Mady’s senior portrait. Courtesy of Madelyn Gelb

A Jewish Goodbye

How do you say goodbye to everything you’ve ever known?

My entire high school career I’ve looked forward to being a senior. I imagined throwing my cap into the air and feeling like a new person, a better person, a person who had their life together. 

Thinking about graduation makes my head hurt and my heart race. My palms get sweaty when people bring up the fact that I’ll be done with high school in just a few short weeks. It’s not because I love high school so much or that I don’t feel ready for college, it’s mostly because of this question: how do you say goodbye to everything you’ve ever known?

In typical Jewish fashion, I’m not very good at goodbyes. At the end of every summer at camp you’d always find me sobbing as my name was called (for the third time) to get on the bus so it could leave. When I was little, I would always run off with my friends and hide when my mom came to pick me up from playdates. Why would I want something so good to end? Why shouldn’t I drag out the goodbye?

Soon after graduation I’ll be moving from my small suburban town of Doylestown, Pennsylvania to Washington, D.C. to attend George Washington University. I’ll be leaving behind my small town full of mom and pop candy shops and festivals for every fruit you can think of and joining more than 700,000 people to live in our nation’s capital.

Something I learned in my many years attending Camp Ramah is that summer camp is designed to break your heart. You’ll hear plenty of kids say it. I’ve said it. What I’ve realized recently is that it’s not just camp—life is designed to break your heart. All good things are designed to break your heart.

How lucky am I to have had such a wonderful childhood that I’m so sad to leave it behind? How blessed am I to have people in my life who I love so dearly that the thought of leaving them is painful?

The Kotzker Rebbe said “There is nothing as whole as a broken heart.” I had heard this quote a few times in passing growing up, but I never truly understood it until I was confronted with this significant life transition. I now realize if something breaks your heart, that means your heart was in it.

So I’ll be leaving high school with a great big Jewish goodbye. I’ll drag it out for as long as possible. I’ll sit with my sadness until I’m not sad anymore—only happy to have something so amazing that I’m leaving behind. Of course it will break my heart, but that’s how it’s supposed to be.

Madelyn Gelb is a senior at Central Bucks High School East in Doylestown, PA. 

This article was originally published on Jewish Women, Amplified, the blog of the Jewish Women’s Archive, and was written as part of the Rising Voices Fellowship.

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