Spread forth your branches

Now we no longer have to say ‘Next year in Jerusalem,’ for we are already here

‘AT LAST, at the Seder, I can join in with a full heart, “Next year in Jerusalem the Rebuilt!”’ (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
‘AT LAST, at the Seder, I can join in with a full heart, “Next year in Jerusalem the Rebuilt!”’
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
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? Just as, at every Seder, we drink four cups of wine and pour out a fifth for the Prophet Elijah, and it still remains full at the end of the meal.
I remember as a child, before the State of Israel was born, back in Australia, we also said: “Next year in Jerusalem,” but we didn’t mean it. My parents, both born in Melbourne, never left Australia’s shores. I traveled extensively, but coming 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... but Jerusalem? 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 my husband, in 1971, suddenly announced that we should visit, to show our four children their homeland. A visit would have been fine, but what he really meant was aliyah – a word that struck terror into me. 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 find only things to criticize, and I shed many tears, yearning for the comfortable life we had left behind. 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 has personally experienced 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.
Now we no longer have 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. When I did, it inspired me to write:
Shaping a poem
I took a measure of yearning
For something from the past.
The longing forged a link
Welding me to my people...
Generations I’d never known
Somehow molded me
Into a Jew.
I sprinkled it with faith
Adding a new dimension,
Discarding my belief
That all in existence
Was what my senses knew.
Now I had something more
Than reality.
Mixed in a touch of vision
And a handful of dreams,
That there could be a homeland
For the lost and lonely
Jews who’d been discarded
By an uncaring world...
A refuge.
The garnish was the thrill
Of building a new land
Where even a dead language
Sprang to life; and deserts
Were green with promise
Of tomorrow.
Finally the dedication
To those who gave their lives
For a vision and a hope.
I found I’d made a poem
Of my life. Its name
Was “Israel.”
At last, at the Seder, I can join in with a full heart, “Next year in Jerusalem the Rebuilt!”
The writer, who has lived in Jerusalem for 48 years, is the author of 14 books. Her latest novel is Searching for Sarah.