On the 8th Day of Passover, we held an interesting conversation after services: what does L'Shanah Ha'ba'ah BiYerushalayim/Next Year In Jerusalem mean to us as Jewish Americans?
Most people said they said it by rote, not realizing the profound statement of these three words – but rarely do we take the words to heart.
Most of the answers were about a personal ideal – Jerusalem is a place that exists in us, or it is a metaphor for world peace.
One person said – “when I say those words, I feel guilty.” She elaborated: “I feel guilty because I know that I made my life here in America, and yet, there's a Jewish state in Israel that I am not a citizen of, and there's a level of guilt I feel about not living there.”
I want to share with you the words of Jeffrey Goldberg regarding these words from the New American Haggadah:
The Haggadah The most demanding hole in the final moments of the seder. Next year in Jerusalem We declare, sometimes nervously, sometimes self-consciously, often ambivalently. Think about it: We can achieve in less than a day what it took our ancestors forty years to do- move to and become citizens of the Jewish state. This call was, for most of the Passovers of Jewish history, a messianic aspiration; Jerusalem was an unachievable goal. Things have changed. Zionism, the most successful national liberation movement of the 20th Century, has made it possible for us to do what Moses could not. And yet: Does “Next year in Jerusalem” mean that we are actually supposed to make aliyah tomorrow? The comfortable answer is: No, obviously not. The uncomfortable answer is: Yes. Imagine having the ability to commune with their distant and downtrodden ancestors, in their scattered shtetls and ghettos.You happily inform them that, yes, for the first time since the Romans ethnically cleansed Israel, a Jewish state exists. They are overwhelmed with joy and ask, “What is it like to live there?” And you answer, “Well I wouldn't actually know.”
World Jewry just observed the holiday of Yom HaShoah. There is a stark difference in the way we see these holidays. Today, I want to talk about this idea: how different Jews in America and Israel are, but at the same time, how similar we are.
In Parashat Acharei Mot, we read about the holiday of Yom Kippur. In our parashah, it's presented on its own, but we know now that Yom Kippur is the end of a process – the 10 days of tesuvah. It begins with Rosh Hashanah, and ends with Yom Kippur. 10 days of personal introspection. But the Jewish calendar is filled with holidays that are tied to other holidays. What is Pesach, the Exodus of Egypt and freedom, without Shavuot, the giving of Torah with the Omer leading up to it.
Avraham Infeld, the former director of International Hillel, takes a similar look at the holiday of Yom HaShoah. Can it exist alone? The answer is no, it wasn't meant to be observed like that. Like the other Jewish holidays, it is intricately connected to the others, and the others are, Yom HaZikaron and Yom Ha'atzmaut – Israeli Memorial Day and Israeli Independence Day.
Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, which focus on Tesuvah, are deeply personal, the Ten Days of Me; but these days, starting with Yom HaShoah and ending with Yom Ha'atzmaut, he calls them the Nine Days of We.
Yom HaShoah, he says, a tragedy that did not happen in Israel, and yet, the whole country stands still because it was a tragedy that affected the Jewish people, the destruction of 1/3 of the Jewish people. I want you to think about it like a roller coaster – then we continue going down – a memorial day where Israelis remember the people, their family members, who helped give them the state – they remember the silver platter that the state was delivered on. And then, it comes to a high note – Israeli Independence Day. This day has fundamentally changed what it means to be a Jew in the world. Infeld says that the word Jew used to be synonymous with refugee, but because of Israel, for the first time in 2,000 years, this is not the case.
When our community was planning for the Maccabbee games, a representative from International JCC came to speak with us. A young Israeli woman, who put the midot, or values around the room:
Showing respect - Kavod
Inspiring pride - Geavah
Sharing joy - Rinah
Repairing the world – Tikkun Olam
Open Heartedness – Lev Tov
Jewish Peoplehood– Amit Yehudit
All of us in the room, Jewish Americans, had to go to the term that most spoke to us. She was the only one who went to Amit Yehudit/Jewish peoplehood.
Like the 'Next Year In Jerusalem' example, we, Jewish Americans, have to look ourselves in the mirror and wonder – what is missing inside of us the longer we live here in safety?
What could 'Next Year In Jerusalem' mean for us? Perhaps this means for Jewish Americans what Goldberg says, “At the very least, as a repudiation of the wicked son (who takes himself out of the story with his question – what is this rite to you all, not me): Jews, no matter our politics, have a special responsibility to tie ourselves to Israel's fate, And to work for the vision of Israel in which we believe.”
Our parashah tells the story of two goats. Each goat has its own baggage – one goat for Azazel and one goat for God. The goat for Azazel is the scapegoat – the goat sent away with the people's sins. Two goats, with two different paths, and yet, they are intricately connected and necessary.
This summer, Yossi Klein HaLevi, an Israeli who was born in the U.S. and the author of the famous book, Like Dreamers, looked at us, a group of Jewish-American Rabbis and said, “We are products of the societies we live in, we are affected by our neighborhoods –We Israelis are rough because of our neighborhood, perhaps too rough, and I for one am grateful that Jewish Americans help us see the big picture of the need to be more moral at times. You, the Jews of America, are comfortable because you aren’t surrounded by threats, but perhaps you are too comfortable. Therefore, we Israeli Jews and Jewish Americans must come together and help each other.”
Maybe Jerusalem actually means Jerusalem, a city at the heart of the state of Israel. And maybe we have to struggle with this very real idea. Maybe, it's ok to feel torn in two, because that torn feeling will help us become more whole.
Like in Had Gadya, we, Jewish people, are the one goat – it might seem like there are two goats, but we are really one. My hope is that we can tag along with Israel as 'we' observe these 9 Days of We. My hope is that we realize the following: no matter how different we are, and no matter how different our political beliefs, we ultimately share one heart.