For Passover in 2001, I was in Israel volunteering at Kibbutz Maagan Michael and I had an invitation to a Passover Seder in Jerusalem. I think for most people, they just say “Next Year in Jerusalem!” at the end of the Seder as part of tradition with no intention whatsoever of being in Jerusalem the next year. For me, it had long been my secret wish to have Passover in Jerusalem. It was less a Zionist imperative and more “I’ve been saying it for years and now I’m going to do it!” And wouldn’t it be amazing to fulfill that dream?
So here it is April 2001 and I am actually going to be in Jerusalem for the Seder. This is it! Dream fulfilled! I came to Jerusalem for the Shabbat before Passover – known as Shabbat HaGadol (the Great Shabbat). On Saturday, I had lunch in the home of a religious family who lived in the Old City. The family spoke very little English and my friend and I were there only there to meet the son (a friend of my friend, both of them were named Yair, which was a little confusing) who was going to walk with us around the Jewish quarter and take us to the Western Wall. We hadn’t actually planned to have lunch, but our timing was a little off and they were just sitting down, so they invited us to join them. So with my extremely limited knowledge of Hebrew, I listened to the conversation and the prayers and found that I could pick out a few words. One of the phrases I remember hearing is Shabbat HaGadol.
There were at least eight of us at the lunch. The food was excellent and filling. The conversation flowed in Hebrew, and the two Yairs filled in some of the gaps for me. And then it happened. The idea of fulfilling my secret wish, actually being at the center of Judaism here in the Old City, and sitting at a Shabbat lunch surrounded by Hebrew simply overwhelmed me. My eyes welled with tears. And then one slipped out and rolled down my cheek. I was embarrassed, but after the first one, there’s really no stopping them. I wasn’t crying exactly. It was really more like my emotional cup was overflowing and it came out of eyes in salty tears.
The family and my friends sitting around the table let it happen like it was the most normal thing in the world, as if everyone who comes to Shabbat lunch on Shabbat HaGadol leaks tears all over the table. The embarrassment was my own, but it only lasted a short while, because no one seemed to mind. They noticed, but saw that it was because I was washed over with emotion, not because I was sad. I did explain afterwards through translation that it was because sitting there in that moment represented a secret wish fulfilled. It was next year and I was in Jerusalem!
The story of my tears became sort of a legend in the family. I spent other holidays with them – without all the tears. But they always remembered that I was the one who cried at their table and by the next Passover, I had turned my life inside out and upside down and moved to Israel.