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Hatikvah, Fit For Purpose?

I remember the first time I sang the Hatikvah after we made aliyah, the tears were streaming down my face. It was so emotional.

We have all grown up singing the Hatikvah at all occasions whether it be weddings, barmitzvahs or any other Jewish social function. It was a song of hope and longing for our freedom in a land of our own.

Now we have a wonderful land of our own. We have beautiful hills and forests, lakes, desert and beaches. Our citizens are creative, artistic and full of life.

Whilst the land is ours the population is diverse made up of Jews, Moslems, Christians, Druze, Circassian, Bahai and many others. Jews make up 75% of the population. The Hatikvah starts with the words "as long as the heart within the Jewish soul yearns "and finishes "To be a free nation in our land. The land of Zion Jerusalem".

If we want all the population of Israel to be a part of this country and be proud of being able to say "I am an Israeli", how can we expect them to sing the national anthem which refers to the Jewish soul? Many will stand up when it is played but not surprisingly will not sing it. A national anthem should bind the people together not divide. When our soldiers sing the anthem they should all be able to sing it together with feeling.

It hasn't been without controversy: Herzl hated it and wanted a new national anthem composed. When Hatikvah was sung in Basle at the 6th Zionist conference, Zev Levi observed that "a Hebrew poem, penned by a misfit, and stuck to a random Romanian tune, became the unlikely national anthem of a country that did not yet exist." I believe that the Hatikvah is still a suitable song for Jews in the Diaspora and could continue to be their anthem, a Jewish anthem, but isn't it now time for a new national anthem for Israel?

So much for the words, now for the music. It is based on a 16th century Italian song with reiterations in Flemish, Ukrainian, Czech and even Scottish. It is thought that the writer based his version on the Romanian one. (When Hatikvah was banned by the British in 1919, the radio played the Romanian version instead.)

Isn't it time we had new music not a 500 years-old melody? Isn't it time we had one that isn't so European (dare I say, Ashkenazi)? Isn't it time for the new Israelis to compose something for the next 500 years, something more suitable for the diverse population, and something that reflects the vitality of the nation? 



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Thursday, 25 April 2024

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