…next year in jerusalem!

March 29, 2007

i’ve been meaning to churn this one out for a long time.

for most of the past 2000 years or so, the jewish diaspora has implanted itself firmly in countries across the world, with communities springing up in cities and towns across the world, from new york, montréal and amsterdam to buenos aires, kobe and shanghai. oftentimes, settlement would occur in the same way that most ethnic groups settle in a foreign land, with people selecting a fairly particular neighbourhood and building synagogues, schools, businesses and other cultural beacons. these, naturally, become stepping stones – a way of lessening the culture shock of being strangers in strange lands.

so here’s a strange thing about jews: migration happens for plenty of reasons, be they economic, religious or political, but it’s particularly notable when an entire ethnic population is forcibly expelled from their homeland.

DSCF1977.JPGjews, of course, are not alone in this experience: acadians were expelled from (what is now) new brunswick by the british, idi amin kicked uganda’s south asian population out of his country, aboriginal tribes in canada were (pretty much) forced to abandon their traditional lands and be corralled into reservations. even when these movements are technically voluntary, the results are still awe-inspiring: the partition of british india resulted in 11 million people being uprooted and moved from one side of the radcliffe line to the other (it’s estimated that over one million people died in the process).

still, acadians were europeans in a european worldview, and largely stuck together in their new home, louisiana. the asian victims of idi amin’s insanity still had a homeland, however remote. first nations across canada still claim their right to land, having been there since time immemorial. hindus had india and muslims had pakistan and bangladesh.

today, jews in the diaspora cry out “to next year in jerusalem!” it’s pretty much meant to be a casual prayer for good fortune. but still, it brings us back to the destruction of king david’s temple in the first century.

jewish history can be roughly divided into two periods: an ancient-legendary age and a modern age. during the ancient-legendary age, jewish life was very different from that today. there was virtually no diaspora as jews were primarily farmers who still lived in judea (the roman province roughly corresponding to modern-day israel), courts were still headed by magistrates with semi-religious functions, the priesthood was still a very powerful social and political force and animal sacrifice was still very much en vogue.

after the temple’s destruction, and the great scattering across the world, jews found that much of what they knew in judea would not apply in their surrogate homes. farmers became merchants and country-folk became city-folk. the positions of priesthood, over time, merged with those of the court magistrates, creating the rabbinate. distrust of jews and vicious racism, however, proved to be just as constant (perhaps, ironically and in retrospect, a re-assurance that they remained steadfast in who they were).

but modern jews still longed to return to their land of milk and honey, their little slice of beach-front real-estate. like elder-day rastafarians, they believed that most of the jewish community’s problems would settle themselves when israel was once again populated by jews.

as much as people like me may disagree with the politics and actions of the government of israel and hawkish israeli advocacy committees across the world, like it or hate it, the state of israel exists and is here to stay.

now that the state of israel exists, one where jews will never face discrimination for the heritage of their forefathers (within the framework of the israeli legal system, at least), there’s no more need to hope for “next year in jerusalem!” all one really has to do is hop on a plane (the israeli government will largely take care of the rest, i believe) to become an israeli citizen.

which, of course, creates an interesting and unexpected problem.

with so much of modern jewish identity being based on the concept of surrogate homeland in america, europe, asia or africa, and the hope of reaching israel’s borders once more, what does it mean to be a jew today? has the state of israel’s establishment over the past sixty-five years or so actually done more harm to jewish identity than good? or has it simply changed it?



2 Responses to “…next year in jerusalem!”

  1. Charles Says:

    My family came from the diaspora before Israel was established, before modern Hebrew was created. I see Israel as a projection of Judaism back onto an ancestral land, but it’s not necessarily my Judaism. Many Israelis I have spoken to seem to have the attitude that if you’re not completely observant, you might as well not believe in Judaism at all and be secular; meanwhile my family in North America has been part of bot the Conservative and Reconstructionist movements that seek to reconcile beliefs with a changing world.

    So while Israel does have meaning to me, I don’t see it as “my” homeland, and I don’t see it as the epicentre of “my” religion. The diaspora made Israel what it is today, and we didn’t all get an equal say.

  2. Boobie Says:

    I am just overwhelmed reading the blog of “next year in Jerusalem”. Not surprised at the amount of research and dialogue expressed by you. Just outstanding!
    with pride and love

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