Instinctively I turned to the man sitting next to me in shule and greeted him with the time honoured ‘leshana haba birushalayim’. The man sitting next to me happened to be a sabra, a Yerushalmi no less, and looked at me as if I was stupid. ‘Leshana haba birusalayim,’ – you are in Yerushalayim, are you nuts? Next year in Jerusalem, what are you saying? Planning on going somewhere?
I don’t think that the Israeli born gentleman quite got it. For the last 1,944 years Jews in the diaspora have been repeating the mantra – Next Year in Jerusalem – at every festival and special occasion, keeping the hope and prayer alive that someday we Jews will return to our capital and our homeland.
I grew up in Rhodesia some 5 decades ago. The first song I was taught by my fervently zionistic parents was Leshana Haba Birushalayim. Then the modern State of Israel was a mere 15 years old. Travel was very expensive and traveling to Israel was yet a dream. The years have flown and my family sang ‘Next Year in Jerusalem’ in four different countries as we served Jewish communities in my role as a pulpit rabbi. But the dream never faded and we knew when the time was right we would return home. Travel became more affordable and we visited Israel many times, and we sent our children to learn in Israel.
Last year we packed up for the last time and we made aliyah.
This year a week before seder night my wife and I witnessed the wedding of our second daughter in Jerusalem.
Being a community rabbi for 30 years I was granted permission from the Rabbanut to officiate at my daughter’s wedding. From the chuppah we could see the walls of Jerusalem’s old city, and we stood a kilometer away from the Temple Mount. The setting was superb.
It is a story that is now commonplace – but never to be taken for granted. There stood a couple just newly married who had truly returned home, to start a new home. From Lithuania, Poland, White Russia, London, Rhodesia, Johannesburg, Cape Town, New Zealand, Sydney, Melbourne, Perth ……. and now Jerusalem.
The prayers of their ancestors who could only dream, the prayers of their grandparents who witnessed the birth of the modern state, the prayers of their parents who ask how or why they merit to be the generation who brings their children to a chuppah in the shadow of the old city’s walls, to the prayer of the bride and groom under their marriage canopy…
If I forget you O’ Jerusalem !