Alexandria Fanjoy Silver

Next Year in Jerusalem

My daughter running in the Tachana HaRishonah, Jerusalem, 2019.

For 2000 years, there was one sounding call for Jews around the world: l’shaba haba b’yerushalayim — next year in Jerusalem. Jerusalem has long been the centre of the Jewish people’s religious and political life, and centred in a turbulent history where Jews fought desperately to be able to stay there, a free people in their own homeland. This turbulent history, for those who study it, gives two uncomfortable lessons: periods of Jewish sovereignty usually last less than 100 years, and that the end has always been brought about by those on the outside who just finished the job after Jews had torn themselves apart internally.

During the period of the Ancient Greeks, Jews managed to regain political independence in the land of Israel under the Hasmonean family, but within 100 years, it had been destroyed. The Hasmonean family abandoned traditional Jewish practice (after fighting a civil war to maintain it) and caused a massive split in Jewish society. The resultant civil wars led ultimately to two probably-inbred brothers each requesting external help in their war — from Rome. Who promptly entered Judea and never left. Jews during the Roman period fractured even further, leading to an internal war that led to the destruction of the Temple.

The Hagaddah, the book that outlines the ritual of the Passover Seder, was created during one of these turbulent times. Jewish life had just about begun to recover after the Great Revolt, one which Rabbis attributed to sinat chinam, or baseless hatred. The Temple had been destroyed after a violent sect dragged their population into war. They barricaded themselves in the walled city of Jerusalem, destroyed the food supplies, stole what little food remained, and then refused to go down with the ship that they themselves had scuttled. The people starved. (Not at all familiar to us now, is it?) In the intervening years, Jews attempted to rebuild a life and a community, and managed to unite just well enough for a final, devastating revolt. This period of relative peace and rebuilding lasted about 70 years, and then after the Bar Kochba revolt, the Jews were removed from Judea altogether, and Hadrian renamed it Syria Palestina. In the years after, the Haggadah was written, a story of redemption from slavery and of the ritualization of performative history. And for two thousand years, Jews gathered around Seder tables in exile and shouted l’shana aba be’yerushalayim, or “next year in Jerusalem.” Two thousand years later, in 1967, that dream finally came true. This year in Jerusalem. Of course, no amount of foresight could have possibly foreseen a future in which Jews, who were chanted at to “go back to Palestine” for centuries in Europe, would then be told by many in the world that they had no right to their ancestral homeland. I wonder if the people who chant “go back to Europe” outside the synagogue near my house are aware that in Europe, Jews were repeatedly told that they should return to the same land they’re being told to leave today?

I have the great fortune to go to Israel annually with my family for Passover. In recent years, this has become more challenging, and not just because we have three children. We had to stop when COVID happened. We travelled to Jerusalem in 2022, when the ban on COVID travel finally lifted. Then again in 2023, when the worst battles over the judicial reform were raging. Yes, Israeli society was falling apart from the inside; but, we also travelled to Tel Aviv from Dubai in celebration of the country’s 75th birthday. It was such a moment of hope and optimism. And this year, all I can see is darkness.

It’s hard not to ruminate on those two lessons right now: that Israel in it’s 7th decade has been attacked by Iran and its proxies, an existential conflict that has come to attempt to finish the weakened Bnei Yisrael. Last year in Jerusalem I went one night to a rally in front of the President’s house. I remember reading something from Yuval Noah Harari, who argued there were only two possible outcomes from the judicial fight: either Israel would come through a stronger democracy than ever, or it would be destroyed. The last time I was there, the country, the city, was catastrophically divided. That weakness was preyed upon by Hamas in their October 7th attack — yet another foreign nation coming in, attempting to finish the job, 75 years in. That Iran chose to attack Israel this weekend, proclaiming “defence” (as if they weren’t the ones who started the war on October 7th) demonstrates the weakened position that they feel Israel is in. Perhaps they believed that the increasing isolation and world pressure on Israel due to the impact of the war on Gazan civilians would cause the world to stand by and allow Israel to be fundamentally damaged. How awkward for them that it was repelled by a coalition of Western and Middle Eastern countries. But winning the battle isn’t the same thing as winning the war, and that success is a bandaid over a bullet wound that we need to prevent from haemorrhaging. 

One of the great ironies of this current government to me is that no matter how much they claim to be rooted in Talmud and Jewish history, they have failed in some fairly basic knowledge. They have forgotten one of the strongest lesson from the Talmud, the danger of baseless hatred. That when the people are a great body ripped asunder, all that happens is that we bleed out. We’re fending off destruction now. But people in government who continue to fester division and difficulty, who are putting policies into place that cause wide-scale revolts and protests — and have for over a year —who don’t think that every Jew who lives in Israel and takes from the state should have responsibilities to defend it, are doing what has destroyed us time and time again in history: divided we always fall. If Israel is to beat the historical odds, it needs to be united and together. We need a Prime Minister who more than 10% of the country supports; a set of ministers who aren’t threatening to colonize Gaza and destroy Israel’s reputation on the world stage, a world stage that they would be foolish to disregard; a unity government who represents more of an electorate; and most of all, for all Jews of all kinds to be bound together with a sense of unity and urgency. We must remember who we were on October 8th, and what it meant to be bound existentially together; to know that our fates are inextricably intertwined. Israel must meet this moment. We must not repeat the mistakes of the past. 

I don’t think we’re getting on that plane to Israel this year. For us in the Diaspora, we are powerless to do anything but watch. We cannot don a uniform and fight for a country that is not ours; we cannot control what our own politicians do. We cannot vote for a government in Israel. We cannot do anything about the fact that in Toronto last night there was a celebratory rally where people shouted death and destruction to Israel — probably the same people who celebrated October 7th in the same place. We cannot do anything about the fact that Justin Trudeau and Olivia Chow have washed their hands of protecting a population that is increasingly vulnerable, probably because that population tends not to vote for them. How liberal and inclusive of them. We can do nothing about the rest of the world debating arms embargoes on Israel, the same arms that just saved the Jewish state from destruction. All we can do is watch the miracle, and pray that it remains strong. Pray that it remains there. 

And so, we enter history ourselves. We are somewhat powerless in the fate of Jewish sovereignty. We watch from the Diaspora, and we join in the two-thousand year old call from our brethren: next year in Jerusalem. 

About the Author
Dr. Alexandria Fanjoy Silver has a B.A. from Queen's University, an MA/ MA from Brandeis and a PhD from the University of Toronto (all in history and education). She lives in Toronto with her husband and three children, and works at TanenbaumCHAT as a Jewish history teacher.
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