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The History of ‘Hatikva’: Israel’s National Anthem

The Jewish Press April 27, 2001

The Israeli national anhem, Hatikvah, has been attributed
to Naftali Herz Imber, but the Hatikvah that is sung today
has little resemblance to the original poem written in 1878 and
published in 1886.

The poem was first published under the title of Tikvatenu
(Our Hope) in Imber’s Barkai.

The inspiration of the poem is said to have been the founding
of the city of Petach Tikvah (Gateway of Hope) in Israel. The
themes of the poem were possibly influenced by Polish patriot songs.
The Polish song, “Poland is not yet lost, while we still live,”
became the Polish national anthem with the birth of the republic
between the two world wars.

In 1882, Imber went to Rishon L’Zion where Tikvatenu was received with
enthusiasm. Samuel Cohen, who was living in Rishon L’Zion at the time,
put the poem to music based on an old Moldavian-Romanian folk song,
“Carul cu Boi” (Cart and Oxen).

The Moldavian born Cohen did not receive credit due to lack of a
copyright on the melody.

The pattern of the tune for Hatikvah can be recognized in many tunes that
were famous in Europe at the time. Bedrich Smetana used the tune as the
basis for the classical “Moldau”.

The wording went through a number of changes
over the years, reflecting changes of nationalistic ideas and
customs. The words “Where David once lived” were exchanged for
“Zion and Jerusalem” in the choruses. The poem was cut to two verses
and the chorus and the call was to be “a free nation in our own land,”
not just to “live in the land of our fathers.” The accent was
switched to the Sephardic pronunciation. The melody was also
changed to fit the cadence and syllable stress of the new version.
These changes can be traced through the various printed editions of the
work such as the one from the Hebrew Publishing Company of 1909.

The first competition for the national anthem was announced in Die Welt, a
German newspaper, in 1898. Another competition was called for by the Fourth
Zionist Congress in the year 1900, but no song was officially chosen.
In 1901, one of the sessions of the Fifth Zionist Congress in Basel,
Switzerland, ended with the singing of Hatikvah (still called Tikvatenu).

It wasn’t until 1905 that the entire Hatikvah was sung by all the delegates
present at the Seventh Zionist Congress. It can be said that Hatikvah was
then unofficially adopted as the Zionist anthem.

One of the other considerations for the Zionist National Anthem was Shir Ha-Ma’alot
(The Song of Ascents) as sung by the famous chazzan Yossele Rosenblatt. Shir
Ha-Ma’alot is sung as a prelude to the Grace After Meals on Sabbaths and
holidays and the tune often used is the one composed by Yossle Rosenblatt.

In 1979, when Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin signed a peace treaty with
Egypt on the White House lawn, he read aloud the complete Shir Ha-Maalot in Hebrew.

Imber died in 1909 in New York and his remains were re-interred at the Mt. Herzl cemetery in Jerusalem in 1953.

The original nine verse poem "Tikvatenu"

O while within a Jewish breast,
Beats true a Jewish heart.
And Jewish glances turning East,
To Zion fondly dart,

O then our Hope - it is not dead
Our ancient Hope and true
Again the sacred soil to tread
Where David's banner flew.

O While the tears flow down apace,
And fall like bounteous rain,
And to the fathers' resting place,
Sweeps on the mournful train,


And while upon our eager eye,
Flashes the City's wall.
And for the wasted Sanctuary,
The teardrops trembling fall,


O while the Jordan's pent-up tide,
Leaps downward rapidly, 
And while its gleaming waters glide,
Through Galilee's blue sea,


And while upon the Highway there Lowers the stricken Gate,
And from the ruins of Zion's prayer
Upriseth passionate,


O while the pure floods of her eyes
Flow for her People's plight,
And Zion's Daughter doth arise
And weep the long, long night,


O while through vein in ceaseless stream
The bright blood pulses yet,
And on our fathers' tomb doth gleam
The dew when sun is set,


Hear Brothers, mine, where e're ye be,
This Truth by Prophet won:
"Tis then our Hope shall cease to be
With Israel's last son!"


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