Six months is a long time to say goodbye – or at least it seems like a long time. When I initially received the letter announcing that one of the Rabbis at my shul would be leaving in six months (and the other Rabbi in a year – but that’s another post), I was both surprised and saddened but I told myself that I’d have six months to get used to the idea. That first service after receiving the letter was tough – I had a hard time looking up from the Siddur and just hearing the Rabbi’s voice brought me to tears. Gradually, however, things got better. After all, I reasoned, six months was a long time. So, I put it out of my mind and continued on as if nothing had really changed – or was about to.
A week or so ago, reality began to seep back into my consciousness with the announcement of a going-away celebration. This was followed by a reminder that one of the Rabbi’s last services would be held just a few weeks from now. Suddenly, I became acutely aware of the fact that six long months had somehow become one very short month and now, I must begin to come to terms with the fact that before the “official” start of summer, the Rabbi will be gone.
I met Rabbi FS several years ago when I initially began the formal process for conversion. I was attending the required Introduction to Judaism class at a different synagogue and Rabbi FS was a substitute for the Rabbi that normally taught the class. It was a two-hour, one-time meeting and I remember thinking that besides having excellent teaching skills, Rabbi FS had something else that I felt “connected” to – a true passion for Judaism that expressed itself through both the forcefulness of the words and the animation of the facial expressions that radiated naturally from the Rabbi . At the time, I couldn’t have known what the future had in store for my life or that this Rabbi would be a part of it.
The death of my Dad and the purchase of the house I grew up in brought me to the synagogue that I am now a member of. When I realized that Rabbi FS was one of two Rabbis at the shul, I was both surprised and delighted. As I continued to move toward my conversion and got to know Rabbi FS I realized why, a few years before in that one Introduction to Judaism class, I had felt a connection to the Rabbi. It was the passion.
For years, I had attempted to articulate to anyone that would listen why I felt so driven to study Judaism. Throughout my undergraduate and graduate studies, each time I answered the question, “What’s your major?” I looked for a glimmer of understanding and recognition in the eyes of the person or persons staring back at me and for years I was met with the same puzzled, glazed look and the familiar refrain, “What are you going to do with that [degree]?” After the first conversation I had with the Rabbi, I knew I had found someone else that not only understood my passion but shared it as well. I no longer had to keep my excitement over a point made by Robert Alter to myself or hide my enthusiasm over discovering a brilliant Hebrew pun in Torah and through study, sermons, conversation, and written word, I was given the opportunity to learn from the Rabbi things I never imagined I was capable of learning.
It is simply impossible for me to convey, in one blog post, the impact Rabbi FS has made on my life and the loss I will feel after this incredible person has left. I know the Rabbi has touched each and every person at my shul and I know that the going-away celebrations and final service will be filled with people who love, respect, and will genuinely miss Rabbi FS. I know that the next few weeks will be an emotional whirlwind for the Rabbi and I know that out of the hundreds of members of my shul, I will get lost in the crowd. I knew, six months ago, that saying goodbye to Rabbi FS would be both logistically and emotionally difficult for me and for the last six months, I’ve been trying to figure out how I would do it. Sometime along the way, I began working on this post.
Thank you, Rabbi, for what you’ve taught me about God and thank you for showing me what it means to be fully Jewish. Thank you for sharing your passion with me and thank you for allowing me to share my passion with you. Thank you for giving me the courage and confidence to do things I never thought I could (or would) do and thank you for helping me become a better person. Thank you for being uniquely and genuinely who you are and for being unafraid to show that person to those around you. And finally, thank you for changing my life in ways you will never know. Six months is a long time to say goodbye – but not nearly long enough.