The Story of Israel’s National Anthem

How did the only original written copy of "HaTikva" arrive at the National Library of Israel? And how does it differ from the version we know today?

Decades after his death, the author of Israel’s national anthem, HaTikva would become known as “the first Hebrew beatnik”. A more common moniker, and perhaps more fitting, was “Imber, the Wandering Jew”. Indeed, the title reflects some of the adventures of this man who was a bit of an enigma in the eyes of his contemporaries, and has largely remained one to this day. Even after arriving at the destination about which he wrote so many poems, he only managed to stay there for five years before moving on to continue his wanderings.

In 1882, Naftali Herz Imber closed the shop where he sold matches, charms and amulets in the market of Istanbul, and went to meet Sir Laurence Oliphant, a Member of the British Parliament and businessman. Imber’s initial goal was to declare before Oliphant that the Jewish people didn’t need Britain’s favors in order to return to their ancestral homeland. However, as he described later on, “when I entered, I laid my eyes on Mrs. Oliphant for the first time.” This was enough for the young man to come up with a new plan – a joint journey to the Holy Land. That same year, funded entirely by Oliphant, (Imber was broke and wouldn’t have it any other way), the three reached the port of Haifa.

Naftali Herz Imber, the Schwadron Portrait Collection at the National Library of Israel

After arriving in Ottoman Palestine, the members of this strange love triangle parted. The Oliphants, who were essentially Protestant Zionists before the term had even been coined in the modern sense, chose to travel and enjoy the beauty of the land and its holy sites, all while working on a plan to return the Jews to their homeland – which would, of course, hasten the coming of the Messiah.

Meanwhile, Imber, according to every available account, preferred to drink the days away. Whenever he found himself in the proximity of a fair maiden who caught his eye or a patron with enough wine at his disposal, the poet pretended that he had been struck by inspiration at that very moment, proceeding to “compose” the legendary poem which captured the essence of Zionist longing before their very eyes, Tikvatenu – “Our Hope”.

The impressions left by Imber’s time in the Land of Israel can still be witnessed today, in places such as Gedera, Yesod HaMa’ala, Mishmar HaYarden, and Rishon LeZion all of which claim, without exception, that the poem that would later become the anthem of the Zionist movement and the State of Israel, was written within the boundaries of their own territory.

In truth, Imber most likely began to compose the poem which would bring him world fame in the city of Iași in Romania, basing it on a German song, Der Deutsche Rhein (“The German Rhine”), which also opens every stanza with the words “As long as”. In 1884, in Jerusalem, he finally completed the composition. The final version of Tikvatenu consisted of nine stanzas. Later, the poem was abbreviated to two stanzas and some of the words were changed in order to fit the contemporary context of people returning to their homeland. The last modifications were made by Dr. Y.L. Matmon-Cohen, founder of the Herzliya Hebrew Gymnasium high school. Cohen replaced the words “the ancient hope” (hatikva hanoshana) with the words “The two-thousand-year-old hope” and replaced “To return to the land of our fathers, the city where David encamped” with “To be a free nation in our land, The land of Zion and Jerusalem”. These changes sealed the final version of the song, with its new name, HaTikva. In 1886, a farmer named Samuel Cohen composed a tune for Imber’s anthem of longing.

Three years later, when the farmers of the Jewish settlement of Rishon LeZion rose up in rebellion against Baron Rothschild’s bureaucrats, they would choose Tikvatenu as their protest song. Imber, who at that time happened to be visiting Rishon LeZion, was lucky enough to hear them singing – as he sat at the dining table of one of those very bureaucrats. This event marked the beginning of the song’s ascent into the heart of the Zionist pantheon, and it also served as Imber’s sign to continue his wanderings. He soon left for England, and from there on to New York.
During the last year of his life, Imber was admitted to a Jewish hospital in New York, where he met a young singer – Jeanette Robinson-Murphy. At her request, he wrote down the original words of the first two stanzas of his song, which would become the national anthem, on a piece of hospital paperwork that was at his disposal at that moment. In 1936, Ms. Robinson-Murphy sent the manuscript, the only one of its kind in the world as far as we know, for eternal keepsake at the National Library of Israel in Jerusalem.

Imber’s original handwritten text of Tikvatenu, the Schwadron Collection at the National Library of Israel


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Blood of the Maccabees: How a Little Red Flower Became the Symbol of Israel’s Memorial Day

Every year on Yom HaZikaron, Israel's Memorial Day, many of us wear the famous Dam HaMaccabim sticker; the connection between the flower and the occasion was made in the early days of the state


Photo: Efrat Cohen

The days were the days of the Maccabean Revolt, and the battles were brutal. The Maccabees fought fiercely, but many of them fell in battle. And, according to legend, wherever a Maccabi warrior’s blood spilled, a small flower instantaneously sprang up and bloomed, its color the color of blood. This is how the flower in question, received its Hebrew name: Dam HaMaccabim (literally “Blood of the Maccabees”; Helichrysum sanguineum, otherwise known as “red everlasting”). With spring now upon us, Dam HaMaccibim can be seen blooming across the Land of Israel, from the north to the south.

From this poignant legend, which is not unlike the legends of other cultures around the world, one can easily guess the answer to the question posed by this article: How did this protected plant become a prominent symbol of Yom HaZikaron – “Memorial Day for the Fallen Soldiers of Israel and Victims of Terrorism”? Yet, even though the answer is seemingly quite clear, we dug a little deeper into the historical roots of this connection to find out when exactly this link between the flower and the occasion was forged.

Photo: Gideon Pizanty; the red leaves are actually the outer covering, the flower itself is yellow

A search of the National Library’s JPress – Historical Jewish Press collection reveals that the first mentions in print of the Hebrew phrase “Dam HaMaccabim” were mainly quotations from passionate speeches that sought to strike a chord in the hearts of young Zionist Jews. Writers and speakers sought to remind their audiences that the blood of the brave Maccabees still flowed in the veins of Jews who were soon to return to their ancient homeland. Or perhaps they had already returned and were in need of some extra encouragement. The link between the heroism and blood of the Maccabees and the blood now being spilled protecting that same homeland was almost self-evident.

A poem about Dam HaMaccabim, which appeared in the December 12th, 1947 edition of HaTzofe ; the “Blood” in the flower’s name also appears in both the Arabic and binomial names for the flower

And the blood will not rest nor be silent

It wells up from the stones of Jerusalem                       

Wander across the surroundings hills

At your feet, see the red-eyed flowers…

– From the Hebrew poem “Blood of the Maccabees” by Y.D. Kamzon, which appears in the image above

Thus, the cultural reference of the blood of the Maccabees and the fallen may have already appeared as early as the days of the War of Independence. In Haim Gouri’s famous poem “Here Lie Our Bodies,” the flower, not mentioned by name, is evoked in the line: “We will return, we will meet again, we will come back as red flowers.” The idea of ​​connecting a red flower to the memory of the fallen in battle was not a new one: it had become common after World War I, with the adoption of the poppy as the symbol of the British soldiers who fell on Flanders Fields. In Palestine, a new symbol not associated with the British conqueror was needed; one that would stress the connection to the ancient Jewish heroes instead.

In 1950, a woman by the name of Miriam Trop designed a poster for Israel’s Independence Day that included the flower mentioned by name. Unfortunately, we were unable to find a copy of the poster, and therefore we do not know exactly which flower was depicted.  This is because at that time Dam HaMaccabim was also the name for another flower, known in English as “pheasant’s eye”, or Dmumit in today’s Hebrew. This flower was emblazoned on a special medal awarded to the disabled veterans of the IDF beginning in 1954. The botanical confusion was considerable, and that same year, a special stamp was issued in honor of Independence Day featuring the flower we know today as Dam HaMaccabim.

Stamp commemorating Israel’s sixth Independence Day, 1954

Another contributor to the flower’s symbolism during this period was Yitzhak Sadeh, “The Old Man”, who was among the founders of the Palmach and one of the IDF’s first generals.  In one of the many texts he wrote, Sadeh returned once again to the ancient story and appealed to the hearts of the young members of the Palmach, the underground Haganah organization’s elite fighting force:

“Thus time has ground down and washed away the figures of the Maccabees, erased the inconsequential and left us only that which is essential. . . the blood of the Maccabees.  And this very blood, I say this simply and with conviction, this blood courses through our veins. And on this point, as it was for them, so shall it be for us.  And should even a drop of our blood fall on the soil of our homeland, there will grow a small, red, low-lying flower that will be named for them.” These very words were also recited at Sadeh’s graveside on the thirtieth day following his death in 1952.

Photograph of Yitzhak Sadeh. Contrary to the above quote, the Dam HaMaccabim flower is not a low-lying plant but grows to a height of 40 centimeters

In the mid-1950s, we find further evidence of the flower’s place among the Memorial Day symbols as well as indications of the British custom’s influence. As in Britain, where it is customary to wear a poppy flower on the lapel at ceremonies commemorating the fallen soldiers of World War I, an announcement was made in 1955 declaring that elementary school children would be asked to wear the Dam HaMaccabim flower. That same year, it was decided that the flower would be an official symbol of Israel’s Memorial Day.

From the mid-1960s, the Dam HaMaccabim flower took center stage in one of the most successful ad campaigns in Israeli history: the campaign against picking wildflowers. Dam HaMaccabim was one of the first flowers to be declared a “protected flower” and picking them was forbidden. This was apparently the start of the alternate practice of affixing the by now well-known sticker featuring the red flower to the lapel. This sticker is distributed every year in the millions by the Israeli Ministry of Defense.


In recent years, an association known as the Dam Hamaccabim Project has begun operating in Israel with the aim of replacing the sticker with a pin of the flower. It has even set a future goal of growing the flower commercially so that it can be picked without fear.  In 2019, the association conducted its first pilot and distributed 30,000 pins.

If you have more recollections or information about the Dam HaMaccabim tradition and its connection to the commemoration of the fallen soldiers of Israel, if you were there when this tradition first began, or if you used to wear the flower on your clothing, tell us more here in the comments, on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.


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The Last Voice: The Story of Hadassah Lempel

A chilling letter found in the National Library archives tells the story of Hadassah Lempel, whose voice was the last one heard during one of the fatal Battles of Latrun in 1948

“They said she was pretty. That she had big, sad eyes. That she was on her own. Her name was Hadassah Lempel. A new immigrant. Hers was the last voice heard from the unit that breached the courtyard of the Latrun police station on the night of May 30th–31st, 1948. She and the rest of the force were engulfed in flames. Some told about a woman’s bloodcurdling cries from inside the inferno amid a hail of gunfire and the desperate screams of the wounded. And there were the enemy’s stories of a girl wearing a radio headset in the armored vehicle filled with dead and wounded, screaming to the legionnaires to surrender. Her mother and sister who arrived in the country after her, were four months too late. A small photograph and a memorial over a communal grave were all that she left them.”

Article by Menahem Talmi, Maariv, May 27th,1988; click on the image to read the full article (Hebrew)

In 1988, a few months after the publication of her book The Teheran Operation, Israeli author Devorah Omer read these heartbreaking words about Hadassah Lempel. The Hadassah in the article was also one of the characters in her book. Hadassah had been one of the Teheran Children, a group of approximately 800 children of families that had escaped or were exiled to the Soviet Union from Poland during World War II, and who finally reached Mandatory Palestine in 1943, after a long and arduous journey that crossed through Iran.

Hadassah was just 14 years old when she arrived in the Land of Israel, and it was only here that she finally became Hadassah – before that she had been known as Helena or Helinka. She moved from one kibbutz to another until she was eventually drafted into the Palmach, the elite fighting force of the Haganah organization, one of the precursors of today’s Israel Defense Forces. Hadassah was soon assigned to escort convoys bound for Jerusalem.

The supply convoys to Jerusalem left Tel Aviv along the only road connecting Jerusalem with the coastal plains, which passed through the area of Latrun. Due to its strategic importance, the British had established a police station there to control the road. On May 14th, 1948, as the British were set to leave the country, the establishment of the new Jewish state in the Land of Israel was declared in Tel Aviv. That night, the British vacated the Latrun police station, enabling the Jordanian Arab Legion to take control of it. The first battle for the liberation of Latrun, a bloody affair which ultimately ended in failure, took place ten days later on the night of May 24th–25th. The second attempt took place on the night of May 30th–31st. A unit was sent to breach the police station. The mission’s signal operator was Hadassah Lempel.

Hadassah Lempel (second from the left) with her friends; the group escorted convoys to Jerusalem during the snowy winter of 1948; from left to right: Shimon Meizel, Hadassah Lempel, Varda Shulek, Yossi Ziv, Yehoshua and Nehemia; from a photo album belonging to Lia (Tahun) Offenbach; click to enlarge

Devorah Omer, who always conducted thorough research before beginning any book, discovered new details about Hadassah Lempel while reading the article by Israeli author, journalist and Palmach veteran Menahem Talmi, which is quoted above. She read of “a woman’s bloodcurdling cries from inside the infernoamidst the hail of gunfire, explosions and screaming wounded. She read about a girl with a radio headset sitting inside a damaged armored vehicle filled with wounded men, shouting to the Arab Legion soldiers in the police building that their end was near and they had better run before it was too late.

In the article, Talmi wrote that Hadassah’s voice, emanating from the command vehicle which stood at the head of the force, was the last sound to come from inside the firestorm at the Latrun police station. It was the last report to reach the brigade headquarters about the failed attack, about the brutal battle and the many casualties. In her final moments, she reported that the force commander, Yaki, and his deputy, had both been injured. Hadassah received the order to retreat and Yaki was able to instruct all who were still capable to save themselves. After that, her voice fell quiet. Yet Talmi wrote, “Her voice continued to resonate with those who heard, or those who learned of it from word of mouth. And there were some who asked, with pent-up rage, why a girl had been sent to the front line, why had she been placed with the force making the breach, and whether equality between the sexes, between male and female soldiers, was essential in such  cases.”

Even though her book about the Tehran children had been published, Omer was eager to hear more about Hadassah Lempel, so she wrote to Menahem Talmi, asking him to tell her everything he knew. She received a letter from him in response with a chilling description of Lempel’s final moments. From the letter, she discovered one more thing that Talmi did not mention in his article. He revealed that he himself had heard her voice coming across the hand-radio in the midst of the battle:

Dear Devorah,

I received your letter in connection with the article about Hadassah Lempel z”l. You knew her, as you write, from Givat Brenner [a kibbutz in central Israel], and then she served as one of the characters in your book about the Tehran Children. I didn’t know her and I never saw her. But I knew her voice and it has haunted me for years. I did not take part in the battles for Latrun, but at the time I was at one of the posts above Sha’ar Hagai [a location on the road to Jerusalem] and on my two-way radio, which was the same as the ones in the armored vehicles that went to breach the police station at Latrun, I listened to what transpired in the Ayalon Valley.

I heard her voice, the clear, subdued voice of a girl caught in the midst of the awful and hopeless battle. I heard her reports, without knowing exactly where she was. But I understood the situation she was in. Her speech and voice were bone chilling. It was clear that she was already speaking from the inevitable abyss and it was like needles piercing your flesh. The news she reported over the airwaves was grim. Despite her desperate state, her voice did not betray her. And you’re sitting far away, not physically involved, in a relatively safe place, listening to the voice of some anonymous girl sent into the heart of the battle, not knowing who she is, unable to help her, hoping that something will happen and she’ll be extricated from it. But no such thing took place.

Her voice faded. I still heard those who were in contact with her on the two-way radio calling her repeatedly – but there was no answer. I understood what they understood.

For years, the voice of this anonymous signal operator haunted me. For years, this situation haunted me: the experience of listening to the death of a human being over the airwaves.

Ahead of the fortieth anniversary [of Israel’s independence] I decided to write about this anonymous voice. I traced the footprints. It turned out that the writers of the history of the Battles of Latrun mentioned her here and there. I located her sister, collected the material, sifted through it, wrote – and the reactions started pouring in. Lots of comments – from regular people and from those who were with her at different points, some who have memories, some photos, some letters. What is interesting and encouraging: Even in this weary and cynical age, there is still great sympathy and identification with the heritage of the past and with those who gave their lives so that such a legacy continues to exist.


Menahem Talmi

[June 5th, 1988]

Talmi’s letter to Omer from June 5th, 1988, from the Devorah Omer Archive at the National Library of Israel; click here to enlarge

In addition to the chilling description of the battle, which also appeared in the article, Talmi’s letter to Omer contains a personal element. More than anything else, what stood out was the difficult experience of a soldier’s helplessness (in this case Talmi’s) in not being able to aid his comrade.

In the letter to Omer, especially in the last paragraph, Talmi also addressed the meaning of “memory,” expanding on it as a motive and purpose. He wrote: “For years, the voice of this anonymous signal operator haunted me” and “[a]head of the fortieth anniversary [of Israel’s independence] I decided to write about this anonymous voice.”

The agony of personal memory that remained for Talmi, that dreadful personal experience of being a soldier out of harm’s way while your fellow comrades-in-arms are on the front line, and maybe even the urge to atone for his inability to help in real-time, led him to write about Lempel to keep her memory alive.


In the failed attempt to breach the Latrun police fortress in Operation Ben Nun II, Hadassah was killed along with another 30 fighters. Lempel’s mother and sister, who survived the horrors of the Holocaust and arrived in Israel about three months after her death, did not find her. Only a few weeks later did one of her friends leave them a message that 19-year-old Hadassah had been killed in battle. A year after her death, she was buried on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem, in a mass grave along with other fallen soldiers of Latrun.

Hadassah Lempel, Jerusalem, 1948; from the album of Lia (Tahun) Offenbach

Dedicated to the memory of Hadassah Lempel, z”l

And to the memory of Menahem Talmi, who passed away in March, 2018

Many thanks to David Lang of the National Library’s Archives Department for his assistance in the preparation of this article.


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When Israelis Stood in Line for Rations

Lines, food shortages and powdered eggs. The coronavirus crisis recalls the early days of the State of Israel, when a policy of austerity was put in place

Israelis stand in line to receive food rations, photo: Hans Pinn, GPO

The word “austerity” has become quite commonplace over the past 15 years or so, especially in the financial press. It made its great resurgence during the global economic crisis of 2008 as well as the European debt crisis that followed. The Hebrew word for austerity – tzena – carries somewhat different connotations for many Israelis. Some of our readers may have heard of the “Tzena Era” during the State of Israel’s early years, but aside from a few strange references in local cult films, what do we really know about this period? We poked through the National Library archives to bring you some of the sights – and flavors – of austerity-era Israel.

During the first full decade of the state’s existence, the Israeli government installed an economic policy of austerity – tzena. However, when used today, the term usually refers only to the first few years during which the policy was implemented, when its influence was extremely noticeable. Although the policy included economic measures in many different fields, the most memorable aspect today was the rationing of food. Prices of food products were regulated and monitored, and citizens were allowed to purchase only limited amounts of food, which they received in exchange for coupons.

“Do not pay more than the stated price” – An example of the monthly (December) food menu which citizens of Israel were entitled to purchase – “White sugar, Oil, Margarine, Farm eggs…” – The Historical Poster Collection at the National Library of Israel

In fact, rationing expanded to products beyond food, such as furniture and clothing. Israeli companies, such as “Lodjia” and “Ata” produced clothes that were distributed in exchange for rationing coupons, and set the tone for the little country’s fashion trends during the 1950s.

Trying on clothes during the tzena period, photo: Beno Rothenberg, Meitar Collection

And now for a paragraph on extenuating circumstances: at the time, the Israeli government was not the only government in the world that decided on a regime of austerity or rationing, which there were several justifications for. Firstly, Israel was still recovering from the grueling 1948 War of Independence (during which foods products were also distributed and restricted). Secondly, and this was perhaps the most important issue, the government was extremely concerned that without rationing, the state wouldn’t be able to provide food and clothing to all the new immigrants, who were arriving in large waves at the time – most of them without any property whatsoever. Moreover, the government wished to reduce the cost of living through rationing, in order to prevent large economic gaps in society.

A display of products that all citizens were entitled to, photo: Beno Rothenberg, the Meitar Collection


“Rationing ensures food for everyone” – a government propaganda poster promoting austerity, the Historical Poster Collection at the National Library of Israel

And so, Israeli citizens were required to take their food coupons, calculate points, and report to the grocery store where they were registered. They received oil, sugar, margarine and rice, and indulged in meat maybe once a week and fish maybe twice a month. Occasionally they received eggs, chocolate, 100 grams of cheese, or dried fruit. Due to the situation, there were often shortages, and costumers were not always able to receive the food products they desired. The frugal selection forced citizens to be creative when cooking their meals, and there were those who came to their aid: the cooking guru of the era, Lillian Kornfeld, produced a cookbook. The WIZO organization put together an exhibition in which “austerity dishes” were displayed. The government, for its part, tried to convince the people of the wonders of egg powder.

“Bless my crest! There’s really no difference between a fresh egg and a powdered egg – aside from the price* and the shell!  *Powdered eggs are cheaper. 2 tablespoons of powdered eggs+2 tablespoons of water = 1 egg”, the Historical Poster Collection at the National Library of Israel


“Out of coffee!” – A sign on the door of a coffeehouse in 1949, photo: Beno Rothenberg, the Meitar Collection

Due to the shortage of staple foods, a gray market and black market quickly emerged, alongside the regulated price system. Immigrants who received food coupons would sell these for money in the gray market. Quality products gradually fell into the hands of savvy merchants, who established the black market, where citizens could suddenly obtain eggs and meat, butter and chocolate. The government tried to combat the parallel market that popped up under its nose, and conducted aggressive publicity campaigns attacking it. The authorities also established an enforcement mechanism, which included searches of apartments and personal belongings, in an attempt to eliminate the black market.

“The scalper is your enemy! The black market is your catastrophe!” – A government propaganda poster targeting the black market, the Historical Poster Collection at the National Library of Israel


A child dressed up in a “black market” costume, during a costume contest in Tel Aviv, 1951; photo: Beno Rothenberg, the Meitar Collection

Gradually, the restrictive rationing policy caused growing resentment among Israeli citizens.  The public slowly accumulated more money than it could spend. Citizens couldn’t use their money as they wished because of the austerity regime. In the summer of 1950, a general strike broke out among merchants, who demanded a change in government policy. Clothing and footwear stores, cafes and restaurants, all closed their doors.

A man reading a sign announcing a business strike, photo: Beno Rothenberg, the Meitar Collection

The civil resentment quickly spread to the political arena. The “Mapai” ruling party indeed supported the policy, arguing that it was a necessary evil in order to absorb mass immigration, but its political rivals didn’t hesitate to attack the austerity regime. The most prominent party in the struggle against the rations was the General Zionists party. In the 1951 Knesset election, they campaigned under the slogan “Let us live in this country.” The successful campaign positioned the party as Mapai’s main competitor, and won the party 20 seats – it’s greatest achievement in the history of the state.

Pro-austerity signs in the May 1st parade, 1949; photo: Beno Rothenberg, the Meitar Collection


“No return to rations! No more lines!” – An election poster for the General Zionists party, the Historical Poster Collection at the National Library of Israel


The rationing policy was officially abolished in 1959, but even before that, changes were made to the restrictions. Improvement in Israel’s economic situation, civil resistance, unbearable bureaucracy, and the black market that rendered austerity irrelevant, all led to changes in the policy. In 1952, Minister of Finance Eliezer Kaplan, and his replacement, Levi Eshkol, introduced a program called “The New Economic Policy” and took the first step in improving the economic situation of Israel’s citizens. Nevertheless, in retrospect, some say the austerity was a great achievement: Thanks to the unpopular measures, Israel, a young post-war state, managed to develop its economy and absorb millions of immigrants – without starving.


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