Singing Hatikva

This month I sang Hatikva three times. Most recently, last night on Erev Yom Hazikaron at a local neighborhood memorial ceremony.  The other occasions were at the Kotel, following the swearing-in ceremony of my son into the army, and a few weeks before that, following a march in which I participated, calling on the State not to give up on the peace talks (this was when there was still the faintest, tiniest glimmer of hope). 

I have an ambivalent relationship to the anthem. Because of associations with my background and education and my continuing Zionism, the melody fills me with emotion, and I so want to be able to sing it with my full heart and soul. But having lived in the complex ethnic and religious reality of modern Israel for 30 years, I have gained a sensitivity and certain discomfort about the lines that are appropriate just for Israel’s Jewish citizens, (such as “The hope of two thousand years, to be a free nation in our land, the land of Zion and Jerusalem”).Thus sadly I can no longer sing Hatikva  with unalloyed pride and emotion, without feeling some reservation about the totally unilateral message it conveys as the anthem of the Jewish people. 

There were interesting statistics in the weekend papers, which were filled with pre-Memorial Day/Independence Day ponderings.  There are now 8.2 million citizens of Israel and 75% of them are Jewish.  Jews are a clear majority, but the 25% non-Jews – they are Muslim, Christian and other (including no religious identity) – amount to more than 2 million people. That is a large number of souls.

If national symbols are important, we have to consider creating an anthem with which all citizens of the country can identify and can feel comfortable singing.  I understand why we don’t want to, nor have to give up Hatikva — it can and should be sung on many national occasions. But what about composing another anthem which all citizens of Israel, Jews and non-Jews alike, can sing? A national anthem that can be used for various appropriate national occasions, as well.

Growing up in the US, we used to sing our national anthem, the Star Spangled Banner, which commemorates martial victory, but also America the Beautiful, which celebrates the beauty and bounty of the land, as well as reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. Clearly all three represented different, essential parts of national identity.

The time has come for a new, additional anthem for the State of Israel.  Hatikva should remain, of course: – it is rich and meaningful, and has become part of the Jewish cultural heritage; throughout the world, Jews love the words and the melody inspired by Smetana.

With all the wonderful writers, poets and musicians in this country, we can create another national song with which all citizens can feel comfortable — a song reflecting pride in this unique democracy in the Middle East, the sensitivity to and love of our environment, the commitment to tolerance and understanding and equality as outlined in the Declaration of Independence.  Perhaps we can even incorporate some of the actual words from the Declaration (or a version which would fit musical cadences!), such as… complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions…. A few lines in Arabic might also be appropriate in this second national anthem.

I want Hatikva to remain as a national anthem.  It has emerged as a new civic prayer of the Jewish people. But let’s have another national song that can be used on many official occasions — and can be sung with gusto by all.

The more we become sensitive to the needs of all the citizens of the country, the more legitimate will be our pride and confidence in the Jewishness of the State of Israel.

About the Author
Naomi Schacter is Director of International Relations in the National Library of Israel. The views expressed herein reflect her personal opinions.
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