“Next year in Jerusalem.”

The soul knows the truth: our souls belong in Israel.

Hinda Leah Sheyman

Judaism Jerusalem Day dance through Damascus Gate on way to Western Wall
Jerusalem Day dance through Damascus Gate on way to Western Wall

I used to say that automatically, without much thought. Sure, I had been dreaming of Israel since childhood, but the concept of living in Israel was still a nebulous thought, a reality that seemed far removed from this bastion of Western Civilization, the United States.

Fast forward to Pesach of 2013. I had solidified my plans to study in Jerusalem for 10 months, and I was basking in the mounting excitement of returning to my homeland. Up until that point, it had been another facet of my religion. That Pesach, the proclamation, “Next year in Jerusalem,” was real. I would, indeed, be in Jerusalem the following Pesach.

When I landed in Israel at the age of 19, I was naive and misguided; my Judaism, though considerably more entrenched in Israel than in America, still reeked of an American mindset. I was lucky; I had grown up surrounded by Israelis and accustomed to the Israeli approach.

But my “religious” point of view was still significantly entrenched in Americanism. My concerns were economic; how could I make a good living in Israel? Maybe I could be in a Jewish community in the United States and it would achieve the same effect? I pondered these questions during my two and a half years in and around Jerusalem, and ultimately made the fateful decision to return to the United States.

The reflexive desire to embrace America once again came and left quickly. I rebounded into American culture, only to step back (after many months) and realize, with even fuller understanding than before, that my original, true love was Israel (and Judaism, which are inextricably intertwined). It made no difference that I had spent the majority of my years in America; my soul was inherently tied to Israel, not America. Despite some adopted loves - country music, the American attitude, and classic American cinema - my sense was that I was more tied to Israel than the place in which I was born. 

This full revelation, this understanding that I belonged to Israel more than my country of birth, required that I leave my supposed “home,” rediscover my ancient home, and subsequently return to my supposed “home” in order to decide, once and for all, where my soul truly belongs. I believe this is the story of the Jewish people throughout history; during the first Babylonian exile, after our first Temple was destroyed, we wept and dreamt of our return to Zion: 

“By the rivers of Babylon there we sat, we also wept when we remembered Zion. On willows in its midst we hung our harps. For there our captors asked us for words of song and our tormentors [asked of us] with mirth, ‘Sing for us of the song of Zion.’ How shall we sing the song of the Lord on foreign soil? If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget [its skill]. May my tongue cling to my palate, if I do not remember you, if I do not bring up Jerusalem at the beginning of my joy” (Psalm 137:1-6).

Time and time again, when we have been exiled, when we have been banished and barred from our homeland, it is then that we weep, and then that we recall our true purpose. We may have complained on our way in to Israel after leaving the supposed comforts of Egypt. And we may now fret and worry about giving up our cushy lives in exile, our multi-million dollar houses and our luxurious cars, but the soul knows the truth: our souls belong in Israel, and the longer we parrot, “Next year in Jerusalem,” with no real conviction or dedication to making it a reality, the more forcibly we will have to be reminded of who we truly are and where we need to be. 

Thankfully, the current trajectory of our thought process as a people, as a revitalized nation who, as of 1948, reclaimed our ancestral homeland in an unprecedented way, is that this current slow and painful return is the final one. Next year, when we’re having our fourth cups of wine over our Pesach seders, the seders which our ancestors had before us and our descendants will have after us, whether we’re in New Zealand, New York, or Argentina, let us say, “Next year in Jerusalem” with the understanding that it is this final return for which we are praying. It is the final gathering of our people from every corner of the earth, and the time when this idea of Jerusalem will no longer be the stuff of dreams, but a tangible reality.