Members of the Ethiopian Jewish community in Israel mark the holiday of Sigd in Jerusalem November 20, 2014.
(photo credit: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN)
For 2,000 years, Jews around the world have ended their Passover Seder with the declaration “Next Year in Jerusalem.” This was both a hope and a prayer – a hope that captured the belief deep in the Jewish soul that the time would come when we would no longer have to celebrate Passover in foreign lands; and a prayer to God to redeem them from exile and turn this hope into a reality.
Throughout those 2,000 years of exile, a small minority of the Jewish people nevertheless identified with the words of Rabbi Shlomo Teichtal in his 1943 book Eim Habanim Semaicha (“A Joyous Mother of Children), that “God is waiting for us to take the initiative, to desire and long for the return to the Land of Israel. He does not want us to wait for Him to bring us there.”
In just the past century, as the State of Israel was developing and then established, millions of Jews turned this “Next Year in Jerusalem” hope into action, not waiting for God to respond to their prayer with a miracle from heaven:
• Daniel Sahalo was five years old in the mid-1980s when he and his parents left their home in northern Ethiopia in middle of the night. They walked through the night to reach the Sudanese border, and then walked for nine weeks in the deserts of Sudan. “I heard people talking about going to Jerusalem,” he recalls. About 4,000 people died along this trek through Sudan, including Daniel’s sister, who died of malaria. “We buried her and kept on walking.” Two months later the family reached a refugee camp, where they lived for nine months. Daniel was so malnourished there that his belly swelled up. The family was then flown to Brussels, and then to Israel.
Some 8,000 Ethiopian Jews survived this walk, wait, and flight.
• Moshe Frumin, then six years old, Yaakov Schwartz, then five years old, and Yaffa Levy, then eight months old, left Austria by foot in mid-1947 to walk across the Alps, across the Italian border, to a waiting ship that would take them to the port of Haifa. “Most of the time my father carried me on his shoulders,” Schwartz, now a journalist in Israel, recalls.
Frumin, a sculptor, had no father and walked with his mother and grandmother. Levy’s mother told her how she had to cover young Yaffa’s mouth lest her cries be heard and the group be discovered. Levy is a retired school teacher living in Arad.
They left the Saaldelden Displaced Persons camp at around 10 p.m., careful to avoid detection by the British, who controlled the occupation zone where Saalfelden was located and who were determined to stop Jews from making their way toward Palestine. The group traveled in sealed trucks and headed for Krimml, arriving at around 2 a.m. They got out of the trucks and walked for three hours until the sun rose, arriving in a forest a few hundred meters from an inn run by Liesl Geisler.
Geisler brought them food, which gave them energy and strength for the next part of their journey – they could not walk through the nearby Brenner Pass along the Austrian-Italian border, because it was supervised closely by the Italian police, whom the British asked to be on the lookout for Jews making their way to Palestine. So they had to walk for another full day through the treacherous mountains to the Krimml Pass.
Almost every night from April to October 1947, a few dozen trucks left the camp and sent Jews on their way. In all, approximately 5,000 Jews made this trek.
Not all of the hundreds of thousands who chose to make “Next Year in Jerusalem” become a reality made it to Israel. One example is the passengers on the ship Egoz. At around midnight on January 10, 1961, the Egoz set sail from the port of Al Hoceima in Morocco with 44 Jews on board, nearly half of them children.
This was the vessel’s 13th voyage, after having already transported 334 Jews from Morocco to Gibraltar and then to Israel. At 3 a.m. the ship sank, and all the passengers perished.
Other Jews as well tried but failed to make aliya, including one of the greatest rabbinic figures in the early 20th century. The saintly Chofetz Chayim, Rabbi Israel Meir Kagan of Radin, Poland, wrote the following: “I will hereby recount to my brothers what has happened to me in the last few years at my old age, and I am forced to let the public know about my distress that I have been through, up until today. Because for the last few years I have had the thought of traveling to Holy Land and to settle there before God during my final days in Torah and Divine service during all the days of my life which God will merit me to live there. And I made great preparations toward this end and I have almost spent a whole year making all the arrangements necessary for this, like documents and tickets, and when the time finally came in which to travel, one or two days before my departure, suddenly my wife fell ill with a dangerous disease and I was forced to travel to Vilna for great doctors there…” As Jews throughout the Diaspora celebrate Seder night this year – sorry, make that two Seder nights – and declare “Next Year in Jerusalem,” it is my hope that they will come to the same realization that has inspired millions of Jews – that we live in a time when we can decide on our own, and don’t have to wait for outside forces to bring us to the Land of Israel and Jerusalem.
As you sit around your Seders and declare “Next Year in Jerusalem,” I hope you will hear the words of Rav Kook’s open letter to Jews in the Diaspora echoing in your ears: “Come to the Land of Israel, dear brothers… Our nation does not have many paths; it has only one path upon which it must go: only to the Land of Israel… Come and see how Israel’s spirit blooms and reawakens – to life, to honor, and to strength… Come and delight in the Desirable Land; rejoice in the beautiful and delightful Land of the Living, whose air is a breath of life for our souls. How beautiful and pleasant she is… Come and delight in memories that are better than good wine, memories that enrich the soul and broaden the mind, memories of kings and officers, warriors and prophets, memories of majesty and strength, greatness and glory. Come to the Land of Israel.”
THIS year in Jerusalem.
The writer served in the 19th Knesset with the Yesh Atid party.