On the 3rd June I delivered a sermon at the farewell service for Micol and me at West London Synagogue. If you would like to receive the full sermon please send me an e-mail.
A colleague recently shared with me the anecdote that: ‘Non-Jews leave, but don’t say goodbye; while Jews say goodbye, but never leave.’ Having researched this matter a little bit further, I discovered something called “The Jewish Goodbye”. It’s when you start your goodbyes and end up walking out the door a minimum of 30 minutes later. The amount of time increases exponentially depending on how many other Jews there are in the room.
With this in mind, the goodbye which Micol and I are beginning are going to be really Jewish; for as we have our farewell service today, we will take almost four more weeks to actually leave. I guess that with a congregation of over 1600 Jewish families, an exponential time increase is only to be expected…
In this week’s Torah portion amidst a whole range of commandments and instructions we receive the words of the Priestly blessing. These words which we use to bless our children, to consecrate a marriage and to conclude our services, are found here first. We ask for God’s blessing, protection and grace, before asking God, with our final words, to grant us shalom – peace and wholeness.
This Torah portion feels especially appropriate for our farewell service. As a child, sitting in the pews, often down there on the left hand side, I received these words as a blessing from the Rabbis of my youth, Rabbis Hugo Gryn and Jackie Tabick. And as a Rabbi myself, I have taken my place upon this bimah, sharing these words with my community, as they were once shared with me.
The Priestly blessing was articulated in the Torah as a way of linking us to God. But on another level it serves as a way of linking us to each other, to generations who went before us, and generations not yet born. These words have been an ever present for our people since they were given to us in the Torah.
The beauty of this blessing is not just in the words, and not just in the connection to other generations; there is a beauty in the intimacy which it envisages. We ask for God not just to bless us, but we ask for a moment where we can see God’s face. God’s face will be lifted up to us, and God’s face will shine upon us. Only then, with the experience of God, face-to-face, can we conclude our service, taking that moment with us as we leave the comfort of the community.
As we prepare to say Shalom to our time at West London Synagogue, I certainly feel that in saying goodbye we will be less whole, leaving behind a community which has become our family. But we take with us hundreds of shining faces who have become a part of our lives and we are more complete because of the relationships we have formed.
Yet, at the same time, shalom is not forever! While today we say shalom, as ‘goodbye’, we look forward to saying our shalom of ‘hello’ in the future. The Priestly blessing returns each time we come together in the synagogue for a service, and just like the priestly blessing we look forward to returning in the future. And so I will end with these parting words: Shalom Chaverim: ‘Hello friends’, ‘Goodbye friends’ and ‘Peace friends’.