Francine Farber: Be nice to everyone, you just never know

July 4, 2014 

Our recent trip to Charleston, S.C., to the Spoleto Festival was all about six degrees (or less) of separation.

At our first stop in Denver, the man pushing my wheelchair (a concession to the indecent distance we had to cover to get to our next flight) was very tall, very thin and very dark, with both protruding and missing teeth. He had an unusual accent so I asked where he was from.

"Ethiopia," he said. I took a chance. "By any chance are you Jewish from Ethiopia?" I thought he might not understand my meaning but quickly responded, "I am not a Falasha (black Jew) but my family has intermarried with Falashas so I have many Jewish relatives in Beersheba and Jaffa in Israel." Now what was the chance of that?

Thousands of Ethiopian Jews were airlifted to Israel beginning in the 1970s. They had suffered intense persecution and confiscation of their lands over the centuries. They claim to be descended from the son of the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon. When they arrived in Israel, they received instruction on how to use flush toilets, electricity, stoves and other marvels of the modern world.

Seeing our interest, our new friend gave us a recounting of the story of the Falashas. He was so articulate that I asked what profession he had in Ethiopia before immigrating to Denver three years ago to join his daughter. He said he had been a history teacher. He bid us "shalom" as we boarded our flight to Houston.

My husband and I were supposed to be seated in middle seats a couple of rows apart on that flight. At the airport, they said nothing could be done, but he approached Elaine Villareal, a flight attendant on board, and asked for her help.

"Don't worry, I'll take care of it," she smiled. She walked up and down the aisle eyeing each passenger carefully. Then she approached two young men, leaned over, and whispered invitingly, "How would you like free food and free drinks?" Not being fools, they accepted, switched seats, and allowed us to sit together. Thank you, United Airlines! Now what was the chance of that?

From Houston, we took our final flight to South Carolina. We couldn't help noticing the extremely tall young man sitting behind us. Theo confirmed that he was a basketball player from Virginia. As my husband talked about our Fresno State Bulldogs and the difficulties of Robert Upshaw, the 7-foot player who transferred out under a cloud, Theo smiled and said, "I know him. He is my brother's roommate at the University of Washington." Now what was the chance of that?

We exited in Charleston and sat outside in the late night air as we waited for our hotel shuttle. We talked to two women sitting nearby who told us they were were from San Luis Obispo, where they play French horn and cello in the SLO symphony. They knew my friend from our days at New York's High School of Music and Art, who also is a cellist in the SLO symphony. Now what was the chance of that?

We attended many performances at the Spoleto Festival. Sitting outside prior to an outstanding tap dance concert, we chatted with a young man who lives in New York City but is the nephew of the Rev. Richard Halvorsen, retired, of a Fresno Lutheran church. Now what was the chance of that?

On our way home, we were routed from Charleston to Houston to Los Angeles to Fresno. Whom did we sit next to in the L.A. airport? Former Congressman John Krebs and his wife of Fresno. Now what was the chance of that?

Francine M. Farber is a retired educator, full-time community volunteer and a writer.

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