Next Year in Jerusalem

Understanding the familiar phrase in light of modern realities

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One interpretation is that by implementing God's word, the Jewish people in the Diaspora and in Israel can have a role in bringing peace to the world and to Jerusalem.

Eternal Hope

For Diaspora Jews who find it difficult to authentically recite this phrase at the end of the seder, the opening words, "next year," offer another entry point. The uttering of "next year in Jerusalem" is a way of expressing solidarity with Klal Yisrael, the entire Jewish community, past, present and future. "Next year" encapsulates that continuing flicker of hope that has sustained Jews for centuries past in the midst of despair. It also offers hope that the Israeli nation of today will find peace and that Jerusalem will remain a potential future haven for Diaspora Jews who still live under political and economic oppression.

But our phrase also offers a more majestic sense of hope. The words "next year" suggest a sense of being on the cusp but not yet having arrived, of possibility that is ripe and alive with implication. Rabbi David Hartman, in The Leader's Guide to the Family Participation Haggadah: A Different Night, sees a "radical futurism" reflected in the phrase, with its intimation of messianic possibility. He sees both the miracles of creation and the exodus from Egypt as pointing to the potential for revolutionary change--that things don't have to be the way they are, that oppressive regimes can change.

Every year, he writes, Jews drink four cups of wine and then pour a fifth for Elijah. "The cup is poured, but not yet drunk. Yet the cup of hope is poured every year. Passover is the night for reckless dreams; for visions about what a human being can be, what society can be, what people can be, what history may become. That is the significance of 'Le-shanah ha-ba-a b'Yerushalayim' (Next year in Jerusalem)."

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Michele Alperin is a freelance writer in Princeton, New Jersey. She has a masters degree in Jewish education from the Jewish Theological Seminary.