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Next Year in Jerusalem: The Jewish Mantra for Hope and Action
By Amy Lederman
Passover in Israel is a magical time of year. The winter rains and chilly air are replaced by a flurry of activity and sense of renewal that is unequal to any other season. Flaming poppies, black-eyed Susans and Queen Anne's lace fill the fields while birds travel back to the Hula Valley to build their nests. In the north, the Banias River, swollen with winter rains, tempts even the most timid nature lover to take off her shoes and socks and feel the springtime mud squish between her toes.
But it is not just winter waking up to spring that intrigues me. It is the transition of a country moving from chametz to matzah, a country in the process of cleansing itself that makes me marvel at the power of Jewish tradition and faith.
On the eve of Passover during the year I lived in Israel, I walked with my husband for more than 3-miles from our apartment in Baka to Mea Shearim, Jerusalem's famous religious neighborhood. The city was working double time to get itself ready for Passover and Shabbat, which fell on the first Seder night. The clanging of pots and dishes resonated as restaurants and bakeries frantically labored to convert their kitchens for Passover. A symphony of sounds accompanied us as we moved through the streets. People laughing, babies crying, closet doors banging, horns blasting; the air was charged with energy and purpose. But the smell was what got to me. The dense smell of the last vestiges of burning bread products hovered over us like a cloud, reminding me of fall leaf burning in New Jersey when I was a child
Huge cauldrons of boiling water lined Strauss Street so that people could kasher their pans and utensils for the holiday. I thought of our tiny Jerusalem kitchen and how, earlier in the morning, my family and I had spent hours soaping down the counter tops and washing out the cabinets. We felt so clean and tidy afterwards, "all spic and span" as my mother would say. There was something deeply gratifying about the process of cleaning up our home, as if we had lined our nest with downy, new feathers. We put our house in order, just as the Seder creates an order to the telling of the Passover story.
As we walked home along King George Street, we watched the city in its closing moments of cleansing; a community making its way from winter to spring, dark to light, chametz to matzah. The streets were hushed; the smells of burning bread and cake all but gone.
I understood for the first time the longing that for centuries has dominated the Jewish heart and spirit. Next year in Jerusalem is not only a physical call to bring people from all over the globe to the most holy city in the world. It is a call to inspire all Jews, as a community of people, to work together to bring a sense of order and renewal, a sense of purpose and optimism to our lives, our future and our world.
This has been a year of many challenges for Israel: terrorist attacks, the war in Gaza, political instability and corruption and fiscal pressures continue to drain the people and their resources. It has also been a year where the values that we cherish most as Jews and Americans have been under attack from within and abroad.
This year as we sit at our Passover table and retell the story of Jewish redemption from slavery to freedom, let us remember not only our history as Jews but our obligation to act with justice and compassion within it. Let us recall not only our treacherous escape from Egypt (Mitztrayim in Hebrew, which also means narrow straits), but our own fight to escape the narrowness, prejudice and bigotry that can enslave our own thoughts and actions today.
And when we close our Seder singing the words "next year in Jerusalem," may they inspire us to continue to fight to protect the people, land and values that throughout history have imbued the Jewish people to endure at all costs. Because if the spirit of "next year in Jerusalem" loses its hold on us, then terrorism, political strife and economic hardship will not be the reason we do not succeed. We will have done it to ourselves.
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For more on Passover, see our Passover Archives
from the April 2009 Passover Edition of the Jewish Magazine
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