Magazine

Real Israel: A song of hope

Live Hatikva celebrates its fifth anniversary.

Live Hatikva project participants
Photo by: Courtesy Live Hatikva
Here’s something to sing about. It might sound kitschy, but the annual Live Hatikva project, celebrating its fifth anniversary this Independence Day, is obviously hitting the right note.

The initiative, the baby of Israeli businesswoman and philanthropist Galia Albin, encourages members of Jewish communities around the world to simultaneously sing Israel’s national anthem, “Hatikva” (The Hope), on Yom Ha’atzmaut and upload their efforts to a joint YouTube channel under the auspices of www.livehatikva.org.

Every year a different community is showcased – the US in 2009, South America in 2010, Australia last year and South Africa this year.

“In our first Live Hatikva event in 2008, we broke the Guinness World Record for the Most People Simultaneously Singing a National Anthem,” says Albin. “And the event has continued to grow every year, almost doubling in size.”

Some 52,000 people participated in the first event, although Guinness-authorized supervisors only recognized just over 200 of them as meeting the strict criteria.

Albin is less interested in breaking a world record, “which was a bit of a gimmick,” and more concerned with reaching out to Jews wherever they might be, through the words of Naphtali Herz Imber.

“‘Hatikva’ bridges the linguistic and cultural gaps between Jewish people around the world, and by creating this event, we’ve connected people and communities that otherwise would never have met,” she says, singing the project’s praises.

In that typical Israeli way, I catch Albin by phone as she stands in line at the supermarket buying food toward the end of Passover, the day after her return from a trip to South Africa.

“My fridge is absolutely empty and I’m a Jewish mother,” she says before launching into one of the most passionate paeans to the Israeli national anthem – in fact, any national anthem – that I have ever heard.

“Hatikva” doesn’t just strike a chord for Albin, it pulls at her heartstrings. Spreading the message of “Hatikva” to Diaspora communities is, for her, part of “tikkun olam,” mending the world.

“Live Hatikva is now five years old – it’s now a tradition. Our goal is to reach 14 million Jews who will make it their habit to sing ‘Hatikva’ with Israel on Yom Ha’atzmaut and upload the event,” she explains.

This year, Beit Hatfutsot, the Museum of the Jewish People, has also given the project a wall (in the non-Facebook sense) to display photos of the event, turning what Albin describes as “the song of the Jewish people” into video art form. There are already nearly half a million pictures from the past five years to choose from, and this is a work ever in progress, as far as Albin is concerned.

The idea for the endeavor stems from the anathema to the anthem: A Knesset committee discussion in 2007 called for by Arab MK Ahmed Tibi, who demanded “Hatikva” be replaced. Albin, who attended the meeting, recalls: “I said to myself, this will be my focus: that every year, rain or shine, as long as I live – and of course as long as the Jewish state lives, which will be forever – I will do a broadcast from different Jewish communities of ‘Hatikva.’” Albin is proud that Jewish schools around the globe are teaching the words and history of the anthem.

“Now people are beginning to understand: This isn’t just something to be sung at a bar mitzva. This is Jewish history.”

In tune with the times, the conversation turns to the latest “scandal” in which Supreme Court justice Salim Joubran was criticized by some for not singing “Hatikva” during the inauguration of court President Asher Grunis.

Albin understands that Arab citizens might have a problem with the words “As long as in the heart, within/ A Jewish soul still yearns,” “but I say even if you don’t sing, you must stand with a respectful countenance.”

She points out that “this state was born as the home of the Jewish people. I understand that for a non-Jew, it’s sensitive, but they don’t live in Homs, Syria, they live in a democratic country, and for that they must be grateful.”

Albin admits to being “very sensitive on this issue.”

When I ask what she thinks about adding another verse to the anthem to make it more applicable to all citizens, she replies: “If non-Jewish citizens want another verse which they would feel comfortable singing at their events, ahalan wasahalan [Arabic for ‘you’re welcome’], but for all official events, only ‘Hatikva’ will do.” And she wants to hear it at all official events.

When she hears “Hatikva,” “I feel connected – not just to the six million who live in Israel but to 14 million Jews.... There is this feeling of mutual responsibility,” she says, using the words “arevut hadadit.”

For her, the phrase “All Jews are responsible one for another” is not an empty one: It’s music to her ears.

“Whenever necessary, we are there for each other. I’m so proud to belong to this nation,” says the Haifa-born entrepreneur, mother and grandmother.

“I could take my Israeli-ness and Jewishness for granted, having been born here, but I never do. I’m always grateful. I could have been born 10 years earlier, into the Holocaust, with my parents in Vienna, Austria. The fact that we’re here and have a Jewish state is not something we should ever take lightly.

“This is also the message for the next generation. They might say, ‘What do you mean [in the words of ‘Hatikva’], “to be a free people”? We’ve been a free people for a long time.’ But are we? Why do we still suffer from so much hatred, from missile attacks and threats?” Accusations that Israel is an apartheid state make her blood boil: “It’s just like a blood libel.”

She would like to see every Israeli who goes abroad (at their own expense) making a point of meeting Jews there and talking about life in Israel.

Asked what her own personal “hope” is, she replies: “That in every generation, when they rise to destroy us, they will not succeed,” basing her answer on the quote from the Haggada.

“We can’t survive without keeping this as the Jewish state,” she says, adding, “The message of ‘Hatikva’ is the bond and the special connection of the Jewish people in Israel and the Diaspora – we sometimes forget that we’re one people.”

Communities that have participated in Live Hatikva range from huge, well-established ones in Europe and North America to tiny ones such as Aruba in the Caribbean. Some communities didn’t celebrate Israel’s Independence Day until they were touched by the project, she says.

“If you ask me what is the secret of the Jewish people, it is ‘Hatikva,’” says the proudly Jewish but secular Albin. “I don’t think there is another people that has a song. That is the bond. Those eight lines are the whole story,” she continues.

“The eye gazing toward Zion, the yearning Jewish soul, and not losing the hope of being a free people. Being free means living in peace and being recognized as having the right to live in Zion. We’ve suffered enough hatred.”

And on that hopeful – if not happy – note...

Happy Independence Day!

liat@jpost.com


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