Every year at the end of the Passover Seder, Jews promise to do it “Next Year in Jerusalem,” reminding us of our ties, wherever we are, to our ethnic homeland, the birthplace of our people. Few follow up on it, comfortable in the Diaspora, entrenched with jobs, friends, and property. But for teenager Rebecca Levine, the protagonist of Next Year in Israel, leaving her birthplace is a pretty easy task as she has been taunted and bullied in her suburban Boston school for years. A high school study abroad program offers an out for Rebecca after she survives a suicide attempt. Rebecca is eager to put her past behind her and carve a new identity abroad. At the program’s youth village she refers to with the Hebrew word kfar, she builds new bonds with the other program participants. The relationships are fraught with the question of who is a true friend. She also agonizes over whether she is really a loser like her classmates in Boston told her or is it possible that she is a likeable person. In Israel, she learns Hebrew, Jewish culture and prayers as she has not been religious. She forges a new identity as a good friend and earns the interest of various boys. Rebecca is haunted by her past, even as she has positive experiences in Israel. She grows beyond that and, by the end of the year, she is ready to go back to her home. Readers can find out how she fares in the bonus short story This Year At Home. Recommended for ages 13 and up.
Dina Weinstein is a Richmond, Virginia-based writer.