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I Cannot Wait to Return to You

Week after week, I tell my wife that I’ll only be at kiddush for five minutes—ten tops. And each week, about an hour later, she gently reminds me that we are now late for lunch.

It may be only me, but it seems that we as Jewish people have a hard time saying goodbye. When we speak in Hebrew, instead of saying, “bye,” we say, “lehitra-ot,” meaning “until we see each other again.” In the fundamentals of our language, it is difficult for us to part with one another. We see this ritually, too. During Havdalah, when we attempt to say goodbye to Shabbat, we do so by blessing the wine and spices hoping that their sweet taste and aromas will linger throughout our week, reminding us of the sweetness of Shabbat. Savoring each sip of wine and each whiff of the deep cinnamon or fresh lavender each day after Havdalah teaches us to yearn for the Shabbatot to come. It is almost as if we do not say goodbye at all.

As my time as a rabbinic fellow comes to a close, I face the challenge of saying goodbye. It is especially in this moment that I wish to hold fast to those extra minutes spent at kiddush, savoring the sweetness of connection and conversation. When I first applied for the Marshal T. Meyer Rabbinic Fellowship, I was asked to write an essay envisioning my rabbinate. I chose to focus on the word lehitkarev, to draw near. I planned to embrace my congregants through education, diving deep into texts and teaching skills that enabled anyone to participate. I imagined crafting tefillah that would draw us closer to our tradition, to ourselves, to each other, and to God. I planned to live by hesed (loving-kindness), tzedek (justice), and rahamim (compassion), creating a community, especially for teens, that would be inclusive rather than exclusive—a place in which every individual could be themselves. I dreamed of paths to hitkarvut not only between members of our community, but between our congregation and others across the country and the throughout world.

I naively thought that I would be the actor in this forming of community through hitkarvut — drawing near. I believed that I would enable you to draw near to our tradition’s texts and liturgy, that I would create programming and play a role in tefillah that would allow you to draw near to issues of justice, loving-kindness, and compassion. I thought that it was my obligation to embrace you—lehitkarev, and I did. I did not realize that I entered into a community that would boldly, wholly, and lovingly embrace me. This is the hitkarvut that I experienced over these past two years. From my first Shabbat, you welcomed me with open arms, with words of encouragement, and steady nods of support. It was through each of you that I renewed my understanding of what it meant for parents to bring their child to gaze into the ark during B’nai Mitzvah, the deep love that bound a grandchild to his Bubbie even though they weren’t related by blood, the incredible joy that comes with learning a new prayer as an adult, what it is to bring the words of Torah alive whether by singing together on retreats or walking through the world with hesed and tzedek at the forefronts of our minds. You allowed so many of your firsts—funerals, baby namings, conversions, and learning—to be my firsts. It was you who embraced me and brought the hitkarvut off the pages of my application and into reality and I am so grateful.

It was at BJ after I presented a siyyum of Mishnah Pesahim on Erev Pesah to relieve the first borns of their fasting that I recited perhaps our tradition’s most noncommittal goodbye: the Hadran. First mentioned in the work of Rabbi Avraham ben Yitzhak of Narbonne, the Hadran is recited when one finishes learning an entire masekhet of Mishnah or Talmud. Instead of closing the book of Mishnah or Talmud and saying goodbye, we literally say, “We will return to you and you will return to us…we will not forget you and you will not forget us—not in this world and not in the world to come.”

So as I close this chapter of my journey and enter my final Shabbatot with you, I have learned that we need not say goodbye. Instead, I will leave you saying, “Hadran Alekhem.” I cannot wait to, one day, return to you.