Monday, June 18, 2007

For your Israeli music curriculum: New Lyrics to Hatikvah?

[Note: Sing along to this blog posting with Al Jolson or Barbara Streisand!]

In Today's NY Times (June 18, 2007), Adam LeBor argues that the Israeli national anthem needs a facelift:

"As Israel prepares to celebrate its 60th birthday next year, it’s time to update its national anthem, 'Hatikvah' ('The Hope'). Only a single phrase needs to be changed: 'nefesh Yehudi,' which means a Jewish soul, should be replaced with 'nefesh Israeli,' an Israeli soul. Why tamper with a beautiful, stirring hymn? To solve what we might call the 'Hatikvah' contradiction.

"Israel strives to be both a Jewish state and a democracy, yet about a fifth of its population of 7.1 million people are not Jewish, but Arab Muslims, Christians and Druse...

"Prime Minister Ehud Olmert recently appointed Raleb Majadele as Israel’s first Muslim Arab cabinet minister, in charge of science, culture and sports. But the disconnect between the Jewish state and its Arab minority endures. Mr. Majadele caused outrage among the political right in March when he told the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth that he stands up for 'Hatikvah,' but will not sing it [see this March 17 article from Ynet].

"Yet why should he? He is Israeli, but he is not Jewish. And he is not alone. A growing number of Israelis of all faiths are calling for an inclusive national anthem...

"What Israel needs in the 21st century is an anthem that can be sung by all its citizens, of whatever faith..." [full text]

Of course, as Mr. LeBor rightly observes further on the article, this is hardly the only problematic lyric in Hatikvah. Jews from North Africa, Yemen, India, and other non-Ashkenazim might not find much that resonates in the image of a heart that looks "to the east." Non-Jewish Israelis certainly would dispute that a Jewish state in the Holy Land has been their "2000-year hope."

Actually, Hatikvah only "officially" became the national anthem in 2004 (although I that tidbit from Wikipedia, not exactly the most reliable source). You may also know that back in 1948, religious zionists preferred "Shir Ha-Ma'alot" (Psalm 126) for the anthem. Rav Kook was also critical of this text, and composed his own text ("Ha'Emunah," "the faith"). Back in April, the publisher of Ha'aretz, Amos Schocken, wrote in an editorial that "if by its 60th Independence Day Israel were to adopt a new national anthem, it will have taken an important symbolic step for the future of relations between Jews and Arabs in Israel."

More recently, Israeli professor Shlomo Avineri has written in support of maintaining the anthem, observing that:

"...a serious look at national anthems around the world . . . finds the large majority to be problematic. It is enough to cite as examples two strictly democratic countries - Britain and France.

"The British national anthem entreats the Lord to watch over the country's monarch, who is also the head of the Anglican Church. Millions of Catholics, non-Anglican Protestants, Muslims and Jews, among others, live in Britain today . . . The French national anthem, 'La Marseillaise,' is a revolutionary song full of violence and threats against those who oppose the Republic...

"For better or for worse, a national anthem symbolizes the dominant historical trend - which sometimes (as in France) was born of blood and fire. I understand the difficulty of Israeli Arabs, just like that of Jews or Muslims in Britain, or royalists or Muslims in France - but the latter are not suggesting their national anthems be changed. Citizens may decline to sing the anthem, but they should be expected to respect the symbols of the majority . . . In Israel, the Arab proposal to change 'Hatikva' stems not from the difficulty of singing the words of the anthem, but rather from the desire to question the State of Israel as the national state of the Jews..."

I hope it is not too much to assume that most Jewish schools around the world teach their students the Israeli national anthem. May I suggest that teaching the controversy surrounding the text might be a meaningful and interesting way to raise key issues about the nature of the State of Israel?

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