“Next year in Jerusalem”
This is the inscription on each of the Siddur books in the tiny Jewish community of Bnei Zion in Erode, a small town in Tamil Nadu in Southern India.
These words of prayer are much more than just a text for the members of the community.
It is a true and complete expression of yearning.
A yearning whose consequences are leaving the familiar place where they grew up, the business they nurtured and the people they had known for so many years.
A yearning for a sense of belonging to something bigger.
A yearning to be part of one living human tissue called the Israeli society.
On the next week, Jerusalem Day will be mentioned; in this day, we will celebrate and commemorate our national aspirations for a “city which was united” after 2,000 years of exile.
For me, Jerusalem Day is an opportunity to stop the race of our lives for a single moment, and to think about the processes we have undergone as a nation for the past thousands of years.
Countless enemies rose up against us to exterminate us.
Countless number of us was born into the absurd reality of a perpetual sword on their neck.
Countless number of us paid with their own lives.
Against all odds, we stayed here.
And we stayed here big time!
I’ve always wondered; what distinguishes us from all nations throughout the generations, which gave us this survival power in the test of history?
I found my answer to this great question just a short while ago, surprisingly, here, about 5,000 kilometers from “the Promised Land”, on the Remembrance Day for Fallen Soldiers.
It was early afternoon.
We were in the midst of an Israeli Geography activity.
Sam, a member of the community, came into the classroom with a serious face and cut the lesson.
A few short sentences in Tamil led to a handful of energetic nods from the children,
And immediately, without hesitation, everyone lowered their heads, closed their eyes, and began to pray.
These were days of an exceptional security escalation, which also led to the deaths of four Israeli citizens. This escalation was not absent from the hearts of the Bnei Zion community.
From the early hours of the day, Sam’s home became a pilgrimage site for members of the community who came to pray the “Prayer for Peace of the State of Israel”, which is hung proudly on the white wall in Hebrew, English and Tamil.
It is not the first time when I have been thrilled by the longing, the concern and the sense of belonging and shared destiny of the far-off Bnei Zion community to the Jewish people and the Land of Israel.
In another case, a week earlier, as part of our activity, the children of the community were asked to bring their childhood pictures.
As soon as the children finished presenting the pictures and sharing their past life story, we asked the children to draw on a piece of paper the way they think they would look 20 years from now.
Noa Sela, my Shlichut partner and I, did not expect the answers we received.
One after the other, the children tied their fate unequivocally to the fate of the State of Israel.
Bela wants to serve in the IDF, Minmini wants to be a doctor in Israel, and Yosef wants to distribute free medicines to IDF soldiers. Moishe, the leader of the community, dreams of wandering all around the world and gather together Jews from small communities to make Aliyah to Israel.
In chapter 30 of Deuteronomy it is written: “I gave you life and good, and death and evil … and you chose life.”
The right to choose has always been a significant component of Jewish tradition throughout the years. The Bnei Zion congregation chose and continues to choose each and every day in the Torah of Moses as its personal pillar of fire.
For me, this is a beautiful example for Zionism, love of the land and Jewish Peoplehood.
In my opinion, this is what makes us the unique nation that we are.
The choice, the same choice that our parents and grandparents made to adhere to Judaism, is what has held us for so many years.
Our uniqueness as a nation, who has held us like magic throughout the years is our unity – in the difficult moments and the beautiful moments as one.
Seventy-one years have passed since the establishment of the State of Israel, and look where we have come.
We were gathered slowly from all corners of the earth, each one with their own traditions and customs, and we reached unity under the wings of Zion.
One nation, one heart.
I will conclude my remarks on this Jerusalem day, with words of prayer from none other than Moses – Moshe Rabbeinu.
At the end of the Book of Deuteronomy, just before Moses separates from Bnei Israel who are about to enter the Promised Land, he predicts the following:
“And will return and gather thee from all the peoples, whither the LORD thy God hath scattered thee. If any of thine that are dispersed be in the uttermost parts of heaven, from thence will the LORD thy God gather thee, and from thence will He fetch thee. And the LORD thy God will bring thee into the land which thy fathers possessed, and thou shalt possess it; and He will do thee good, and multiply thee above thy fathers.” (Deuteronomy Chapter 30)
May the ancient dream of complete ingathering of exiles in the land of Israel be fulfilled in our times.
To next year in Jerusalem!