All this time, all those Independence Days past, we’ve been singing a song that was not officially the National Anthem, reports Jeremy Maissel in The Jerusalem Post . Maissel, a resident of Kibbutz Alumim, is a senior educator in Melitz Centers for Jewish-Zionist Education.

Only in November 2004 did the Knesset anchor “Hatikva” in law. National Union MK Michael Nudelman chose an opportune time – amid the furor over the death of Yasser Arafat – to get the law passed without attracting too much attention.

[Now, that’s using your Nudel, man.]

But what’s the deal?

Why did Nudelman need to smuggle his proposal through? After all, there is no debate over whether “Hatikvah” is Israel’s national anthem. Eight MKs – Arab, haredi, and left-wing – voted against the law. What were their problems?

…Many Sephardi Jews didn’t yearn eastward toward Zion. Orthodox Jews don’t really need a national anthem to enhance their national identity; at times some religious Jews have favored the words of Psalm 126, “A song of Ascents. When the Lord brought back those who returned to Zion.” A source of discomfort for the Orthodox is the lack of any reference to a deity in “Hatikva.” (Indeed, the Israeli Declaration of Independence contains only an almost parenthetical allusion to “The Rock of Israel.”)

How can “Hatikva” minister to the needs of a loyal Arab citizen – to a Christian or Muslim, a Druze soldier or Beduin tracker? The Arab population, or anyone else who might not altogether subscribe to the Zionist narrative, finds “Hatikva” hard to accommodate as representing their own vision of Western liberal democracy.

I’m a traditionalist. Hatikvah means something to me because, as much as we’ve achieved in Israel towards freedom, there still is no peace. Therefore, the song’s eponymous hope–of a more perfect peace, of the completion of our Jewish souls in a place of religious and cultural freedom, and a place free of persecution–is still contemporary and extremely resonant.

Or, as Maissel puts it:

Perhaps we will all achieve true freedom when we acquire the self-confidence to step back and alter our anthem to allow all Israelis to identify with it equally; when all of us can sing it with pride.

(In the interim, in Washington Heights, I’m listening to a techno megamix of “Shma Yisrael/Oy Oy Oy Shabbes/Am Yisrael Chai” with a side of beatbox and vocoder, as YU students dance the hora outside in the street on 185th Street and Amsterdam. Chag sameach.)

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Esther Kustanowitz

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  • “self confidence.. to alter our anthem to allow all Israelis…”

    How exactly would we alter it? Take out zion and put in palestine?

    What exactly does he mean?

  • In the article, he does have several suggestions about how to alter the current anthem. But probably a better way to address this issue, if Israel feels it’s important to do so, is to write another anthem entirely that speaks to more general issues of freedom for all people. I’ll take a stab at it if they want me to. But…they probably don’t want me to.