The colorful history of the Israeli national anthem.

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Hope for Hatikvah

In spite of these criticisms and challenges (and in some cases because of them), most Zionists embraced “Hatikvah.” Year after year it was sung at the annual Zionist congresses and other political events around the world. In 1933, at the 18th Zionist Congress, the song was officially adopted as the movement’s anthem together with the now-familiar blue and white flag. In the 1940s, many Jews in Europe defiantly sung the song as a gesture of collective hope and spiritual resistance in the face of the Nazi Holocaust and Stalinist terror.

Yet after the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, the government declined to recognize “Hatikvah” as the official state anthem, despite adopting a new flag and coat of arms as national symbols. Still, "Hatikvah" was openly promoted as the de facto national anthem and used at all official state occasions.

The traditional lyrics were also emended to reflect the new historic reality of statehood. Whereas the original last three lines of the text speak of “the ancient hope to return to the land of our fathers, to the city where [King] David dwelt,” the new version replaces the biblical allusion with an emphasis on “the hope of two millennia to be a free people in our land, the land of Zion and Jerusalem.”

Almost from the moment of its creation, "Hatikvah" has served as both a beloved anthem throughout the Jewish world and a subject of political debate. The same pattern continues today. In recent years, a controversy has occasionally surfaced in Israeli politics over allegations that the lyrics are unsuitable for a country with such a sizable non-Jewish minority.

Nevertheless, "Hatikvah" remains an enduring symbol of Jewish nationhood and Israeli identity. And in November 2004, over a century after its composition, "Hatikvah" was officially designated the Israeli national anthem by the Israeli Knesset, bringing its journey full circle.

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Dr. James Loeffler

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).