Exploring Hatikvah, Israel’s National Anthem
Israel’s national anthem, Hatikvah, has had an untraditional path to becoming the country’s anthem. Its story is one of growth and transformation, complete with unexpected turns and questions about representation and identity.
In this program, participants will explore the role and significance of national anthems in general, the emergence of Hatikvah as Israel’s national anthem, and attitudes towards Hatikvah among Israelis.
- The ongoing journey and evolution of Hatikvah as Israel’s national anthem is the story of the journey and evolution of the State of Israel and the Jewish people.
- Hatikvah, the national anthem of the State of Israel, underscores Israel’s status as both a Jewish state and a state for the Jews.
- Since national anthems most often reflect a country’s culture, history, and traditions, they can evoke a sense of patriotism (and sometimes a feeling of exclusion), most often connecting the singer to the place, its culture, history, and people.
BACKGROUND AND QUESTIONS FOR EXPLORATION
Israel’s national anthem, “Hatikvah” (התקווה), “The Hope,” is adapted from a longer poem titled “Tikvatenu” (תקוותינו), “Our Hope,” written in the late 1800’s by Naftali Herz Imber, a little-known Polish Jewish poet.
Hatikvah recounts the Jews’ undying connection to Zion and dreams of return to their homeland. After reciting the poem for Zionist pioneers across pre-State Israel, it was embraced as an unofficial anthem for the movement, becoming official at the First Zionist Congress in 1897. Hatikvah was finally designated as the official national anthem of Israel in 2004—more than five decades after the founding of the state! Hatikvah continues to be sung at official events in Israel and in Jewish communities all over the world.
Over the years, different groups within Israel have voiced concerns about the content of Hatikvah. For example, some religious Jews have expressed discontent that the anthem lacked overtly religious themes. Broader concerns focus on non-Jewish Israelis, who feel little connection to an anthem that celebrates Jewish hopes and dreams. Non-Jewish state officials have sometimes declined to sing the anthem, though discussions about altering the words, or choosing a different anthem, have gained little traction.
- What is the role and meaning of Hatikvah for Israelis?
- To whom does Hatikvah belong (Israel or the Jewish people or others?) and what are the implications of the response to this question?
- What is the role and significance of a national anthem?
- How does an anthem for the Jewish state speak to or represent those citizens who are not Jewish?
- What would be the message and tone of an Israeli national anthem that speaks to Jews in Israel, Jews around the world, and to non-Jewish citizens of Israel?
This resource is divided into five sections:
- Part 1: Introduction: Anthems
- Part 2: Studying and Adapting Hatikvah
- Part 3: Listening to Hatikvah’s various renditions
- Part 4: Wrap Up
- Part 5: Supplementary Activities
Without introduction, play the U.S. (or Canadian) national anthem loud enough for all to hear. Play it long enough to gauge individuals’ responses.
Participants may stand, get quiet, start singing, place a hand over their heart, or something else.
When the music has stopped:
- Note some of the responses out loud to the group. Ask why did they respond in these ways?
- Assuming they mention the word “anthem,” ask them to define their understanding of what an anthem is.
Introduce the topic of Hatikvah, the national anthem of the State of Israel. Explain that Hatikvah has had an untraditional and sometimes contentious path to becoming the country’s anthem. Its story is one of growth and transformation, complete with unexpected turns. For background information, refer to the Hatikvah card from The iCenter’s Israel Resource Cards deck.
Play this clip from the podcast, Israel Story, telling the story of Hatikvah’s origins, journey, and rise in popularity. The audio is from their episode, “‘Mixtape’ Part I—Our Hope?” You can learn more about the Israel Story podcast here.
Explain that during this program everyone will have the opportunity to think about and discuss the future of Hatikvah, looking at questions such as:
- Do you think Hatikvah is the right anthem for Israel today?
- Whose anthem is this anyway, and why does it matter?
- What could be the “right” anthem, and for whom?
Studying Hatikvah and adapting the original poem:
Distribute the lyrics to the anthem as well as the text of Imber’s original poem, “Tikvatenu.” Give everyone a few minutes to review the two texts, and to compare them. Be prepared to answer questions about the differences.
Divide participants into groups, and assign each group one or more of these prompts:
1) Adapt Hatikvah as an anthem that you feel better represents the State of Israel today, rather than when it was written during the years of pre-State Israel. Have participants share their lyrics and explain why you are proposing this new anthem.
2) Create an anthem for the Jewish people worldwide, regardless of citizenship. Have participants share their lyrics and explain why you are proposing this anthem for the Jewish people.
3) Assign each group one of the diverse groups of people within Israeli society. For ideas, reference the “Many Faces of Israel” cards from the larger Israel Resource Cards deck. Challenge participants to adapt or add to Hatikvah in order to better represent that specific group. Ask groups to share their lyrics and to explain their choices.
Encourage them to use passages as much or as little as they deem appropriate for their task.
- Groups can cut and paste to create their proposed anthems, rearranging them in the order they prefer
- Groups may also want examine the title, “Hatikvah,” and consider it’s relevance for their group (and suggest a new title, if relevant)
Bring everyone together to share their suggested anthems. Have groups:
- Read the anthems
- Note the differences between the groups
- Ask questions about the reasons for their choices
Questions for Discussion:
- What were the differences between the anthems for the Jewish people, those for Israel (the Jewish state), and those for the different demographic groups within Israel?
- What might account for those differences?
- Did any language or theme remain the same? Did anything surprise you?
- How might you change your choices based on your discussions?
Listen to and discuss Hatikvah’s various renditions:
Share different renditions of Hatikvah with participants. You might begin with the current version that most people will know, and then transition into lesser-known renditions. Listen to Hatikvah being sung by:
- Al Jolson in 1950
- Barbra Streisand in 1978
- Survivors of the Bergen Belsen concentration camp just following liberation in 1945
- Modern Israeli pop stars Omer Adam and Noa Kirel’s Hatikvah (this is a very untraditional—and catchy!—rendition)
Ask everyone to follow along with the lyrics. Once they have listened to the alternative renditions, compare and contrast:
- What do you notice?
- What might account for any differences?
- Al Jolson’s version was created after the establishment of Israel but the new lyrics were not yet used outside the State. Why might that be?
- What might be controversial about the Omer Adam and Noa Kirel version?
- When do you think Hatikvah was officially adopted as Israel’s national anthem?
- The anthem was, with some dissent, only officially adopted in 2004!
To conclude this program, pose a question designed to encourage learners to reflect. A few ideas:
- What have you learned about Israel’s anthem? Or about Israeli society?
- Find one line from either Hatikvah or the anthem you adapted that has meaning for you, and share it with the group.
- End with a quick round of 1-2 word summary statements from everyone. What word or idea (other than “Hope”!) are you leaving with today?
ACTIVITY #1: CREATE AN ANTHEM
Write an anthem for the group’s educational setting (school, camp, JCC, etc.) and include lines, snippets, and ideas from Hatikvah throughout.
It is likely easiest to select a melody from a song that already exists, but participants can also create a totally original piece (lyrics and music).
Why did they make the choices they made?
ACTIVITY #2: COMPARING AND CONTRASTING ANTHEMS
Anthems (national or otherwise): What’s the big deal?
National anthems can mean many things to many people, as they often reflect a country’s culture, history, and traditions, and they can evoke a sense of patriotism and connection (and sometimes a feeling of exclusion). Hatikvah, the Israeli national anthem (and, some say, that of the Jewish people), is no exception.
Questions for Discussion
- What is a national anthem and why do most countries have/want one?
- How does a national anthem connect singers to the country that it represents?
- When is the national anthem played? What does this reflect?
In this activity, participants will explore two or more national anthems with which they are likely unfamiliar. These suggested anthems represent a range of contrasting characteristics and themes found in anthems.
Break the larger group into up to four groups.
Each group will be asked to listen to two anthems, linked below with English lyrics. The anthems are paired to demonstrate the diversity of anthems and the elements countries choose to represent via song.
- Listen to the anthem without taking notes—just take it in
- Listen for the second time and, individually, fill in the “listening chart”
- Compare responses and create a group chart
- Repeat steps 1-3 for their second anthem
- Compare the two anthems and discuss:
- What can you learn about the country’s values based on the anthem?
- What does the anthem teach about the country’s history?
- How can music help you understand the country and its people?
- What surprised you about the anthems?
- Write the keywords/themes identified in each groups anthems on individual Post-its
- Prepare to share some main ideas about your anthems and your answers to the questions
- Ask each group to share its keywords and display their Post-its
- Group the Post-its into like categories
- What conclusions can the group draw from the Post-its about the nature of anthems (learners will probably notice 2 or 3 predominant themes)?
- How did the music fit with the themes in the anthems you listened to?
- How would you describe the significance or role of an anthem for a country?
- Who is it for? Is it inspiring? Does it create a sense of belonging?