazing kosher food you can find, so I was in.

We rented a private room in a hostel and had a blast walking around the beautiful city for nearly a week. I happen to have a friend who is from Buenos Aires, and she and her family were able to set us up with hosts for Shabbat dinner.

We sat around the table with many other people from different countries and walks of life—travelers and friends of friends. None of us knew each other, and we all spoke different languages. Through an elegant dance of Spanish, English, Hebrew and French, we shared perhaps the most memorable Shabbat dinner of my life. Even when we couldn’t understand what the others were saying, the familiar rituals led us through the evening; our shared tradition bound us. Truthfully, I don’t normally enjoy spending time with strangers, but I left that night feeling invigorated and infused with hope. Our connection was palpable, and I carry a piece of it with me to this day. Being Jewish always felt more important to my identity than where I am from, but I couldn’t put my finger on why. That night in a warm home in Buenos Aires, it all made sense. Every Jew is fluent in Judaism.

Another trip with friends once brought me to Thailand. We were having a beer in a tiny little bar on the always crowded and loud Bangla Road in Phuket, and we joined an older couple from England who graciously agreed to share their table. I was wearing a necklace with a Star of David pendant, and the husband asked me if I was Jewish. When I replied in the affirmative, his wife responded, “Oh, so is he.” Nothing more was said until we were ready to retire for the night and bade them farewell. The gentleman looked at me with tears in his eyes and triumphantly declared, “We’re Jewish!” And I knew exactly what he meant. We are touched by our encounters with other members of the Jewish nation, cut from the same cloth.

My most recent experience with this phenomenon was on a bridge in Chicago. My family and I walked there from our home in order to perform the ritual of tashlich, where we symbolically cast our sins into water before Yom Kippur. A man whose car was stopped on the bridge waiting for the light to change got out of his vehicle in order to shout, Shanah Tovah! (“Happy New Year!”) We didn’t know him, he didn’t know us, but seeing a fellow Jew lit a fire inside, and he was compelled to literally stand up and say, “I’m Jewish, too!”

The Lubavitcher Rebbe said that all Jews share “a ba­sic commonality that joins us into a single collective entity ... this unity has sustained our nation.”1The world seems very divided right now So what is this invisible fabric with which G‑d wove us together? The ultimate shared experience—receiving the Torah together at Mount Sinai. This historic event eternally bound us to G‑d and each other. It’s what made us a people, and it’s where our tradition as we know it began.

The world may seem very divided right now. Distance keeps us physically apart, and ideas threaten to drive us emotionally apart. But Judaism has been around a lot longer than 2020. It has seen its fair share of disagreement and fighting; in fact, anyone familiar with the phrase “two Jews, three opinions” knows that Judaism encourages rigorous debate, for constructive purposes. And regardless of country of origin, mother tongue, age or stage, Jews feel a special kinship because we are all one.

Jobs may come and go, relationships fade, and in a time of crisis, all the tiny parts of our lives that we associate with ourselves may fall by the wayside. But being Jewish is not temporary. After thousands of years of ups and downs, we are still here trying to connect to G‑d and to one another. Whether miles from home or on your fourth Zoom meeting of the day, you may feel a spark when you come across another Jew. And you’ll think, “Don’t I know you ... ?” And the answer is “yes.” Because your souls are old friends from Sinai.