Just a year ago, I wrote about my last seder in the diaspora. Thinking back over sixty years of Pesach seders, the words “next year in Jerusalem” had always been just a Passover ritual, kind of like the repeating of the plagues….words that were not part of modern day reality at least in my world. There are multi-generations of Jews who can trace their roots back hundreds of years to this land, but most Jews in the world have not been here in modern times, but in a life of dispersion that went back two thousand years. They could not imagine moving to a land far away based on connections taught to us in Torah study. But that changed with the reconstitution of Israel and the ability for Jews to return to Zion. So why do we say it and not mean it?
“Next Year in Jerusalem” we chant and drink wine. Believe me, I am not criticizing, just wondering what we think those words mean. Is it a metaphor for Jews connecting with Judaism over the next year? Is it that we just want to know that Jerusalem exists, even if we cannot imagine actually living here or even visiting? Is it nothing? Just words and then do the dishes and say good night and forget about it until next year?
I surely did forget about sometimes, although over the years the idea of aliyah floated in and out. The first time I saw Jerusalem, I fell in love as many people do. But as time passed, I would find myself daydreaming about what next year could actually mean. And my imagination let me walk the streets whenever I wanted to will it to happen. Until the daydreaming slid into reality.
Clearly, as a late bloomer, I have no right to start proselytizing that all Jews should pack a bag after this year’s seder and head for Jerusalem. With more than half of us left on this spinning chaotic orb living in Israel, there is no way I can expect the other half to take those words to heart. It is not reasonable, although more now than in past years. We do, however, hear calls for those in the United States and Europe to make aliyah grow with each horrendous incident.
But I am asking that those words mean more. It is not an original thought, I have heard rabbis point this out over the years. My plea is no more important than their pleas. The recent uptick in anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism is sometimes rooted in the misbegotten belief that we, Jews, are not indigenous to this land. Is it ignorance of our history or hatred? As we read Torah this time of the year, the connection to this land and Pesach is so visceral, that it cannot be ignored. That the words “next year in Jerusalem” in our seder are not pointed out to those who deny that the founding of Israel is indeed a reconstitution of an indigenous peoples’ homeland is a mistake. When they say that the Jews stole the land, tell them about our Torah, tell them that when you say “next year in Jerusalem” that the words mean more than just a slogan. That for two thousand years, there was a dispersion and now there is not for those who want to come home. The bigots might blow you off and accuse you of religious blathering, but it is as much about history as religion.
This year in Jerusalem, the daydreams have slipped away as I can now walk these streets whenever I wish. Yes, the connection to our religion is evident in different places in this country. As well as the history of our people. Denying that the words we say in rituals are not about history as much as faith feeds those that would deny our right of return to Zion.
To get to this year’s seder, with a dear new friend and her family and friends, I will walk through this city and remember that last year, this was a dream in the making: that of the dream of next year in Jerusalem.
This is from last year https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/pesach-new-england-style/
Chag Sameach Pesach to all.