In 1908, Naphtali Herz Imber was suffering from alcoholism-related illness in the Beth Israel hospital in New York City, when American ethnomusicologist Jeannette Robinson Murphy visited the hospital. She had come to give a concert, and included "Hatikvah" in her performance. By this time, the song was world-renowned as the anthem of the expanding Zionist movement, having been sung at the third Zionist Congress some four years earlier in 1903.
At the hospital, Imber jotted down the first verse and chorus of the song on the back of a medical form, and gifted it to Murphy. Below the lyrics, the author signed his name and gave the Hebrew year, תרס′′ח ("tarsakh," 5668, corresponding to the years 1907/8). On the side of the document is information relating to its acquisition by a later collector, who would donate it to the National Library of Israel.
The translation of the lines is as follows:
"So long as deep within the heart
The Jewish soul is yearning,
And onward to the edges of the Orient,
It casts its eye to Zion —
Our hope is not yet lost,
The ancient hope,
To return to the land of our forefathers,
To the city in which David dwelt."
Suggested Activities: First you may wish to orient students to the circumstances of the poem's composition. As a young itinerant poet and teacher, Imber found himself tutoring the children of Jewish lawyer Baron Moshe Waldberg in his Romanian mansion. A Commentary magazine article by Gerard Wilk (1951), describes the origin of the lines thus:
"Between teaching German and the three R’s to the junior Barons Waldberg he wrote a song about home. It had nothing to do with Zloczov [the town of his birth, in Galicia, the eastern domain of the Austrian empire]. Home was not Zloczov; it was none of the innumerable Zloczovs where Jews had been living as strangers for two thousand years. Their synagogues echoed with the lament of the banished. They prayed to go home from force of habit, without hope. Their mood annoyed the nineteen-year-old in the Rumanian castle. He scrawled eight angry stanzas against it on a piece of paper and above them: 'Tïkvosenu—Our Hope.'"
Have students read the translation of the opening lines of "Tikvoseynu." If they (or anyone in the class) can read Hebrew, also have a student read aloud from Imber's manuscript. What is the predominant theme of the words? And in what tone is the theme expressed? Would you characterize it as "angry," as Wilk does? Why might Wilk have done so? How might Imber's writing have been influenced by his life, as the struggling, modern-minded young son of impoverished, deeply religious Hasidic parents? How are both the traditions and lore of the past, and the promise of the future, expressed in his lines? And why would he choose to write them in Hebrew, despite being a native speaker of Yiddish, a teacher of German, and at this time a resident of Romania?
If students note the differences between Imber's words and the lyrics of "Hatikvah" sung today, encourage them to enumerate them. These differences are explored in resource 3 of this kit.