Since the beginning of the secular New Year, our country has seen a great deal of turmoil. The U.S. is fraught with devastation, loss, anger and grief as we add deep civil unrest to a worldwide pandemic.
I talked about closure during my final sermon to the congregation. Now, as I wish you farewell, I’m reminded that Judaism’s method of saying “goodbye” requires some examination.
The term “goodbye” itself dates to the early modern period (occurring during the late 16th century) stemming from the expression, “God be with you”.
Although we can accept the “God” part, this is not a Jewish traditional farewell. The common term for goodbye in modern Hebrew (as I frequently heard during my year in Israel) is l’hitra’ot, meaning, “see you later.”
“God be with you” and “peace be with you” differ distinctly in tone from the Israeli expression.
‘See you later’ is better than “goodbye”
This isn’t because Israelis experience difficulty saying goodbye — the point of which, after all, is to provide some sense of emotional closure. But “see you later” also offers a hopeful look to the future.
Upon completing the study of a sacred text, Jews recite, “hadran alach” — “we will return to you.”
This reminds us our engagement with Torah is a lifelong journey, and our experiences with the lessons and rituals of our tradition should be taken in the same way.
Our engagement with Torah is a lifelong journey, and our experiences with the lessons and rituals of our tradition should be taken in the same way.
The most difficult goodbyes are the ones that feel final. After only one year as your student rabbi, this is one of them.
I would prefer to leave you with the sentiment of the hadran alach, that the interactions and rituals we shared have been deeply meaningful to me and taught me so much — whether we were together at the Temple in Terre Haute or I spoke to you over Zoom from my living room in Cincinnati.
Therefore, I’d like to present the Top 20 lessons (big and small) I learned during my time at UHC:
Top 20 lessons learned from my year at UHC
- The alarm for the Temple will go off if you don’t enter a code. That code, I learned, is not just a suggestion. This particular lesson took me at least half my physical visits to realize.
- The moments spent together during Kabbalat Shabbat services as we engage in prayer are just as sacred as the moments we spend together after services during UHC’s traditional oneg.
- It is a good idea to have help when rolling the Torah from Deuteronomy back to Genesis for the High Holy Days. Handling the Torah is a very difficult balancing act that I would not recommend one attempt alone.
- Throw away old hotel key cards instead of tossing them into the backseat of the car. Getting back into a new room takes more time when you must try 10 possible key cards.
- Wherever you are, try to remain as present as possible. Worry is distracting and robs not only yourself of the experience, but penalizes others as well.
- Remember to open the ark at the correct time for the Aleinu.
- Fasting on Yom Kippur is not the same when you are standing on the bimah all day. (I don’t have a solution to that yet!)
- Timing is everything, but not the only thing. Some of the most cherished moments I have experienced with your community have occurred outside a closed timeframe.
- Speaking of time, make sure if you’re operating on a tight schedule to not only wear a watch, but use it!
- Don’t forget that Daylight Savings Time always comes the night before Sunday school, every year.
- Don’t write a sermon thinking you’ll somehow be able to “beat your time”. If your last sermon was 10 pages long last time and took 15-20 minutes to read, it won’t be shorter the next time you write 10 pages.
- Hearkening back to my sermon for Rosh Hashanah, don’t let unfortunate events from your past “live in your head rent-free.”
- Don’t rely on a hotel printer hours before High Holy Day services begin.
- Smile even when you’re feeling nervous or apprehensive. A small curl of the lips upward holds more power than you think.
- Song, food and dance on a Sunday morning goes a long way — much further than a detailed lesson plan.
- Never assume others know what you are talking about, or that others know what you are thinking. You lose so much without interpersonal communication.
- If someone appears to be experiencing a hard time, you suffer no great risk in asking if they are OK or how they are doing. The worst that could happen is that they tell you to mind your own business. And the best thing that could happen is that a sad or anxious person will feel someone notices them, cares for them and is there to listen.
- Sharing these articles, stories and lessons with you each month provides as much comfort for me as I hope the experience has been for you. Thank you for giving me this opportunity to share.
- The coronavirus pandemic hit so suddenly that I’m struck by the heartbreaking futility of reviewing things I could have said and done during my last physical visit to Terre Haute and wishing I could have done more.
- And finally: Every moment spent together is precious because we don’t know when the next will come! As the saying goes, “Live today because tomorrow is never promised.”
Wherever you are, try to remain as present as possible.
Never assume others know what you are talking about, or that others know what you are thinking.
Every moment spent together is precious because we don’t know when the next will come!
Who knew Gandhi was Jewish?
Gandhi said: “Live today as if you were to die tomorrow; learn today as if you were to live forever.”
I believe our tradition teaches us that sentiment, by passing down the blessing of departure as a promise to return.
If we consider the small moments of human interaction and every relationship as contributions to a deeper wisdom, we can always return to those experiences, if only in our minds.
Our memories become part of this rich tradition. The unique capacity of human beings to remember experience contributes to a full life of continued learning.
We are never truly departing, and never really having to say “goodbye”.
My final blessing for us together is to cite the hadran alach, that our farewell always means “to return” — to be continued.
Finality is painful, and I refuse to see my time with you as final. I hope to return to you and that you return to me, as tomorrow unfolds.
With all my love,
Student Rabbi Remy Liverman served United Hebrew Congregation during the 2019-20 academic year.
Covid-19 shelter-at-home requirements determined Student Rabbi Remy Liverman’s appearance during Purim weekend would represent the final visit of her term. Remy offiiated Shabbat on March 6 and a Purim party and Megillah reading on March 8.