Next Year In Jerusalem

18 April 2024
By: Elana Ackerman Hirsch, NIF Froman Fellow

In a few short days, Jewish people all over the world will remember their experience as slaves and utter these words as they finish their Passover seders: “L’shanah haba’ah b’yerushalayim–Next year in Jerusalem.” 

Every year at the seder, we hope that the next time we meet, we will be together in Jerusalem, even if we have no intention of actually being in Jerusalem the following Passover. 

Why, then, do we close the Passover seder with these words? Are we referring to the city of Jerusalem or to something else?

There is a midrash on Psalm 122:3 that says that there are two Jerusalems: the heavenly Jerusalem–yerushalayim shel maalah– and the earthly Jerusalem–yerushalayim shel mata. These two Jerusalems are bound together, yet are not exactly the same. 

The earthly Jerusalem is far from perfect; it represents the harsh reality that the world that we know–including Jerusalem, the city of today–is not a place of peace and justice for all. The heavenly Jerusalem is the ideal, the Jerusalem we aspire to live in, where all people live with peace and justice. 

The midrash is saying that the Jerusalem that we pray to be in next year is not the physical place, but rather a vision of the type of world that we know is possible if we fight for it.

Each year we ask for the courage to continue fighting for this better world, so that the distance between the heavenly Jerusalem and earthly Jerusalem might shrink. 

I first learned about these two Jerusalems sitting in the earthly Jerusalem in the summer of 2018 on a trip for rabbinical students run by T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights. Since then, I have not been able to get this imagery out of my mind. I had just started rabbinical school after a long year of teaching English in an elementary school in Rehovot, Israel. And while I had learned a lot about Israeli society in my first year living in Rehovot, it wasn’t until I started rabbinical school that I began learning about the Palestinian perspective and history, which began with this T’ruah trip. 

I have always felt that it is my responsibility as a Jewish person to help the oppressed, aid the wronged, and to act with justice in this world. I feel this call even more strongly now during these last six months of war and devastation in Israel and Gaza, and I have returned to this midrash again and again. 

Lately, it feels difficult to reconcile the two Jerusalems. I grieve the fact that, right now, the gap between the heavenly and earthly Jerusalems often feels cavernous. But I take solace in the work of so many groups–groups who work, every day, promote peace. They give me hope that we can–and that we will–bring these two versions of the world closer together. 

For months, I have been amazed by the work of NIF grantee Standing Together (Omdim Beyachad–Naqef Ma’an). They are doing the brave and hard work of advocating for a shared future between Israelis and Palestinians in the Land of Israel, a future of “peace and independence for Israelis and Palestinians, full equality for all citizens, and true social, economic, and environmental justice.” 

Last month, for example, they organized an aid convoy, bringing Jewish and Palestinian citizens of Israel together to donate and deliver food to the Gaza border in a coordinated effort with international aid groups. The IDF blocked the convoy twice before it reached the border, yet people still came together and insisted on feeding Palestinians in Gaza who were starving. When I see their Instagram posts, hear their leaders speak, and bear witness to the progress that they are making in Israeli society, I feel like it might be possible to close the gap between the heavenly and earthly Jerusalems. Standing Together courageously advocates for a new story in the Land of Israel.

On Passover we read, “In each and every generation, a person is obligated to see themselves as if they left Egypt, as it is stated (in Exodus 13:8): ‘And you shall explain to your [children] on that day: For the sake of this, did Adonai do [this] for me in my going out of Egypt.’” This message, found in every haggadah from medieval texts to the social-justice themed haggadah of my childhood, obligates us to think of ourselves as having personally been enslaved in Egypt. Not only are we supposed to remember the Exodus and retell the story of its miracle, we must also remember what it would be like to have been oppressed before we were freed. 

Each year, we create and re-create memories of this collective experience at our seders. Passover is, as historian Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi calls it, the “quintessential exercise in Jewish group memory.” 

This Passover, as we create and recreate the Passover story and ask to be in a world free from violence and oppression, I hope that we don’t stop at just remembering and imagining ourselves as having been slaves, but that we take it one step further. I hope that we, like the activists of Standing Together, can act to help feed and support innocent people in Gaza who are suffering. 

This Passover, let each of us use the memory of having been oppressed to consider what we will do to bring more justice to the world, so that we might unite the two Jerusalems, and one day be together in the heavenly Jerusalem. 

L’shanah haba’ah b’yerushalayim–Next year in Jerusalem.