Hello, Goodbye, Au Revoir…

Before I even get to the subject at hand, a brief forward…

As many of you know, I’ve been writing for the Jewish Week for the better part of 20 years, starting first with occasional op-eds in the print edition, then moving to weekly pieces in the paper’s online presence, and ultimately into the Jewish Week’s Times of Israel format.

This summer, for the first time since I started all those years ago, I’ve taken a sustained break. Knee replacement surgery at the end of June made a lot of the things I usually do unusually difficult, and it seemed as good a time as any to give my virtual pen a rest. But as the summer slowly draws to a close and my recovery continues apace, it’s time to get back in the saddle. There’s much to say…where to start?

I think I’ll start close to home.

These past two weeks, my wife Robin and I have delighted in an all-too-brief visit from our youngest child Matan, who is mid-way through a 27 month assignment in Guinea with the Peace Corps. Stationed in a remote, mountainous region some ten hours by taxi from the capital city of Conakry, he is teaching English (in French, the official Guinean language) in a regional high school, preparing his students for a standardized, national test.

As you might imagine, Robin nor I were not thrilled that Matan was going so far away for so long. Our oldest son and his family are in Florida, our older daughter and her family are in Annapolis, but not for long… they’re Navy. We do, thankfully, have a daughter who lives in Brooklyn… this generation’s redeemed Jerusalem! But we have often mused that if raising children who would be strong and independent enough to spread their wings and separate was a sign of successful parenting, then we are surely enormously successful parents. (Or, you might fairly question why our children need to move so far away!)

The highlight of Matan’s visit for us was that we managed to gather all of our children and their families together for four days… something that very rarely happens anymore. For all that modern transportation and communication make many wonderful things like video chatting possible, the realities of our lives, and jobs, are just too complicated. We can hardly ever all get away at the same time. Having all the children, spouses, and grandchildren in one place at one time took a lot of engineering, but it was priceless.

As we spent these precious few days with Matan, it became clear to us that whatever doubts and concerns we had about his time in Guinea were our concerns, and not his. It is, admittedly, hard for me, from the vantage point of my first-world life of privilege, to imagine how living without plumbing and largely without electricity could be anything other than an unacceptable hardship. I’m sure he doesn’t love that part either. But as Matan told us before he left a year ago, this was a chance for him- before he got hopelessly cynical about America like so many of us- to show what’s best about his country. As sorry as we were to see him go- and we were more sorry than I can express- we were, and are, enormously proud.

But to the point of that cynicism…

When we dropped Matan off at the airport last night, there were lots of tears- all ours. These things are much harder on parents than they are on children. For them, the great adventures of their lives are opening up in front of their eyes. For us, raising them was, in so many ways, the great adventure of our lives. Not that there are no adventures that lie ahead for empty-nesters; there are surely joys to be found in greater freedom and flexibility. But still, as Arik Einstein wrote in his iconic song about children leaving home, mahnik k’tzat bagaron. It does tighten your throat more than a little bit.

As we drove home putting ourselves back together emotionally, Robin said something that had never occurred to me, although surely it should have. It wasn’t just saying goodbye to Matan that was painful for her. With all the background noise about nuclear confrontation with North Korea and absolutely no reason to believe that there was a sane and steady hand at the helm of our ship of state, she wondered aloud whether the world fifteen months from now would still look like it does today. You can read all the Rashi you’d like into that feeling, but as soon as she said it, I knew exactly what she meant.

So, Matan, goodbye, au revoir, and perhaps most of all, shalom; go in peace, and come back to us in peace.

About the Author
Rabbi Gerald C. Skolnik is the spiritual leader of the Forest Hills Jewish Center in Queens.