A few weeks ago, I read a message in Facebook, posted by a friend of mine, a learned scholar who teaches Judaic studies in an upscale college in the United States. My friend was planning an undergrad course about Zionism, Israel and Jewish identity. The basic theme of the course, he wrote, was to show how Zionism arose as a set of answers to the crises of modern Jewish life, and he was looking for an “opening trigger” (ideally musical or film) to start the course.
I thought at once that I had the perfect trigger for my friend. It was the popular song / anthem from about a hundred years ago: “Here, in the land that our forefathers yearned for“. It was written in 1912 by Israel Dushman and Hanina Kratchevsky, as a marching tune for the students of the Herzeliya Gymnasium in the nascent city of Tel Aviv, on their exploring trips through the Land of Israel. I could not find an official translation, so here is my humble effort at translating parts of it into English:
“Here, in the land our forefathers yearned for indeed;
All our hopes would at last be fulfilled.
Here we shall live, shape and craft
Life of splendor, life of freedom;
Up above, Providence shall dwell;
And the language of the Torah will prevail”
פֹּה בְּאֶרֶץ חֶמְדַּת אָבוֹת
תִּתְגַּשֵּׁמְנָה כָּל הַתִּקְווֹת,
פֹּה נִחְיֶה וּפֹה נִיצֹּר,
חַיֵּי זֹוהַר חַיֵּי דְּרוֹר,
פֹּה תְּהֵא הַשְּׁכִינָה שׁוֹרָה,
פֹּה תִּפְרַח גַּם שְׂפַת הַתּוֹרָה.
As a small boy in Tel Aviv I heard this song many times from my mother, herself a graduate of the Herzliya Gymnasium, who kept singing it as a cherished lullaby.
I wrote to my friend, suggesting that he should use this very optimistic song as a musical illustration of the vision of Zionism and Israel, but I do not know whether he took my advice or not. Then Amos Oz died.
A few weeks beforehand, I attended a special literary event with Oz, celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of his first novel, My Michael. Many readers consider this book to date to be his best. It is hard to rate and in any case one could define most of Amos Oz’s novels as “the best of…” Personally, I was just as enticed by his less known book, “Touch the Water, Touch the Wind“, because of its metaphysical Jewish air.
At his funeral, Amos Oz’s daughter recited and half-sang the very song here mentioned, “Here, in the land that our forefathers yearned for”, sharing with the public her childhood memories as her father used to sing it for her as a lullaby. A few hours later hundreds of people were also singing it, spontaneously, at the burial ceremony in Kibbutz Hulda: “Here, in the land that our forefathers yearned for indeed, all our hopes will at last be fulfilled….” (see attached).
Amos Oz was not only a storyteller and a narrator or a reproachful prophet. He was also a true product of this country. Born in the Jerusalem, he moved to Kibbutz Huldah, and then to the Negev town of Arad and finally to Tel Aviv. He was an enchanting master of Hebrew, a discerning writer with an open eye, ear and heart, a Zionist and a real humanist as the way we were.
Was that event not only the story of Israel, tightly packed in a sad goodbye to a revered writer who could always catch the Israeli condition in a glimpse? Maybe it was also a farewell to the powerful and just society that our parents and grandparents had built. I wondered whether the hushed, choked-up prayer-like melody sung at the funeral of Amos Oz was just that, or maybe also a lament for a beloved country. There are still so many hopes to fulfill in the land that our founding fathers yearned for. Some of these hopes are naïve while others became clichés, but they created our world picture and self-image as a peace-loving, humanistic and learned society, always defending itself vigorously while always yearning for peace. They say that it is now up to the next generation to find out the path for Israel. However, to me this song, coupled with the life and legacy of Amos Oz, is more than just an appropriate trigger for an academic course about Zionism, Israel and Jewish identity. It is about us; it is about where we came from and where we want to go.
Ambassador (ret.) Barukh Binah is a policy fellow at MITVIM, the Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies. He had served in a variety of diplomatic positions vis-a-vis the United States, including Spokesman in New York, Consul General in Chicago, Deputy Head of Mission in Washington DC and Deputy Director General of the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, heading the North American Division. He also served as Israel’s ambassador to the Kingdom of Denmark.