People who know me, know how I have a tendency to run into people whom I haven’t seen in decades. I could be anywhere on the globe, and given my luck, I will randomly run into somebody or somebodies who were a part of my life growing up.
To quote a pop icon, “Oops! I did it again”.
Picture this: Summer 1983. I was just under 16 years old. My brother and I travelled to Britain to visit family. For nearly 4 weeks of this summer we were in France. My cousins were driving seperately as we took the ferry from Southhampton to Dieppe and then rail to Paris. After a week in Paris, we travelled to Beziers to meet up with our relatives.Being teens, we found a hostel on the outskirts of Paris. We found information about this hostel when we arrived at Gar du Austerlitz. It was highly recommended so we gave it a go. I remember it being on Rue De Kaufmann. As a Jewish boy from Queens, NY, I thought it was kind of neat for Paris to have a name like Kaufmann on it’s map. I know. That has absolutely zero to do with this story. I just remember being very impressed by it. Sigh..me and my twisted memory.
The hostel was nice. Very modern, clean and decently priced with youth and young adults from all over Europe. My brother and I were the only Americans, which I liked actually as I wanted to really experience Europe and Europeans and I thought it would be a great oppoturnity to meet different people for a change. While at the hostel we met two other Jewish boys who were from Manchester, UK. They were around our age and we got along, so we hung out a bit, touring the city together, etc. They were fun. One was taller, brown haired guy named Richard (back then, I was Richard too) and the other guy, more my height, was a fair skinned, blazing red head named John. I remember John being a warm kid with an easy smile with big teeth and goofy way about him sporting gold coloured metal framed glasses. Richard was a bit more reserved, yet just as warm. One thing for me that stuck out about John was how he said his name. I could’ve sworn he said his name was “Johm” and not John. It was as if the “n” was replaced by a soft “m”. Didn’t think much of it at the time, so I just chalked it up to the accent.
At the end of our stay there, we exchanged addresses, stating that we’d keep in touch. We parted ways. Joe and I headed to Gar du Nord for our journey to Beziers to join up with our family in the south east of France. About a month after I returned home to New York, I received a letter from John. I remember him stating that after he finished his exams he wanted to pursue a job in photography. I remember writing back and I just never heard from him again. It was the era before the computer and before the internet when one had to be very dedicated to keep up a friendship that spanned two continents.
Fast forward 33 years later.
2016. My family and I are living in Ra’anana, Israel for 18 years. Nestled in the Sharon valley, Ra’anana is home to many immigrants, mostly from Great Britain, South Africa, the USA, France and Latin America. It so happens that we live on what I call the South African and British side and we belong to a synagogue with a British and South African majority. Yes, my family and I are some of the few and the proud. One Friday night after Shabbat Evening prayers, I’m walking home with some of the Jeffay family. John and Dianne Jeffay moved here from the UK about two years ago. We became friendly with them via my son Daniel. Lovely couple with two lovely daughters, Elisheva and Avital. He’s a journalist and she’s a teacher who specialized with autistic children. Being that my oldest son is on the autsim spectrum, Dianne became friendly with Daniel as they had that in common. While walking back from synagogue and chatting, I couldn’t help but take notice that Elisheva’s hair was so blazing red. Not just red, but the red you would see in Ireland or Scotland type of red. I smiled to myself and kept chatting small talk with them. When we approached my home, we all bid each other a “Shabbat Shalom” and see you tomorrow. After dinner that Friday night, as usual, my kids either go out with friends or like my wife, mangage to crawl into bed early. I like staying up enjoying an icy cold rose or a good dry red with a novel I’m obsessed with or that weekend’s Jerusalem Post.
In the midst of reading, my imagination wandered a bit and I heard John’s voice in my head and he said his name “Johm”. “Johm” I thought. What on Earth is this? Then I saw John’s face and I imagined his daughter Elisheva’s hair on his head and again I heard him say “Johm”. I sat there staring and blurtted out, “WHAT THE ACTUAL $#@&”! Then, everything started to make some sense. John Jeffay sports Harry Potter style glasses and is now about 95% grey. There is nothing about him specifically today that would remind me about that summer back in 1983. We have already been friendly for close to two years and it just never even dawned upon me, not even the thought, “gosh you look familiar, have we met before”?
He just turned 50 this year as he and his wife graciously invited us to a garden party in his honour. They have a lovely home in Ra’anana and I couldn’t help but notice the great photography they boast on their walls. Lovely pictures of the girls growing up as well as pictures of John, Diane and other family members. I even complimented them and Diane said that he was always a great photographer and would even go professional.
Then, I realised. That smile. The easy, goofy smile with the big teeth. I just started laughing, thinking that this just couldn’t be. At the same time, it all started to make sense – the hair, the smile, the glasses, how he says his name and the photography. It was about 1:15 AM and I actually woke my wife and oldest son to tell them as I was bursting with energy about this and luckily I lived to tell the tale. I couldn’t wait to see John.On Shabbat morning the very next day, I was walking to synagogue hoping to bump into him. No dice. I arrived early and soon he came in. Walking straight up to him as he found his prayer book, I said, “I need to have a word with you”. “Sure”, he responded. “I need to verify something with you. I know that this may sound a bit weird, but think back to your teenage years to when you were about, say 16 years old or so”. “OK”, he said. “It was summertime. Were you in Europe”? Thinks for about ten seconds and then said,”Yes”.
“You were there with a friend”? “Yes”, he said again. “In France? You were in France? In Paris”? “Yes” he said, looking somewhat intrigued. “Did you meet up with two American boys who were about your age”? Thinks again for about 10 seconds and said, “Yes”. I interject, “Hi. I’m the younger one, but you didn’t know me as ‘Rashi’. You knew me as ‘Richie”! We were both cracking up at this point. I then said, “the name of your friend, I remember it begining with an ‘R’”? “Richard”, he said, “he is still single and lives in Manchester”. They’re still friends. After prayers we told his wife and daughters who were equally as surprised as we were. 33 years, meeting in Europe and living our lives an ocean apart, and unbeknownced to us, we ended up as neighbours and friends again in Israel.
Life is entertaining sometimes.