‘Hatikvah’ — Israel’s National Anthem

Stand for Israel  |  August 11, 2022

What Is Israel’s National Anthem?

“Hatikvah,” Israel’s national anthem, means “The Hope.” And this video from the IDF certainly shows how hopeful the people of the Jewish state are! Now, let’s learn a bit about this song and its fascinating history.

The History of “Hatikvah”

The town of Zolochiv now sits in war-torn Ukraine, east of the city of Lviv. But in the 1800s, this city called “The City of Poets” lay in Poland. Zolochiv had a once-thriving Jewish community. But during the Holocaust, the Nazis confined almost 10,000 Jews to a ghetto in the town. 6,000 of the ghetto’s Jews were then sent to their deaths at the hands of an SS firing squad in pits outside the city limits.

But long before the Holocaust, a young Jewish poet named Naftali Herz Imber dreamed of someday leaving Zolochiv and making aliyah (immigrating to the Holy Land). Imber penned some words about his dream in 1878, a poem he titled “Tikvatenu” (“Our Hope”). These words became “Hatikvah.”

Four years later in 1882, Imber did at last realize his dream. He made aliyah to what was then still Ottoman Palestine, joining other olim (immigrants) on farming communities. Imber published his poem in 1886 in his first book, “Barkai (The Shining Morning Star).” Other early olim during this wave of immigration now called “The First Aliyah” soon embraced Imber’s poem.

An Uplifting Melody – and Inspiring Lyrics

Reading his poem to fellow olim (immigrants), Imber’s words caught the ear of a teenager named Samuel Cohen who lived in the community of Rishon LeZion (its name meaning “First to Zion”). Cohen, a Jewish boy originally from Romania, saw how the poem’s words brought out the emotions in the other Jewish farmers who had followed their own hopes and dreams to the Holy Land.

Moved, as well, Cohen set Imber’s lyrics to the tune of a Romanian folk song he knew, itself based on a 16th century classical piece, “La Mantovana,” by the Italian composer Cenci. This melody had proven popular with Europeans already – not just the song from Romania, but for a Slovenian folk tune, as well. And the famed French composer Camille Saint-Saens used the melody for what we would come to know as “Hatikvah” in his piece “Rhapsodie Britonne.”

With both words and music in place, “Hatikvah” as we know it was born! What is interesting is that while the song is written in a minor key – usually meant to invoke a sad or mournful mood in music – the words of “Hatikvah” (which literally means “The Hope”) are hopeful and inspiring. And these words (which you can read in full below) have been inspiring Jewish people for nearly a century and a half, as you will soon find out.

“Hatikvah” and Pre-State Israel

Even before the modern State of Israel was established, “Hatikvah” held special meaning for the Jewish people. While the song had not yet been officially recognized as the Jewish state’s anthem, it was popular with the early Zionists. The Zionist Congress (run by the Father of Zionism, Theodor Herzl) held two separate competitions for a Jewish anthem, in 1898 and again in 1900. Neither session agreed upon an official anthem, but one song proved popular. The congregants of multiple Zionist Congresses sang “Hatikvah” at their meetings. The song rang out in 1903 as the Sixth Zionist Congress rejected an international plan to settle Israel in Uganda in Africa, holding out hope for a true return to the Holy Land. Indeed, the lyrics point out that God’s people are always “looking toward Zion.”

As the 20th century and its many conflicts and unrests dawned, the Jewish people continued looking toward Zion, and continued finding hope in this song. After WWI and the British Mandate, which gave England control over the Holy Land, the British even banned “Hatikvah” for a short period, for fear of it inspiring Jewish uprisings.

“Hatikvah” even provided Jews with hope during their darkest hour – during WWII and the Holocaust. It has been reported by inmates at Auschwitz-Birkenau that “Hatikvah” was sung by Jews as they prepared to enter the gas chambers of the death camp. Even in the face of certain death and unspeakable evil, these words of hope provided actual hope to God’s children.

Israel’s National Anthem

With the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, the new nation needed an anthem. Israel needed a song that would not only illustrate the nation and its unity, but inspire and unite Israelis for generations to come. “Hatikvah,” this song penned more than half a century before by two young Jewish men hoping for a home in the Holy Land, certainly fit the bill. So, in the decades since Israel won her independence, “Hatikvah” has played and been sung when Israeli athletes stand proudly at Olympic games, when IDF soldiers stand at attention, or when Israeli people salute their flag and country. But despite this embrace, “Hatikvah” didn’t become the official national anthem of Israel until recently.

IDF soldiers standing at attention in honor of the singing of the Hatikvah national anthem, salute
Credit: Ashernet
IDF soldiers standing at attention in honor of the singing of the Hatikvah national anthem.

Yes, for more than half a century, “Hatikvah” unofficially served as the national anthem of Israel. But decades later, in November 2004, the Knesset (Israel’s parliament) at last officially proclaimed “Hatikvah” to be Israel’s national anthem. The Flag, Coat-of-Arms, and National Anthem Law made official what Israelis already felt in their hearts – “The Hope” was officially theirs.

The “Hatikvah” Lyrics

Following are the lyrics (in both Hebrew and English) to this, the song that has given millions of God’s children hope:

Kol od baleivav penimah
Nefesh yehudi homiyah,
Ulfa’atey mizrah kadimah,
Ayin letsiyon tsofiyah;

Od lo avdah tikvateinu,
Hatikvah bat shenot al payim,
Lihyot am hofshi be’artzeinu,
Eretz tziyon veyerushalayim.

As long as Jewish spirit
Yearns deep in the heart,
With eyes turned East,
Looking towards Zion.

Our hope is not yet lost,
The hope of two millennia,
To be a free people in our land,
The land of Zion and Jerusalem.

Those who stand for Israel most likely realize when the Jewish state’s national anthem plays. It has appeared in numerous settings throughout the years. Famed film composer John Williams (of Star Wars, Jaws, Jurassic Park, and Indiana Jones renown) used its melody in his score for the movie Munich, based on the Palestinian terror attacks against the Israeli Olympics team at the 1972 Summer Games. Williams also used the melody in his and Spielberg’s 1993 masterpiece about the Holocaust, Schindler’s List. And before that, in 1978, television viewers might remember seeing Jewish singer Barbra Streisand not only sing Israel’s national anthem, but speak with one of Israel’s founding figures, Golda Meir.

Israel’s “Second” Anthem

After Israel’s miraculous victory during the 1967 Six-Day War, which led to the Jewish state’s reclamation of the Holy City, Israeli songwriter Naomi Shemer wrote “Yerushlayim Shel Zahav (Jerusalem of Gold),” which became Israel’s unofficial second national anthem. It, too, has provided hope and inspiration to all those who have found a home in the Holy Land, as well as those who still long to make aliyah to the land God promised them, Israel. Hear “Jerusalem of Gold” here.

Stand for Israel hopes that you have not only found hope in this song about the Jewish people’s own hope through the years, but that you will share this hope as you continue to stand with God’s people.

Learn More About Israel

Check out the Fellowship Blog to stay up-to-date on the latest news in Israel, read Holocaust survivor stories, learn more about the Jewish culture and Jewish-Christian relations.