The colorful history of the Israeli national anthem.


In 1897, at the First Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland, the delegates joined in a rousing rendition of,the song "Hatikvah."The beloved Zionist hymn would come to be knownamong generations of Jews around the world as the Jewish national anthem. Yet it was not until 2004 that the Israeli government officially designated "Hatikvah" as the country’s national anthem. Between these two facts lies the curious tale of one of the most important songs in modern Jewish history.

The present-day version of "Hatikvah" is a two-stanza song, whose words speak of the historic yearning of Jews for a return to the ancient national home in the Land of Israel:

Kol od baleivav penimah
Nefesh yehudi homiyah,
Ulfa’atey mizrah kadimah,
Ayin letsiyon tsofiyah;

Od lo avdah tikvateinu,
Hatikvah bat shenot al payim,
Lihyot am hofshi be’artzeinu,
Eretz tziyon veyerushalayim.

As long as Jewish spirit
Yearns deep in the heart,
With eyes turned East,
Looking towards Zion.

Our hope is not yet lost,
The hope of two millennia,
To be a free people in our land,
The land of Zion and Jerusalem.

From a Poem to a Song

"Hatikvah" began its life as a nine-stanza Hebrew poem entitled “Tikvatenu” (“Our Hope”).Its author was a colorful 19th-century Hebrew poet, Naftali Hertz Imber (1856-1909), who hailed from Złoczów, a town in Austro-Hungarian Galicia. Inspired by the Hibbat Zion movement of early Zionism, Imber originally wrote the poem in 1878 while living in Jassy (Yash), Romania.

As a young man, Imber wandered Eastern Europe for several years before settling in Ottoman Palestine in 1882. There he worked as personal secretary and Hebrew tutor to Sir Laurence Oliphant (1829-1888), an eccentric British author, politician, world traveler, and Christian Zionist. In the 1880s, Oliphant’s mystical religious beliefs inspired him to launch various philanthropic efforts to encourage Jewish resettlement in the historic Land of Israel. Imber first published “Tikvatenu” in an 1886 collection of his poetry, Barkai, (Morning Star), issued in Jerusalem and dedicated to Oliphant.

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Dr. James Loeffler is Assistant Professor of History and Jewish Studies at the University of Virginia and author of The Most Musical Nation: Jews and Culture in the Late Russian Empire (Yale U. Press, 2010).

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