The Story of “Am Yisrael Chai”

On Tuesday, the Orange County Register published an article under the headline “Why chants like ‘Free Palestine,’ ‘Am Yisrael Chai,’ and ‘From the river to the sea’ are divisive.” The second of these is a very well-known Jewish song, meaning “the people of Israel lives,” and it should come as no surprise that there are sharp divisions between those who want the Jews to live and those who wish them dead. But the song itself is a relatively new creation. Gary Rosenblatt tells its story:

It was composed by Shlomo Carlebach (1925–1994), a popular hasidic “singing rabbi,” at the request of Jacob Birnbaum, the founder of the grassroots Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry, who was seeking an anthem for the fledgling Soviet Jewry movement in the spring of 1965. Birnbaum and Carlebach knew each other, as did their grandfathers.

Besides the three words, “Am Yisrael Chai,” [suggested by Birnbaum], Carlebach had added three more words to the song, based on the biblical story (Genesis 45:3) of Joseph revealing his identity to his brothers. He immediately asks about the welfare of their father, Jacob, whom Joseph has not seen in many years: “ha-od avi ḥai?” (“Is my father alive?”)

Carlebach transformed the question into an exclamatory statement of affirmation: “od avinu ḥai” (“our father is alive!”).

Read more at Forward

More about: Free Soviet Jewry, Jewish music, Shlomo Carlebach

Why Arab Jerusalem Has Stayed Quiet

One of Hamas’s most notable failures since October 7 is that it has not succeeded in inspiring a violent uprising either among the Palestinians of the West Bank or the Arab citizens of Israel. The latter seem horrified by Hamas’s actions and tend to sympathize with their own country. In the former case, quiet has been maintained by the IDF and Shin Bet, which have carried out a steady stream of arrests, raids, and even airstrikes.

But there is a third category of Arab living in Israel, namely the Arabs of Jerusalem, whose intermediate legal status gives them access to Israeli social services and the right to vote in municipal elections. They may also apply for Israeli citizenship if they so desire, although most do not.

On Wednesday, off-duty Israeli soldiers in the Old City of Jerusalem shot at a Palestinian who, it seems, was attempting to attack them. But this incident is a rare exception to the quiet that has prevailed in Arab Jerusalem since the war began. Eytan Laub asked a friend in an Arab neighborhood why:

Listen, he said, we . . . have much to lose. We already fear that any confrontation would have consequences. Making trouble may put our residence rights at risk. Furthermore, he added, not a few in the neighborhood, including his own family, have applied for Israeli citizenship and participating in disturbances would hardly help with that.

Such an attitude reflects a general trend since the end of the second intifada:

In recent years, the numbers of [Arab] Jerusalemites applying for Israeli citizenship has risen, as the social stigma of becoming Israeli has begun to erode and despite an Israeli naturalization process that can take years and result in denial (because of the requirement to show Jerusalem residence or the need to pass a Hebrew language test). The number of east Jerusalemites granted citizenship has also risen, from 827 in 2009 to over 1,600 in 2020.

Oddly enough, Laub goes on to argue, the construction of the West Bank separation fence in the early 2000s, which cuts through the Arab-majority parts of Jerusalem, has helped to encouraged better relations.

Read more at Jerusalem Strategic Tribune

More about: East Jerusalem, Israeli Arabs, Jerusalem