“They Say There is a Land” is one of the great poems of the Jewish enterprise known as the modern state of Israel which is, in reality, the Third Jewish Commonwealth. We are not really modern here but nor are we ancient. Post-modern, pre-ancient. Undefinable.
This poem was written by Shaul Tchernikovsky, a remarkable Renaissance man who immigrated to Israel in 1931 at the age of 56 and became an outstanding personality in the Yishuv, the name given to the budding and sovereign Land of the Jews, prior to formalized independence and international recognition in 1948.
Tchernikovsky was a poet, a doctor, a polyglot, and a translator. Among the writers he translated into Hebrew were Sophocles, Horace, Shakespeare, Molière, Pushkin, Goethe, Heine, Byron, and Shelley. Tchernikovsky was also physician to the Tel Aviv public schools.
A most poignant, heart-rending musical accompaniment to “They Say There is a Land” was composed by Naomi Shemer. There is a sweet, if melancholy, tone in all of Naomi Shemer’s music, and it is felt most palpably here. She nearly always wrote the words of the songs to which she gave voice but, in this case, lent her melodic creativity to Tchernikovsky’s lyrics.
The climax of the song comes at the end when a pioneering settler just arrived encounters Rabbi Akiva and asks, “Where are the holy ones? Where is the Maccabee?” The answer the settler receives is “All Israel is holy. You are the Maccabee!”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fSINskcBJsY
I happened upon a Jerusalem Post blog entry from May 13, 2013, that was written by Lara Robinson. “There is a richer, wiser, more authentic self within each and every one of us,” Robinson wrote, “that will only emerge from the deepest depths of our souls after engaging in a meaningful, extended journey across this land.” What emerges, I think, is a recognition of our holiness.Rabbi Peretz Siegel has noted that when King David, in one of his more well known psalms, compares a tzadik or holy Jew to a palm tree, he is saying something simple but profound. Just as a palm tree grows straight up into the sky and never branches, so too a tzadik always knows where he is going, never changes his focus, and never digresses from his goal. This definition of tzadik applies to what we call an "Israeli," that most precocious and holiest of souls