Imperishable Spirit: ‘Am Israel Chai’ and the Art of Existential Defiance

Aerial view of Masada (Israel) Andrew Shiva / Wikipedia Commons/ CC BY-SA 4.0
Aerial view of Masada (Israel) Andrew Shiva / Wikipedia Commons/ CC BY-SA 4.0

There are idioms that transcend their etymology, that become, as it were, the distilled essence of an entire people’s will to endure. Among these utterances stands the seismic refrain, “Am Israel Chai,” or “The People of Israel Live,” which is less a casual observation and more an ironclad edict against the long parade of despots and demagogues who’ve fancied the destruction of Jewish identity.

Dare to mutter these syllables in Hebrew, that ancient conduit of the Torah, and you’ll soon realize you are not just forming sounds but conjuring an entire epic. Each vowel, each consonant is a compact capsule of laws, lamentations, and landmarks—a civilization’s living memory. “Am Israel Chai” is far more than a simple declaration of our biological continuity; it is a dogged stance against those who would erase the historical and ethical narrative of the Jewish people.

Imagine, if you will, the cacophonous echo of “Am Israel Chai” rattling the arid cliffs of Masada, where Jewish zealots chose self-slaughter over submission to Roman cruelty. Fast-forward through the dark corridors of history to the ghastly precincts of Auschwitz, where among the debris, parchment and pen ink also conspired to declare, “Am Israel Chai.” This isn’t just survival—it’s a brand of existential audacity that looks extermination in the eyes and declares itself imperishable.

Today these age-old cries reverberate through the streets of modern Israeli cities—the very cities Hamas continues to target and its furious rage wish to annihilate. Here too, amid the wails of sirens and the explosions of intercepted rockets, the indomitable chorus of “Am Israel Chai” rises. It serves as a clarion call that unifies the struggles of history with the urgency of the present. In fighting the terror that seeks to obliterate it, Israel is not merely announcing its survival but resoundingly proclaiming its invincible spirit: “Am Israel Chai.”

In the here and now, the State of Israel, no stranger to the blade of existential peril, finds new currencies for this old slogan. Each missile deflected skyward, every tech marvel erupting from Tel Aviv’s bustling hub, and even the accolades on the global stage—each is a verse in the long-running hymn of “Am Israel Chai.” Not merely a modern outpost in the Middle East, Israel is a time-traveling vault, a living dialogue between ancestral tribulations and future aspirations.

Let’s not delude ourselves: “Am Israel Chai” is not a mere bellow to be unleashed on the battlefield. No, it’s an undercurrent that imbues the quotidian—the sanctity of a Sabbath dinner, the murmured supplications against the venerable stones of the Western Wall, even the innocent cacophony of children in Jerusalem’s alleyways. It serves as a moral compass, relentlessly pointing each generation back to its roots and its ultimate ethical callings.

At a time when humanity itself seems increasingly precarious—gripped by the insidious fingers of tyranny, extremism, and a perverse cynicism that erodes our democratic ideals—we would do well to hearken to the chronicled resilience of “Am Israel Chai.” For what it whispers to us all is that survival is more than a biological function. It is a form of moral and ethical resistance. To live with meaning, to choose in the face of agony, and to continually affirm the values of a storied lineage—these are the manifest vows of “Am Israel Chai.”

So let it be known: “Am Israel Chai” is not a mere statement; it is nothing less than a manifesto, a clarion call that reverberates through the annals of time, inviting each of us to partake in the eternal narrative of perseverance against all odds.

About the Author
Catherine Perez-Shakdam - Director Forward Strategy and Research Fellow at the American Centre for Levant Studies. Catherine is a former Research Fellow at the Henry Jackson Society and consultant for the UNSC on Yemen, as well an expert on Iran, Terror and Islamic radicalisation. A prominent political analyst and commentator, she has spoken at length on the Islamic Republic of Iran, calling on the UK to proscribe the IRGC as a terrorist organisation. Raised in a secular Jewish family in France, Catherine found herself at the very heart of the Islamic world following her marriage to a Muslim from Yemen. Her experience in the Middle East and subsequent work as a political analyst gave her a very particular, if not a rare viewpoint - especially in how one can lose one' sense of identity when confronted with systemic antisemitism. Determined to share her experience and perspective on those issues which unfortunately plague us -- Islamic radicalism, Terror and Antisemitism Catherine also will speak of a world, which often sits out of our reach for a lack of access.
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