The phrase that traditionally ends every Seder is “Next year in Jerusalem.” All over the world, Jews say this at Passover, but how many actually mean it? I remember as a child in Australia, before the State of Israel was established, we said “Next year in Jerusalem,” but we didn’t mean it. My parents, both born in Melbourne, never left Australia’s shores.
Although my family in Australia was not Orthodox, we always held a Seder, and the singing after reading the Haggada (and eating lots of kneidels and drinking the cups of wine) was very spirited. As a child, I loved the lively “Dayenu” and the last song, which we sang in English, “Only one kid, only one kid which my father bought for two zuzim…” The words seemed very funny to me, until the mood suddenly changed at the end, when we began to sing about the Angel of Death, and I remember that my mother’s eyes used to fill with tears.
There is something about Passover that speaks to every Jew. In 1840, in a book titled Rabbi von Bacharach, Heinrich Heine wrote: “Jews who have long drifted from the faith of their fathers are stirred in their inmost parts when the old, familiar Passover sounds chance to fall upon their ears.”
Without the Seder, there would be no reason for the family to come together at this time of year. Not every Jewish family is religious, but at Passover most are traditional.
There is a special feeling about the snowy white tablecloth with new dishes, the big cup of wine for Elijah, the opening of the door for the prophet to come in, and sweet childish voices chanting “Ma Nishtana…” like the lyrics of a popular song from yesteryear, “Memories are made of this”! When I lived in Australia I traveled extensively, but going to Jerusalem never crossed my mind. The majesty of London, the gondolas of Venice, the boulevards of Paris, the snowy mountains of Switzerland, the mystery of Hong Kong, yes…. but Jerusalem? For me, it was a mythical place from Bible stories. In my ignorance, I wasn’t sure it even existed.
However, I loved reading the majestic language of the prophets, and I even memorized Ezekiel 36:8: “And you, O mountains of Israel, you shall spread forth your branches and yield your fruit to my people Israel, for they are soon to come.”
Jerusalem didn’t become a reality to me until, in 1971, my husband suddenly announced that we should visit Israel, to show our four children their homeland. A visit would have been fine, but what he really meant was aliya – a word that struck terror in my heart. It meant leaving behind my mother, siblings, family and friends, financial security, a familiar culture, a comfortable home, a language that I loved.
At first, Jerusalem didn’t speak to me. I didn’t find it beautiful in the traditional sense. When your heart is resistant, you only find things to criticize, and I shed many tears, yearning for the comfortable life we had left behind. And then, in 1973, the Yom Kippur War. I found “they” became “us.” We were part of a people, a family.
We celebrated victories together; we grieved at our losses together.
This sense of unity gave me an understanding for the first time of the Haggada’s insistence that on Seder night each participant should personally experience the redemption at the shores of the Red Sea; that every individual must feel as if he or she personally had come out of Egypt.
When I became observant and began practicing mitzvot, which at first were strange and unfamiliar to me, the Seder was like coming home. No one had to explain it to me or tell me what to do. Etched into my consciousness were the memories of the Seder table … the three matzot arranged between the folds of a white cloth so that no two were touching; the dish of parsley with the bowl of salt water; the bitter herbs; the shank bone; and the roasted egg. I remember helping to make the haroset – the delicious paste of apples and almonds moistened with wine.
Passover is so rich in ritual; and that is, after all, the Jews’ survival system.
In Israel, Passover is a spring festival. After the cold, rainy winter, the air becomes a warm caress. The almond tree flaunts its white blossom, and all the trees are bedecked with new green lace. Cyclamens and wild violets peep shyly from crevices in the rocks, while purple iris and scarlet poppies dot the fields. The cereal harvest season has begun.
However, Passover is more than a link in the agricultural cycle of Israel. Its true significance is historical, commemorating the Exodus from Egypt and our release from slavery. The Hebrew word for Egypt is Mitzrayim, the root of which is tzar, which means “narrow” or “constrained.”
To say that we must leave Egypt is to say that each of us must struggle to break out of his/her narrowness, to obtain one’s full potential – spiritually, emotionally and psychologically.
The main lesson of Passover is freedom and liberty – the first of the Divine Commandments. On Passover, we celebrate it on three levels: seasonally, as we mark the release of the earth from the grip of winter; historically, as we commemorate our exodus from Egypt; and on a broader human plane, our emergence from bondage.
In Judaism, events transcend the moments of their happening – they are part of a continuous process that involves not just a single generation but all who went before and all who follow after. The cycle of the Jewish year is also the cycle of our survival.
Now at our Seder, my family no longer has to say “Next year in Jerusalem,” for we are already here. We replace it with “Next year in Jerusalem – the Rebuilt,” looking forward to the coming of the Messiah and a rebuilt Temple.
It took many years for me to truly understand this. At last, at the Seder I can join in with a full heart, “Next year in Jerusalem – the Rebuilt!“ May the old, familiar sounds of Passover be woven into the consciousness of you and your family. And for all who are far from Israel, may you truly consider the possibility when you conclude your celebration with the words “Next year in Jerusalem.”