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Why are you supposed to say “next year in Jerusalem”?

The very last words of the traditional Seder are “next year in Jerusalem.” As the final moment in the Seder, it’s emotionally significant, and it finishes the Seder’s journey from a reminder of the suffering of the past (and present) to hopes for wholeness and freedom for all in the future.

Traditionally, saying “next year in Jerusalem” was just a wish for Jews — because there was no such thing as a Jewish Jerusalem or a Jewish state. So the Seder closed with the wish for all Jews to be able to return to the homeland, just as they did after leaving Egypt. Since the creation of Israel, however, the meaning of the phrase has changed — any Jew who says “next year in Jerusalem” can actually travel to Jerusalem for Passover next year.

Many Jews who believe strongly in the importance of a Jewish state see “next year in Jerusalem” as an expression of the need to protect Jerusalem and Israel as they exist today. Others think of the “Jerusalem” mentioned in the Seder as more of an ideal of what Jerusalem and Israel could be — for them, “next year in Jerusalem” is a prayer that Israel will move closer to that ideal. Or “Jerusalem” could just be a symbol of utopia more generally, and “next year in Jerusalem” could be a resolution to bring peace to Earth in the coming year.

US Jewish attitudes toward Israel vary widely, and that can come out in this one sentence. For some, the Seder’s concluding line is a declaration of Jews’ responsibility to “make Aliyah” and relocate to Israel or to at least keep the Jewish state in their hearts. For others, it’s a lamentation that Jerusalem remains divided by the Israel-Palestine conflict, the dream of a Jewish Jerusalem unfulfilled. And others still may see it as a reminder that the conflict has left Palestinians, including those in Jerusalem, without their own longed-for state and freedom.

Within Israel itself, many Jews don’t say “next year in Jerusalem,” but rather “next year in Jerusalem, the rebuilt” — referring to the rebuilding of the ancient Jewish Temple. But more liberal Jews, even in Israel, often say “next year in Jerusalem” as an aspiration toward an ideal.