Am Yisroel Chai!

Theodor Herzl

Theodor Herzl (1860-1904), an Austro-Hungarian journalist, playwright, political activist and writer, is considered the father of the State of Israel. Herzl was born in the Jewish quarter of Pest in the eastern section of Budapest, Hungary. After the sudden death of his sister to typhus, his family moved to Austria, where he went on to study law at the University of Vienna, followed by a career in journalism. 

Herzl was exposed to a number of antisemitic events, such as the Dreyfus Affair in France, which led him to write and publish Der Judenstaat (The State of the Jews) in 1896, a book that was both highly acclaimed and contested. It argued that the Jews should leave Europe if they so wished and head for Palestine, their historical homeland. He strongly believed that only through a Jewish state, could the Jews avoid antisemitism and express their culture and religion freely and without fear of being persecuted. 

In Der Judenstaat, Herzl writes:

“The Jewish question persists wherever Jews live in appreciable numbers. Wherever it does not exist, it is brought in together with Jewish immigrants. We are naturally drawn into those places where we are not persecuted, and our appearance there gives rise to persecution. This is the case, and will inevitably be so, everywhere, even in highly civilised countries—see, for instance, France—so long as the Jewish question is not solved on the political level.”

The book concludes as follows:

“Therefore I believe that a wondrous generation of Jews will spring into existence. The Maccabeans will rise again. Let me repeat once more my opening words: The Jews who wish for a State will have it. We shall live at last as free men on our own soil, and die peacefully in our own homes. The world will be freed by our liberty, enriched by our wealth, magnified by our greatness. And whatever we attempt there to accomplish for our own welfare, will react powerfully and beneficially for the good of humanity.”

The State of Israel

On 14th May, 1948, David Ben-Gurion, head of the World Zionist Organisation, Chairman of the Jewish Agency for Palestine and soon to be the first Prime Minister of Israel, following the termination of the British mandate, declared the establishment of the State of Israel. Theodor Herzl’s dying wish had finally been fulfilled, when he said, “If you will it, it is no dream.” In 1949, his remains were moved from Vienna to be reburied on the top of Mount Herzl in Jerusalem, named in his memory. In the three years following the 1948 Palestine war, about 700,000 Jews immigrated to Israel, residing mainly along the borders and in former Arab lands. Around 136,000 were some of the 250,000 displaced Jews of World War II.

National Anthem

Hatikvah (“The Hope”), was written in 1878 by Naphtali Herz Imber, a Jewish poet from Zolochiv, Poland. The poem was adopted as the organizational anthem of the First Zionist Congress in 1897. In 1944, it was spontaneously sung by Czech Jews at the entrance to the Auschwitz-Birkenau gas chamber. While singing they were beaten by Waffen-SS guards. In 1948, following Israel’s independence, Hatikvah was unofficially proclaimed as the national anthem.  

Here is the English translation:

As long as in the heart, within,
A Jewish soul still yearns,
And onward, towards the ends of the east,
an eye still gazes toward Zion;

Our hope is not yet lost,
The hope two thousand years old,
To be a free nation in our land,
The land of Zion and Jerusalem.

Freedom of Speech

If it wasn’t for the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, the Jews would not have a voice with which to speak. We would be a people with a nationality but missing a nation and a state of our own. It is hard to imagine, but the world would be a very different place today. If it were not for the hard work and dedication by Theodor Herzl and many others leading up to the declaration, the Jewish youth of today would be lost with no place to call ‘home’. Thanks to the ongoing effort by the Israeli Defence Force, Iron Dome and the brave people of Israel who fight every day to protect its people from attack by rockets and terrorists, I am proud to support my Jewish homeland, Eretz Yisrael. 

I felt obliged to share this piece of history today for a number of reasons. Firstly, because dozens of poignant social media posts depicting prisoners of war, Israeli citizens and many others singing Hatikvah have been shared across social media in response to an inciteful incident that took place recently. These messages of hope have instilled in me and many others a renewed sense of support and fortitude for Israel and her ongoing struggle to defend herself amidst ongoing attack from all sides. 

Secondly, today is my birthday, 18th November, a day when I celebrate life. The number 18 is the numerical equivalent to the Hebrew word Chai (life). You can read more about it in a blog post that I wrote this time last year on my birthday: here

Am Yisroel Chai! (The People of Israel live!) is a rallying-cry, expressing the pride and solidarity of the Jewish people, persecuted through the ages but still enduring.

This is a recording of the liberated Jews of Bergen-Belsen concentration camp singing Hatikvah on April 20th 1945. After the anthem ends, there is a brief silence and then a voice cries out “Am Yisroel Chai!”  (around 1:20): 

Theodor Herzl
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