The Transformative Power of Journey: Next Year Jerusalem

by Dr. Jessie Voigts /
Dr. Jessie Voigts's picture
May 07, 2014 / 0 comments

Can a group of elderly nursing home residents travel abroad? The answer is yes - with care and love and a lot of planning. Such is the case for 8 residents (ages 87-97) of the Jewish Home for the Elderly in Connecticut, who journey to Israel with a film team, nursing companions, and the CEO of the Home, Andrew Banoff. Their journey is shown in the excellent documentary, Next Year Jerusalem: The Journey of a Lifetime.


Next Year Jerusalem: The Journey of a Lifetime.


Directed and produced by David Gaynes, it is a glimpse into the lives of elders, both while traveling and at home. They are funny, honest, exceptional people with rich histories. It is a reminder to value life's wisdom, and take care to treat it respectfully. Of special note is the original score by Christopher Garofalo, who sets the scene with compassion, energy, and the longing for travel, newness, and home in his music.


The phrase, "Next Year in Jerusalem," is very meaningful to the Jewish people. My friend and fellow traveler and teacher, Lisa Niver, explained to me: "At the end of the Passover Seder, we say:  "Next year in Jerusalem!" As in next year will be different, we will be free from what enslaves us and celebrate together in Jerusalem. It is a joyous end to the seder meal where we retell the story and remember when Jews were slaves in Egypt and had to flee for freedom."


This is the most tender, heart-warming movie I have ever seen. The people within are so vibrant and caring, the filmmaking is honest and respectful, and the elders are full of joie de vivre, wisdom, faith, and, of course, both trepidation and excitement about traveling. Some of the elders had never been out of the country, while others had traveled before. The film shows the entire range of the travel experience, from the excitement of planning to being in country to the readjustment of coming home.


It is remarkable to watch the elders being wheeled about the ruins and important sites, the jokes (especially by Bill, 97), the kindness, the cameras and smiles and joy. Truly, tears came to my eyes throughout the movie.


At the Western Wall, one bearded man hailed Leslie Novis (90), saying "Hey Grandpa!" and  then finding out when Leslie been there last, 40 years ago. The outpouring of kindness, help, faith, and comraderie at the Western Wall was both moving and a glimpse into the cultures of age, gender, and nationality.


Leslie Novis (90) visits Caesaria in Israel, as seen in Next Year Jerusalem, a film by David Gaynes.

Leslie Novis (90) visits Caesaria in Israel


When the group came to Yardenit, the baptismal site on the Jordan River, Helen (91) moved slowly down the steps to the river, carefully tended by her companion, Donnette. After dipping her feet and making the sign of the cross with the water, and then helping Helen to do the same, Donnette said, "Helen, believe me, I wouldn't want to be here with anybody else but you," to which Helen replied, "Me, too," and "I love you." And age doesn't matter - it turned out that in the Dead Sea, Helen was more successful than Donnette at floating!


Helen Downs (91) floats in the Dead Sea, as seen in Next Year Jerusalem, a film by David Gaynes.

Helen Downs (91) floats in the Dead Sea


It is this genuine love and caring that makes this documentary stand out from the crowd. It's a poignant look at how one can still have adventures at the end of a life, and how the big moments juxtapose with the small moments of taking pills, having difficulty walking, sleeping on the bus, taking photos, and coping with change. Interspersed with the small and large moments of travel are incredible shots of the beauty of Israel and closeups of the travelers, showing the beauty of life.


This film gives new meaning to the terms journey, end of life, and travel. Selma Rosenblatt (93) said it best, atop the Massada. "It's beautiful, things you never thought you'd see." When asked later about the trip, she said she was "ready to go back to Israel, it was a marvelous trip, really, a sense of liberty, of freedom, quite fantastic."


A group of nursing home residents visit Caesaria in Israel, as seen in Next Year Jerusalem, a film by David Gaynes.

A group of nursing home residents visit Caesaria in Israel (Helen and Donnette in the foreground)


"Look how far we've traveled! It was another world...hoping to prove to the powers that be that we could do it, that we're tough people, that we could do it, that we could go above and beyond what they anticipated." But I think they proved to themselves something more.


A group of nursing home residents visit the Massada in Israel, as seen in Next Year Jerusalem, a film by David Gaynes.

A group of nursing home residents visit the Massada in Israel


The holding together, the shared love, the faith, the smiles, the helping each other - it's a testament to the kindness of humanity, and the power of love, throughout life. Amid the beeps of hospital equipment, the constant noise of a nursing home, the struggles and deaths and end of life issues, there is still room for the transformative powers of a journey.


Bill Wein (97) at the Western Wall, as seen in Next Year Jerusalem, a film by David Gaynes.

Bill Wein (97) at the Western Wall


"People ask me, did you have a good time on your vacation? and I say, it wasn't a vacation. We became different people."


For more information:

Director - David Gaynes
Run Time - 72 minutes
Language - English
Format - Digital (DCP & BluRay)
Year - 2014
Genre - Documentary


Note: Extra special thanks to First Run Features, who kindly sent a review copy of this movie. It has changed my life.