Jewish Goodbyes

This is the season of goodbyes. I hold my breath while listening to my son say goodbye, with humor and grace, to the school he has attended for “more than two-thirds of his life.” As he recognizes the teachers who influenced him, I remember Mrs. Ivirio, Mrs. Peters, and Mrs. Wilson.

A few years ago I tried to track down Mrs. Ivirio, without success, when I acknowledged her in my book as the teacher who encouraged me to use the rich vocabulary I’d acquired through voracious reading. I found this picture, hoping it would list her first name. Mrs. Ivirio looks younger than I remember, but it’s been quite a while since I was in the third grade. I’m not sure if she is still alive.

Students saying goodbye to teachers is only part of the reason I’m feeling nostalgic this week. My friend and walking buddy of ten years, Charlotte, is retiring from her job and moving away. We’ve been preparing to say goodbye for months, but that doesn’t make it any easier. My friend of nearly thirty years is saying goodbye to her father, whose declining health in recent months has not prepared her for the finality of this moment. When we hang up the phone, I say “talk to you soon” or “so long” instead of goodbye.

When I was younger I used to think my dad was odd because he never said goodbye. I assumed his quirky “so long” was related to the Jewish goodbye, famous for taking several hours. “So long” fits with the custom of stepping over the threshold when a guest leaves your home, to indicate your reluctance to see her leave. “So long” is like the Hebrew l’hitraot or French au revoir. It’s reminiscent of the Yiddish greeting used when we depart from weddings and funerals, rov simchas, which loosely translates as “let’s meet often at happy occasions.”

As I approach a milestone birthday, my dad’s trademark “so long” resonates. Who wants a goodbye, when so long carries with it a message of hope? “So long” says, Our parting may be permanent but I doubt it. It may be a long time before I see you again. Still, I trust I’ll see you again.

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