It is hard to believe that my children and I came into a world with an independent Jewish State, knowing that my parents and their parents did not. Though her safety has been threatened numerous times during my lifetime, there has always been the reality of her existence. As a travel destination, a spiritual inspiration, and, God-forbid, a potential landing place should we ever find ourselves on the run like generations before us.
We turn towards Israel in prayer. Our daily liturgy speaks of Israel’s continued well-being. And our poets, both Biblical and contemporary, speak to the yearning we have felt for thousands of generations.
No where are these yearnings and our national assertion of a sovereign Homeland in Israel better articulated than in our anthem, Hatikvah “The Hope.” I am moved beyond words each time I hear it.
I cannot be honest about my desire for a lasting peace in Israel with equal rights given to all citizens without acknowledging that this anthem is problematic. How can an Arab Israeli speak of a “Jewish soul” and “Zion”?
Neshama Carlebach, who is a gifted musician, an advocate for peace, and my friend, has embarked on a path that is both righteous and, for me, painful. She has recorded an alternate version of our people’s anthem with inclusive language. Intellectually, I know that this is a necessary dialogue if there is ever to be true peace. In my soul, the words feel as though they are being forced into spaces that are a different shape and size. I have listened to it over and over again. As shimmering as Neshama’s voice is, I become no more accustomed to the new words, or their implicit and explicit meanings, no matter how many times I hear it. And yet I know that such change must be an inevitability. As counter-intuitive and uncomfortable it is.
And maybe that is ultimately what our Hope is; it’s not enough to be free in our sovereign Homeland. We have to create a place that models our values and the teachings of all that is good and right. Which is what genuine freedom is.