Article - Hatikva
Hatikva – Israel’s National Anthem
The year in which Israel celebrates 60 years of its independence, marks 120 years since the song “Hatikva” (The Hope) was first sung in the colony of Rishon LeZion.
The first draft of “Hatikva” was written by Naftali Hertz Imber (1856-1909) in 1878 in the Romanian city of Iasi. After immigrating to Israel in 1882, he enhanced the poem and added verses while touring the country’s early towns and rural communities, completing it in 1884. Two years later, it was first published under the name “Tikvateynu” (Our Hope) in Imber’s first book of poems, called “Barkai” (Jerusalem, 1886). The original version of the poem included nine stanzas which joined to form one complex, 132-word sentence describing the experience of national hope.
Shmuel Cohen (1870-1940), a 17 years old youth who immigrated to Israel from Romania in 1887 at age 17 and settled in Rishon LeZion, successfully joined the poem that same year with the melody of the refrain of a Romanian coachmen’s song called “Carul Cu Boi” (The Wagon and the Bulls). This melody was based upon the folk melody of a Moldavian song called “Foaie Verde” (Green Leaf) which resonates in dozens of folk songs and musical pieces which were composed beforehand as well as later on. Some changes were made to the melody in order to fit with Imber’s words and the rhythm was slowed down.
The new song was first sung at gatherings of Rishon LeZion farmers and within two years it had become the laborers’ favorite song when heading out in the morning to work in the new town of Rehoboth. It was adopted quickly by the Rehoboth settlers as the unofficial town anthem and spread gradually from town to town.
Moshe David Shuv, one of the founders of Rosh Pina and a cantor who sang before communities in the Diaspora, brought “Hatikva” to Europe. Cantor Friedland of Breslau wrote down the music and published it under the name “Yearning” (longings?) in a booklet called “Four Syrian Melodies, published in his hometown in 1895. The song also appeared that same year in the song book “Songs of the People of Zion” which was published by Menashe Meirovitz, a member of the Bilu group, and was given the name “Hatikva” by the editor and printer, Avraham Moshe Luntz. The name remained permanent from then on.
Prior to the fourth Zionist Congress in London in 1900, a large group of Zionists, including Herzl, Nordau and Zangwill (who translated “Hatikva” into English) gathered there. At the conclusion of the meeting the British anthem was sung and then, spontaneously, everyone stood and began singing “Hatikva”. The Zionist leaders then found out that “Hatikva” is worthy of serving as their anthem. From 1903 onward it was sung at the conclusion of every Zionist Congress. No less than three competitions had been held since the 19th century in the quest to find a national anthem, but not one of them produced a song that the public thought came even close to the level of an anthem.
Over the years, a few changes were made to the structure of the song, as well as to the words and the melody. Already in “Songs of the People of Zion”, what had been the first stanza in the original version was changed to be the refrain (“Our hope is not lost”); But the main change was made in 1905 by Y.L. Matmon Cohen, a schoolteacher in Rishon LeZion, who exchanged the sentence “To return to the land of our Fathers, to the city where David resided” which appeared in the second verse, with the sentence “To be a free nation in our land, the land of Zion and Jerusalem”. He also switched the words “the age old hope” with the phrase “our hope (of) two thousand years”. (Composer Hanina Kartshevski, who did the choral arrangement of “Hatikva” is responsible for adding the word “of” in order to fit the measure). In the mid-1920s the melody was also changed slightly: the tune to the phrase “to be a free nation”, which was repeated both times it was sung, was changed to be sung differently in its first appearance.
Since the late 19th century “Hatikva” has made its way into people’s souls and has settled deep within their hearts. The first two verses of the song were recognized as the national Jewish anthem without being deemed so by law or ordinance. The song was never chosen by a committee, a council or any authority and was never sent to compete in any contest. Only at the 18th Zionist Congress, which assembled in Prague in 1933, was it declared that “as per tradition these many years, the blue and white flag is the flag of The World Zionist Organization and “Hatikva” is the anthem of the Jewish people.”
As with any folk song, “Hatikva” is an anthem that crystallized over time and the process of its development is readily seen. There is no copyright on the melody: none of the dozens of musical pieces mentioned as sources of the melody are identical to the way in which it is sung today. Countless songs were proposed over the years as options for the national anthem, but one phenomenon is unequivocal: for over 100 years millions of Jews, from the farthest point in the East to the far reaches of the West, have stood as one to sing “Hatikva”, out of utter identification and interminable excitement and with tears in their eyes. For the first time in thousands of years the entire Jewish people had a single common Hebrew song which did not stem from the Bible or from a prayer book. That song was embraced wholeheartedly and spread of its own volition. The phrases “a Jewish spirit still sings”( (רצוי למצוא מילה מתאימה יותר להומיהand “look toward Zion” have been submerged ever since in the bloodstream of the national revival and have left their mark in history, literature, art, journalism and song.
Since 1948 “Hatikva” has been the State of Israel’s representative anthem, but it was not legally declared as the State’s anthem until 2004.