Six Degrees of Connection

Oasis Songs: Musings from Rav D
Friday, October 30, 2017 / 30 Tishrei 5778

This Sunday, please come to our Israel360 screening of the award-winning film, The Settlers. 

This provocative documentary places us face to face with leaders and Israeli Jews who have chosen to live across the Green Line. It is a compelling look at their humanity and the ideology that fuels many of these settlers. 

Are they pioneers like those who settled the American West or a dangerous obstacle to peace and a two-state solution? Come watch and decide for yourself.

The event is co-sponsored by Jewish groups from around the city. The film starts at 2 pm in Stampfer Chapel. There will be a discussion afterwards for those who wish to participate.

It is wonderful to return to this space and to share with you ideas I’ve been thinking about, happenings in our community and people I have met. 

We live in an era where communication often occurs in “short forms,” on platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. At the same time when it might seem that our attention span is shrinking, “long form” journalism–articles that range from 1000 words up to 20,000 words, is increasing. So there is a hunger for both sustained and lightning fast communication.

While my musings here normally fall under a thousand words, I am grateful to those of you who read this column faithfully. It allows us a chance to mull things over together.

Six Degrees of Connection

Most of us are familiar with the concept that there are at most six degrees of separation between ourselves and any other person on the planet. In other words, through “a friend of a friend of a friend,” only five relationships are needed to make a bridge between any two people. This theory was originally put forth in 1929. In the intervening years, and although there are now 5 billion more people alive, many experiments have been done to support the initial hypothesis. This field of endeavor actually has a name– “network theory.”

Long before the birth of network theory, Judaism and Buddhism as well as numerous mystical traditions have understood that we are all connected. Just last week in Bereishit, the Torah teaches us this lesson by arguing that we are all descended from a single set of parents–Adam and Eve. That message is repeated in this week’s Torah reading which recounts the flood story. This time, all human life is understood to find common heritage through the lineage of Noah and his family.

We don’t need to take the Torah as a literal account of creation for this teaching to maintain its force. After all, no less a commentator than Rashi tells us that we should not imagine that the story of creation is a historical, chronological document. Rather, these early sections of the Bible express the moral mandate that we recognize how we really are all networked together.

Most of us have moments where we realize how inextricably we are bound to one another. Since Monday, I have been in contact with a Ugandan Jew living in Israel, the mayor of Portland, a Chabad rabbi and a Turkish couple. Here are their stories that connect us all:


This past summer, Shadrach Mugoya helped lead a Friday night service outside on the upper plaza. He is a Ugandan studying to be a rabbi for his village of Abuyada Jews. The Abuyada are a loose confederation of villages who practice Judaism, and who underwent conversion under the auspices of the Conservative movement. Shadrach’s village doesn’t yet have electricity or running water, and his people live at the subsistence level. Since this summer, he and I have remained in contact.

Now that he is studying at the Conservative Yeshiva in Judaism, he is forced to deal with the cost of living in an advanced economy. While he has sufficient means to cover his food and studies, he is struggling with housing. He wrote me asking if I knew someone who could host him. Now I am asking you. If you have an empty apartment in Jerusalem or have friends with a spare bedroom they would be willing to offer to Shadrach, you will be doing a real mitzvah. You will also be strengthening our pluralistic Jewish traditions in Uganda. Please let me know.

Ted Wheeler

On Wednesday morning, the Interfaith Coalition for Dignity of which I am part met with Portland Mayor, Ted Wheeler. This group consists of Jewish leaders from Federation, multiple rabbis and representatives from numerous other faith groups including the Black Churches, our friends at Bilal Mosque and the Mormon community.

We came together as a response to the increasing incidents of hate crime in Portland. Our initial imperative was to quickly share information between our communities in the aftermath of hate crimes and to stand together for a civics of compassion. Some other groups have been formed to address similar challenges. Unfortunately, the largest of these has a contingent that condones or uses violence to meet their ends. Our group’s reading of history and our religious convictions teaches us that hate can’t be met with hate. While the mayor understands the impatience and frustration of protesters who turn to violence, he was grateful to know that by and large the religious communities of Portland do not and offered to help us build our network–and thus reduce the degrees of separation between good-hearted people.

Motti Wilhelm

Rabbis need to keep learning, and most of us seek out a chevruta or two. For those who don’t know, a chevruta is a two person study group that meets regularly. Rabbi Motti Wilhelm is one of my local study partners. He and I get together once a month to study chasidic texts. We looked at a very novel understanding of the flood story in which the flood was reconfigured as a spiritual event in each of our lives. What I most value in these sessions is developing a friendship with someone from a very different part of the Jewish world. We share much in common, and have very real differences as well. It is, after all, the novelty of difference that allows for real learning to occur.

Bahadyr and an Invitation to Turkish Food

Last May, we hosted a “We Refuse to Be Enemies” event at the synagogue. Despite some of the first gorgeous weather of the year, nearly two hundred people joined for a panel discussion, musical performances and a shared meal in Birnbach. Out of that event, some friendships were developed. George and Laurie Fendl met a lovely young Turkish couple who had recently arrived and they have practically become each other’s adopted family.

The gentleman, Bahadyr Ysmail Aydyn, reached out to me to return the hospitality. He has invited our synagogue to break bread at the small Turkish community center. Because of the space limitations, they can host up to 30 individuals from our congregation for a wonderful vegetarian Turkish meal (I am working with their cooks to ensure that the food will all be kosher). There is no cost to attend.

The gathering will be on Sunday, November 5th at 6 pm. 

Please RSVP with our new front office staffperson, Marina Vidrio at She will then share with you the address.


STANDWITHUS will field a couple of former Israeli soldiers who will meet with a select group of our Aliyah high school students. Interested congregants are also invited to attend. While this is not an Israel360 event, we will use the same respectful dialogue tools developed there. It is always fascinating to listen to young people reflect on their military experience.

Wednesday, November 1st

7:15 pm Stampfer Chapel

Here’s wishing you your own week of fascinating connections!


Rav D

Shabbat Table Talk

What are some of your own interesting degree of separation stories?

If you’d like to continue this discussion, follow this link to CNS’s Facebook page to share your own perspectives on the topics raised in this week’s Oasis Songs. Comments will be moderated as necessary.