Last night I went to the opening of Brasserie 52 on the corner of 52nd and 9th. I was invited by publicist Shari Bayer, whom I met years ago when she was working at Food Arts. We sat next to each other at a dinner at the Beard House and, upon learning that she was a Miami Jew, I asked if she knew Matt Shapo, another Miami Jew who was my co-features editor at the Tufts Daily in, like, 1987 and who remains one of my favorite people on Earth (and currently webmaster or some such thing for allaccess.com).
It turns out Shari's older sister is friends with Matt's younger sister Nira.
And that's how you play Jewish Geography, a favorite pastime of Jews who are not from New York City's tri-state area, where it doesn't work because the Jewish population here is too dense.
Jewish Geography is fun because my bond with Shari is not a bizarre coincidence but a pretty common situation. You might recall that I'm similarly but more tightly bonded to food writer Liz Forgang, whose niece Jenn is married to Matt.
Anyway, I say my hellos, meet the owners and begin to talk to a woman named Renée, who lives in the same building as the owners and who is married to a senior writer at Entertainment Weekly named Gary Susman.
My memory gears start spinning as I try to figure out why I know that name. Is he a famous writer? Have I met him? I let it go and we talk about other things. Then she mentions that Gary's from Denver and the gears fall into place.
Gary was a rather quiet but bright and creative guy in the B'nai B'rith Youth Organization with me. We were in different chapters — he was in AZA 705 when I was in AZA 6 — but I remembered him as a good chap anyway.
Shortly thereafter Shari's sister shows up — the friend of Nira Shapo — and we play Jewish Geography again. It's her turn.
Colorado Jew? Do I know someone named Roberta, kind of a strange last name, Eng something? They were good friends when studying in London.
"Does she have an older brother Vern?"
And of course we have a big laugh because Vern Engbar was a somewhat zany cat in AZA 275.