December 17, 2016 was the last Shabbat I spent in our Budapest synagogue. At Kiddush, I listened to Rabbi Darvas saying goodbye to me and my family. I hesitated for a while and then — didn’t say a word. I didn’t say goodbye to the congregation.
I knew I would cry if I started speaking. I knew it for sure. I had rehearsed my goodbye-speech at home, alone. Without an audience. And even without the audience I loved, I couldn’t finish it without crying.
I had been the member of the congregation for eight years. I loved it. The congregation. Not the members. Some of the members I loved. And some of them I couldn’t stand. But all the members I coudn’t stand I loved, as well. Loved-hated them.
It was easy. To love-hate them. It was easy because we — the members — did all the Jewish stuff together. The Shabbats, the Yom Tovs, the births, the brit milahs, the bar and bat mitzvahs, the weddings, the giyurs and the mournings. Together. No matter who loved whom. No matter who couldn’t stand whom. No matter who loved-hated whom.
That’s why I was always sure that it was
when one of the members moved to another country leaving the synagogue for good and she or he promised that:
’I will remain a member of this congregation FOREVER… blah… blah… blah…’
you will not.
Because the congregation we love is dynamic. Always changes. Members come and go. Minhags come and go. Jokes come and go. It lives in the present. Not in the past. And if you leave it, you are not a member of it any longer.
You are a memory. Maybe a lovable one — but just a memory. This is how the congregation we love operates.
So when I left the synagogue for good on December 17, 2016, I cried. First, in the street, alone, silently. And then at home, aloud. Because I knew that this was over. Finita la commedia. I was not a member of the congregation anymore. And I would never be again. If and when I visit them in the future, I will be a guest. Just a guest. Not a member. And this is right.
Five weeks have passed since December 17, 2016.
Now I’m on a kibbutz in the Southern Negev. Sof ha-olam, smolah.
New home. New life.
And the congregation in Budapest I loved is now a memory. One of the most lovable memories of my entire life — but just a memory. I can’t live, laugh, love and daven together with its members on Facebook, WhatsApp or Skype. I can keep in touch with the members I love, but that’s not the same. We are not present in each others’ everyday lives. We can’t shake hands, kiss each other on the face, or hug it out.
Five weeks have passed…
…and a hole of significant size has grown in my heart.
I am filling that hole.
With people who are here.
With people for whom I am here.
With people who I can look in the eye. Every day.