Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Yaacov Lozowick's Ruminations: Mother of all Shirim

Mother of all Shirim

Naftali Herz Imber, a Romanian Jew, wrote Hatikva, The Hope, following a visit to Eretz Israel in 1878. It was popular among the early settlers of what eventually was called the first aliya, 1882-1904. Seen in historical perspective, it was an expression of the sea-change in Jewish history that was beginning at the time: the sentiments of Jewish aspirations to rebuild a national center in the historical homeland was not new - on the contrary, it was banal. Yet articulating it in a secular poem, putting it to music and singing it by people who took the concept as a practical guideline to be enacted by secular Jews, that was novel, and soon proved to be profoundly revolutionary.

Interestingly, Hatikva first took on the status of a quasi-anthem at the sixth Zionist Conference in 1903. Herzl had tabled a suggestion that the movement consider a British proposal to move European Jews to eastern Africa (the Uganda Plan), and the majority of delegates, who unlike him understood what Judaism was about, were horrified; they resoundingly sang Hatikva to make clear their point that their aspirations were about the national homeland, not some African backwater. Thereafter the song became the de-facto anthem of the Zionist movement, being officially adopted in 1933.

The melody derives from the same Romanian folksong which inspired Smetana when he composed Moldau.

Interestingly, while the song was always the national anthem of Israel, this was explicitly enacted only in 2004. The song in its present form is a slightly modified and shortened version of the original.

A German colleague who once happened to be visiting Israel during the week of Yom Hashoah-Yom Hazikaron-Independence Day pointed told me the Israeli national anthem is the only national anthem he's aware of which is a sad song: mostly they tend to be triumphant or martial or both.

כָּל עוֹד בַּלֵּבָב פְּנִימָה
נֶפֶשׁ יְהוּדִי הוֹמִיָּה
וּלְפַאֲתֵי מִזְרָח, קָדִימָה
עַיִן לְצִיּוֹן צוֹפִיָּה -

עוֹד לֹא אָבְדָה תִּקְוָתֵנוּ
הַתִּקְוָה בַּת שְׁנוֹת אַלְפַּיִם
לִהְיוֹת עַם חָפְשִׁי בְּאַרְצֵנוּ
אֶרֶץ צִיּוֹן וִירוּשָׁלַיִם

As long as deep within the heart
A Jewish soul stirs,
And forward, to the ends of the East
An eye looks out, towards Zion.

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

Here's a recording without words, and a recording sung by Rivka Zohar.

Yaacov Lozowick's Ruminations: Mother of all Shirim

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