My husband and I have been married for 17 years. I’m Jewish and he is not. We have done a reasonably good job of banging together the often-incongruent cultural and religious traditions we both bring to our family. Most often we are successful in finding a happy medium of compromise, in which neither of us fully gets what we want. He wants a Christmas tree; I place a Star of David on top. Odd, yes, but it works for us. One area, however, that we cannot see eye to eye on is what my husband refers to as the “Jewish Goodbye.”
According to my husband, who we will refer to as the non-Jewish Observer, or NJO, the Jewish Goodbye is a 10-step process and can be seen at any event involving more than two Jews. By his calculations—he has been studying our tribal rituals for more than 20 years—in this environment the following occurs 100% of the time:
1. The Jewish Goodbye begins quietly with one Jew moving towards another with an expression of regret, followed by whispers in hushed tones: “I’m so sorry, but we must get going”.
2. This, the presentation of the Jewish Goodbye, is received with equal expressions of sadness and the common reply of, “What? No, we haven’t had dessert yet.”
3. The third step of the ritualistic dance involves a combination of hugs, kisses, and strangely enough the beginning of the next phase.
4. Here, the presenter and the recipient begin a conversation about something “important” that requires no less than 7-12 minutes to discuss. At this point our NJO shifts uncomfortably while putting on his jacket.
5. In some instances, this step will introduce a third or fourth party to what has now become a full-blown conversation. At this point, the patient NJO resigns himself to the obvious, removes his jacket, pours another drink, and heads back to the sofa.
6. The Jewish Goodbye conversation continues while moving towards dessert, because one little piece of cake can’t ruin a whole week of dieting, right?
7. After what may be 40-50 minutes past the original proffering of a goodbye, the Jew now feels guilty about consuming additional calories, all of which have instantly resulted in bloating. This generates the final conversation about stomach ailments and other recently diagnosed conditions which may or may not be contagious, operable, terminal, transient, and include an extensive list of symptoms which can be recited like a Dennis Lee poem.
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8. At this point, the Jew has found her purse, which was not where she left it. She puts on her jacket and begins the frantic search for the NJO.
9. Upon finding him, she looks at him and sternly says, “Oh, finally, I found you. Come on, we need to leave now!”
10. The ever-so patient NJO sighs with total resignation. He says very briefly to anyone in the room “bye” and heads straight out the door.
When my husband first started talking about the Jewish Goodbye, I wasn’t sure this was a real thing. In fact, I’m still not convinced. Nonetheless I have tried to see things from his perspective. While I can’t quite nail down what a non-Jewish Goodbye looks like, I have heard stories. My favorite is recited at most of my husband’s family get-togethers. In recalling Grandpa Walter, we are entertained by his decree that the night was over with a few simple questions: “Did I feed you? Did you enjoy yourself? Good, now get going.” After which the guests would promptly leave. This tale is not retold with tears of sadness or frustration—nay, according to the non-Jews, the goodbye should not be a drawn out process, rather a matter of fact statement of departure. Sure, there can be some pleasantries associated, but no process.
We have managed to agree on far more important religious matters like Jesus, circumcision, sweet or savory gefilte fish, but this, the Jewish Goodbye, remains the elusive gap between our harmonious existence.
What does it really come down to? Are we, the Jewish people, so afraid of not seeing each other again that we draw out our goodbyes as though they are our last? Given our collective experience, this notion isn’t totally out of question, though perhaps we should be more intentional about our feelings on these final moments and focus less on the babka and more on each other.
If the Jewish Goodbye is just part of our delightful cultural fabric, then perhaps we can acknowledge the inefficiency of the process and consider an alternative. Here is my proposal: Much like a blessing over the bread, wine, or candles, perhaps we consider the “Jewish Goodbye Blessing.” Like Grandpa Walter, we identify an appropriate time in the event where we gather together and recite the following:
“Blessed are those who are with me here; continue, if you must, with nosh and cheer.
But when it’s time to depart, do not feel pain in your heart.
Just shake my hand or hold me tight, then text me later when you are home, alright?”
In this way we honor the gathering impulses of Jews with the more pragmatic needs of non-Jews. We’ve collectively said a beautiful goodbye allowing for the actual departure to follow more smoothly. Everyone can get a little of what they want and need. It’s all about compromise and perhaps a little weirdness. I’d like to think both Grandpa Walter and Dennis Lee would approve. Amen.