In a few more hours, Israeli Jews will celebrate the 72nd anniversary of our 1948 independence.
On Yom HaAtzmaut, Independence Day, our voices will be heard singing the song of hope, our national anthem, HaTikvah. Our voices will be joined by millions of Jews around the world singing with pride.
The history of HaTikvah is unusual. It was first written as a poem of nine stanzas by Naftali Herz Imber, a wandering poet in Austro-Hungarian Galicia and one who became an alcoholic and died as a drunkard.
In 1888 his travels took him to Palestine and in my beautiful city, Rishon Lezion, he composed his poem, originally called “Tikvatenu” (our hope). It became widely popular among the farmers of Rishon Lezion.
Several years later, in 1893, a Romanian Jew, Samuel Cohen, set the poem to music. The opening words were taken from a melody by the famed Czech composer, Bedrich Smetana, in his ode to his country, “Ma Vlast”.
When it was first sung in Basle, Switzerland at a Zionist Congress, Theodor Herzl, father of the Zionist movement, was opposed to it. We don’t know his reason but many said that he did not like the melody.
He proposed several other songs and music for an anthem but HaTikvah won the hearts and souls of the majority of Congress delegates and HaTikvah became enshrined as the Jewish national anthem sung with reverence and with great pride.
One of the original lines, “lashuv l’eretz, eretz avotenu, l’ir ba David, David chana”, to return to the land, the land of our forefathers, to the city of David where David dwelt, was changed when Israel became an independent nation.
The new words which replaced it symbolized the fulfillment of the Zionist dream of two thousand years… “lihiyot am chofshi b’artzenu, eretz Tziyon v’Yerushalayim”… to be a free people in our land, the land of Zion and Jerusalem.
A few years after our independence, the song became our national anthem.
At first, leaders of the early pre-state years preferred a different anthem (which I love to sing). It was written by the poet laureate of Palestine, Chayim Nachman Bialik, and was called “Techezaknah”, our strength.
But with much respect for Bialik’s works, HaTikvah had long before won the hearts of the Jewish people. They would settle for nothing less.
It is not known if the author of the poem-hymn , Naftali Imber, lived to hear the anthem sung. He died as a drunkard on the sidewalks of New York City, an unknown vagrant.
The problem of singing HaTikvah today lies in the very first line of the anthem. “in the depths of the heart, the Jewish soul yearns ….”
With those words, 30 % of our population is unable to sing the national anthem. 10% are haredi ultra-orthodox Jews who oppose a non-religious Zionist government. More important is the 20% of our minority population of Christians and Muslims who do not relate to the yearning in the Jewish heart and therefore are unable to sing it when it is played.
For those reasons I have often suggested a change of wording from the “Jewish heart” to the “Israeli heart”.
Shortly the sirens will sound across our nation. Our people will stand with joy in their hearts and will join with their Israeli brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, in uplifting their voices to the words and haunting melody of HaTikvah.
Yom HaAtzmaut samayach. A joyous Independence Day for all of us in peace and in good health.
HaTikvah shall be our guide. Our national song of hope.