Let’s see, there is 91-year-old Helen who has never been out of the United States and is excited to see the Dead Sea. She is committed to journaling the trip so she won’t forget things. She has cast to the side the reality that she is due to undergo heart surgery. Her world for now is revolving around this trip.
Then there’s Harry, who is 92 and had been married to his wife for more than 66 years before she died. He lovingly spoke of her, as if she were still alive. He said that at one time he had been an atheist, but “he became Jewish again” at the home.
Selma had been to Israel more than 30 years prior and was just as excited about visiting again. She is 93 years old and her body is stooped over, her bones giving way to disease. She makes light of her medical condition, saying that she is “twisted.” She is such a joy and also abandons any ideas of not making the trip. One of the highlights of her day is when she has to drink her nutrition enrichments, which she calls her martinis and her Black Russians. She does turn sad when discussing the day that someone died in the dining room right behind her. “It was a wonderful way to go but a frightening thing to see,” she said.
Another resident of The Jewish Home for the Elderly in Connecticut is Bill, who is 97 and regales about stories when he was 25 and the “mothers had to pull their daughters in the house.”
Ninety-year-old Leslie says he has adjusted to his circumstances and doesn’t complain much, as he is grateful for mobility and to live to see another day. These and other residents of The Jewish Home are excited about planning a trip to and visiting Jerusalem in the documentary Next Year Jerusalem.
I was tearing up within minutes of watching this film. It is a great testament to longevity, resourcefulness and will among what I call a special group of seniors. You would think that the residents at this home would not be thrilled about taking a trip across the world to visit Jerusalem, but this eclectic, reserved and dignified group values the historical and emotional take-aways associated with this trip. Finally the day arrives, and everything is in place, including a plan for what to do if one of the residents isn’t able to return from the trip, either due to health issues or sadly death. When the group finally arrives in Jerusalem, I was consumed by their infectious smiles.
This documentary is a poignant and lyrical portrait of eight nursing home residents who make a pilgrimage to Israel. It is less a story about tourists in a foreign land than it is a meditation on the sanctity of the human experience and a tribute to the wisdom acquired in a lifetime – a true exploration of living and dying, hope and fear, travel and memory. Those who spend their final days in a nursing home face a future with limited opportunity. But the promise of one last adventure raises the stakes for this group, along with caretakers and the President of the facility, Andrew Banoff.
Next Year Jerusalem, by director David Gaynes, is a great film, not just for older people but for anyone who would like to see the human spirit in full blast and witness the joy of it all. Next Year Jerusalem is due out in theaters May 16.