I moved to Israel six years ago when my oldest son, David, was 17. He missed his friends, his school, the neighborhood he grew up in, his high school sweetheart, his world. It was daunting to start anew as a teenager in an unfamiliar country, with exotic and sometimes-strange divergent cultures merging into one. As far as my son was concerned, it was an entirely different planet from the one he was used to; and on top of everything, it was a planet that he had to navigate in Hebrew.
But despite the challenges, David made friends; slowly but surely he began to speak Hebrew, got a drivers license, traveled the roads like a native, smashed his car up like a native and served in the IDF as a combat soldier.
This past Thursday, he signed the last form that marked the culmination of his three-year service in the army, and on Saturday night, a one-way ticket in hand, he boarded an El Al plane back to the US to reunite with his high-school sweetheart. It hadn’t been easy sustaining a long-distance relationship over the span of six years. From me down to his army buddies, everyone was impressed. Special kudos to Skype.
A wedding is in the offing. She is a bright and sweet young woman who sees the goodness in his heart as he sees the goodness in hers. She makes him happy. That is what matters. There are plans for college in New York, plans for renting an apartment, and plans for a job. And then… well, there are plans for them to come to Israel to set up their lives here… one day. But life never turns out to be that simple, and plans have a way of going off on unplanned tangents. Which is why, as I watched my son depart, it was with a heavy heart.
I tried to instill in each of my children an unwavering love of Israel, and while I want them to want to stay here, ultimately it must be their decision. As a mother, I knew all too well that the day would come when my children would leave to make their own mark on this world, but a 6,000-mile distance wasn’t what I anticipated. Nor did I plan to break down in tears in front of David just prior to his departure. I didn’t want to make a scene; I had no desire to make him feel guilty. It’s his life — not mine. I meant to send David off with a smile, and yet, I did break down. I’m a mother − I’m no saint.
This last Shabbat that David spent with me and his siblings, he pointed out something to all of us as we sat around the dining room table. “Did you know that there is no word in the Hebrew language for goodbye?” he asked. It wasn’t new information, but that tidbit of a fact never gave me pause for reflection — till now. “Shalom” is used for both “hello” and “goodbye,” but its actual meaning is “peace.” I never questioned why we didn’t have a word for goodbye. The closest thing is “l’hitraot”, — see you later. And, since we never really say goodbye, it stands to reason that saying hello is superfluous. I wondered if it was because of our innate optimism. Despite many of us being natural cynics, we are a nation that has survived on optimism. Indeed, a stubborn optimism; one might even argue, irrational. Or, rather, it is just plain “hope,” which to me seems fitting as the heart of our national anthem.
One day, in the not too distant future, I will be in the States to rejoice at my son’s wedding. And then I will head back to my home in Israel, together with his younger brother, who is presently in the army, and his teenage sister. What the future holds in store is anyone’s guess. But I hold onto the hope that David and his lovely bride will return to build their true home in Israel. And so, the other day, I didn’t say goodbye to my son.
In my heart, it’s not goodbye. It’s l’hitraot.