When the Author of Israeli Anthem Lived on the Lower East Side

Posted on: October 7th, 2011 at 10:19 am by

“Hatikvah” is the famous Hebrew poem from which Israel’s national anthem derives. The 125-year-old hymn – meaning “the hope” – has a very direct connection to turn-of-the-century Lower East Side.  Its author lived and died here.

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[Photo Credit: Wikipedia]

First, a quick history lesson. Naphtali Herz Imber was born in Galica in 1856, what is current day Ukraine. By age 16, the burgeoning Zionist movement at the time propelled the poet to seek Palestine. Fate eventually led him to Jerusalem, but not until 1882. Four years later, “Hatikvah” as we know it today was born. Shortly thereafter, one Shmuel Cohen set the first stanza of the poem to song, and it quickly resonated with the young pioneers of the first Zionist settlement.

New York City entered the picture in 1892, with Imber settling on the Lower East Side. Throughout his life, he loved the drink, and was infamous for being somewhat of a local boozy bohemian. The alcoholic affliction proved deadly on an October day in 1908, when he collapsed on Forsyth Street from a “stroke of paralysis.” The morbid anniversary is tomorrow. Below is a screen-grab of the pre-eulogy published in the New York Times while Imber was on his deathbed.

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Interestingly enough, at the time of his death, the synagogue on Attorney Street reportedly refused to hold funeral services. Imber was not orthodox enough in his beliefs. So the memorial was instead relocated to the Educational Alliance at 197 East Broadway. Thousands clogged the streets to pay tribute

“Hatikvah” became the unofficial national anthem upon Israel’s statehood in 1948. It didn’t become official until 2004.

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