Gershon Hepner
Gershon Hepner

Song of hope

When they sang the song of hope
in Bergen Belsen, bodies which
had not yet been transformed to soap
or shoveled off into a ditch
to burn, could not sing with the living
the message that survivors could,
or join them later in forgiving
as many of them later would.

The dead can’t praise the Lord, as David
declared once in a famous Psalm,
and as for hallelujah––save it
for people who are out of harm,
because the song of hope is built
upon the bodies of those who
did not survive. Recalling guilt
is surely to survivors due.

In the song of hope are tears
because the Temple was destroyed,
anticipating better years
when Zion would replace the void
in Jewish hearts, that are still sick for
the death of millions for whom hope
that’s known by all as the Hatikvah
became so tragically the trope.

Those who sow in tears were told
in Babylon that they would reap
with songs of joy, and would behold
so many sheaves they would not weep
remembering the past. We too
wish happy ending for our song,
inspired by the eastern view
for which at western walls we long,

and as the song we know has stated,
pine to return to our old city,
where David camped, for which we’ve waited
two millennia. God’s pity
has made this possible. It’s hope —
the plaintive pivot of the song
Hatikvah — to this day the trope
for which, surviving, Jews still long.

 

On 10/1/21, Rabbi Meir Soloveichik in Episode 70 of the Bible356 podcasts, “Jerusalem, Hebron, and the Nature of Judaism,”  recalled  the story of how the Jewish inmates of Bergen-Belsen, led by the Reverend Leslie Hardman, sang the Hatikvah. He pointed out that Naphtali Herz Imber’s original version of the Hatikvah contained the words:

עוֹד לֹא אָבְדָה תִּקְוָתֵנוּ
הַתִּקְוָה הַנּוֹשָׁנָה
לָשׁוּב לְאֶרֶץ אֲבוֹתֵינוּ
לְעִיר בָּהּ דָּוִד חָנָה

Our hope is still not lost —-
the old hope—-
to return to the land of our fathers,
the city in which David camped.

he recalled how Menachem Begin reports in in his book “White Nights” how, while he was being transported down a river in a prison boat during his exile in Siberia, a communist Jew woke him up one night and said to him in Yiddish: “Menachem, Menachem, wake up! Do you remember the לָשׁוּב ?” (loshuv) and asked him to sing the original version of the Hatikvah that he remembered not by the present name, Hatikvah, but by its original name Loshuv, to return.

About the Author
Gershon Hepner is a poet who has written over 25,000 poems on subjects ranging from music to literature, politics to Torah. He grew up in England and moved to Los Angeles in 1976. Using his varied interests and experiences, he has authored dozens of papers in medical and academic journals, and authored "Legal Friction: Law, Narrative, and Identity Politics in Biblical Israel." He can be reached at gershonhepner@gmail.com.
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