Why Tu­pac sam­pled Hatikvah

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - DANIEL SU­GAR­MAN

GROW­ING UP in the Charedi com­mu­nity, I was well into my teenage years be­fore I knew the words to Is­rael’s na­tional an­them. This only be­came a prob­lem when I trans­ferred to an Ortho­dox but non-Charedi high school. When Hatikvah was sung, I would mouth along to most of the words, while singing out loudly the bits I knew, like so:

“Da da da da da da, P’NIMA, da da YEHUDI da da da da da

“Da da da da da MIZRACH, KADIMA, da da da TZION da da da da da.”

I learned soon enough, but it made me keen to meet Alex Mar­shall, au­thor of Repub­lic or Death! Trav­els in Search of Na­tional An­thems, to learn more about an­thems in gen­eral and Hatikvah in par­tic­u­lar.

“I think, mu­si­cally, Hatikvah is in­cred­i­bly pow­er­ful and lyri­cally it’s a cut above many oth­ers,” he says. “Ninety per cent of na­tional an­thems ba­si­cally just say ‘our fields look nice’. This one has a proper, very spe­cific mes­sage.”

Hatikvah’s sad­ness, he says, is ri­valled only by Ja­pan’s an­them.“When Hatikvah was writ­ten, when Is­rael didn’t ex­ist and it was just a song of the Zion­ist move­ment — it was ba­si­cally be­ing writ­ten for peo­ple who didn’t have a home,” says Mar­shall, who is not Jewish.

“It is a feel­ing of long­ing, al­most like un­re­quited love.”

Hatikvah, of course, means “the hope”, and once it was adopted as the song of the Zion­ist move­ment, Jews took it to their hearts.

A for­mer mem­ber of the Auschwitz-Birke­nau son­derkom­mando de­scribed how a group of Czech Jews sang it as they went to their deaths. A record­ing also ex­ists of lib­er­ated in­mates of Ber­gen Belsen in 1945 singing the an­them of yearn­ing, which Mar­shall de­scribes as “one of the most mov­ing pieces of singing I’ve ever heard. You pic­ture those peo­ple, weak and un­able to even eat. “And this is the first thing they think of do­ing be­cause it re­flects at that mo­ment, the joy of sur­vival, the re­al­i­sa­tion of what needs to be done, the fact that hope isn’t lost. “You have mo­ments like that in all an­them sto­ries but none as pow­er­ful or shock­ing.”

More re­cently Hatikvah has a rare dis­tinc­tion — it has been sam­pled by var­i­ous rap­pers, orig­i­nally and most fa­mously by Tu­pac. Be­neath his rhymes about “scams plot­ted over grams and rocks” and “pis­tol packin’ fresh out of jail” in Trou­ble­some ’96 comes the tune.

Alex Mar­shall thinks it’s a trib­ute to Tu­pac’s first man­ager, Layla Stein­berg, de­spite the many drug ref­er­ences. “It’s a slightly left-field trib­ute, but I’m sure she ap­pre­ci­ated it nonethe­less.”

Hatikvah is fa­mously based on a Ro­ma­nian folk tune which Mar­shall de­scribes as “a lot more up­beat and joy­ful”.

How­ever, the lyrics were writ­ten by Naf­tali Herz Im­ber, a poet who was “an al­co­holic misog­y­nist,” and whose life was “a disaster.”

“He came from a very im­pov­er­ished back­ground, and was tor­tured his en­tire life by al­co­holism and poverty and ob­ses­sion with var­i­ous women and he was clearly an ego­tist.

“The New York Times obit­u­ary for him is quite hor­rif­i­cally blunt about his al­co­holism, it speaks about how he was ‘never far from sil­ver cups’. It also calls him ‘a good speaker, but some­times a vol­u­ble one’, which ba­si­cally means ‘goes on too much when he’s drunk and we tell him to shut up’.”

This means Im­ber fits right in to the nar­ra­tive of most na­tional an­them com­posers, says Mar­shall, a small but sur­pris­ingly sim­i­lar group of peo­ple.

“If you write a na­tional an­them,” he says, “chances are you’re a disaster be­fore you start or you be­come a disaster very quickly af­ter­wards.

“I can un­der­stand why af­ter­wards — be­cause if it [your cre­ation] is taken up by the peo­ple you are never going to bet­ter it. Im­ber would have known that. And it’s also a song that’s no longer yours. When peo­ple sing it, they don’t think of you, they think of their coun­try. And that must be in­cred­i­bly hard men­tally for a poet or mu­si­cian.” In ad­di­tion, although Im­ber’s work was of­fi­cially adopted as the an­them of the Zion­ist move­ment at the First Zion­ist Congress in 1897, the man him­self was, Mar­shall be­lieves, os­tracised by the early lead­ers of Zion­ism.

“Peo­ple like Herzl clearly ar­gued against the song be­ing taken up as the an­them,” Mar­shall says.

“They thought it was com­pletely in­ap­pro­pri­ate to be the an­them of Zion­ism — be­cause it was writ­ten by Im­ber.”

And although Hatikvah has been con­sid­ered Is­rael’s na­tional an­them ever since the state’s found­ing, it was only of­fi­cially cho­sen in 2004.

“I imag­ine the politi­cians at the time — at the end of the sec­ond In­tifada — re­al­is­ing that it wasn’t of­fi­cially the na­tional an­them, wanted to pro­tect it so no one changed its words or sug­gested al­ter­na­tives,” Mar­shall sug­gests.

How­ever, at a time when other coun­tries are de­bat­ing changes to their own an­thems — most re­cently with Canada’s law­mak­ers vot­ing to make their an­them gen­der neu­tral — Mar­shall fore­sees grow­ing ten­sion over Hatikvah.

“When the first Arab Min­is­ter was ap­pointed, he didn’t sing it. The Arab supreme court judge [Salim Joubran], didn’t sing it either — and it’s going to keep on hap­pen­ing.”

“What Hatikvah al­most says to ev­ery Arab in Is­rael is that you’re not part of this coun­try. Your ‘Jewish soul’ can’t ‘yearn’, be­cause you don’t have one.”

He ad­mits, “it sounds bad to sin­gle Is­rael out for this.” Af­ter all, “a sur­pris­ingly large num­ber of an­thems have a re­li­gious bent”, in­clud­ing, of course, God Save The Queen.

How­ever, he adds, “I think you’re going to get this pres­sure more. As peo­ple no­tice cases around the world, they’re going to start ask­ing ques­tions about their own sit­u­a­tion, and it may be­come more of a flash­point.”

‘Repub­lic or Death! Trav­els in Search of Na­tional An­thems’ is pub­lished by Ran­dom House.

Alex Mar­shall will be speak­ing at Milim, the Leeds Jewish Lit­er­ary Fes­ti­val, on Sun­day March 12.


Jewish refugees sing Hatikvah

as they ar­rive in Haifa in 1946; an an­them later sam­pled by rap­per Tu­pac (left)


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