Jewish Journal

How Carly Simon could inspire Israel’s national anthem

by Orit Arfa

April 25, 2012 | 1:54 pm

At the risk of sounding like a disloyal Zionist, especially writing this on Israel’s Memorial Day, on the cusp of Israel Independence Day, I’ve been thinking lately that Israel could improve upon its anthem, “The Hope.”

It’s a beautiful poem set to a beautiful melody, don’t get me wrong, but no other national anthem that I know of has been written in a minor key. Minor keys lead to pensive, sadder melodies. Contract to the “Star Spangled Banner,” written in happy, triumphant major. The Americans co-opted the melody of a British drinking song for an anthem about political freedom. Israel put the words (below) by the English Zionist poet Naphtali Herz Imber to a melody based on a Moldovian folk song.

As long as the Jewish spirit is yearning deep in the heart,
With eyes turned toward the East, looking toward Zion,
Then our hope - the two-thousand-year-old hope - will not be lost:
To be a free people in our land,
The land of Zion and Jerusalem

Some might say Israel has a rather pensive anthem because of the many tragedies the Jewish people have experienced. I can’t help but wonder that if Israel had a prouder anthem, one that spoke of confidence and certainty in the Jewish quest for freedom, rather than plaintive hope—with that confidence and certainty expressed in the melody—there’d be fewer tragedies.

There is a great tradition of Jewish songwriters and poets, starting with King David and going to Irving Berlin (who penned, ironically, “White Christmas”) to the great contemporary pop writer Dr. Luke (whose Jewish roots I explored last year). If I could have recruited a modern Jewish (well, half-Jewish) songwriter to have written Israel’s anthem, I’d have approached Carly Simon.

Last week, on April 18, she was awarded at the 2012 ASCAP Pop Music Awards with the ASCAP Founders Award, the performing rights organization’s highest honor. Born to a Jewish father, Simon gave a master class the next day at the ASCAP “I Create Music” Expo to a conference room full of aspiring songwriters at the Renaissance Hollywood Hotel. She spoke about overcoming her childhood stutter by singing; the ideas and inspiration behind her major hits; and her struggle with breast cancer.

Days after the Expo, I kept replaying in my car the Grammy, Golden Globe and Academy Award winning song, “Let the River Run,” which served as the theme song for the film Working Girl starring Melanie Griffith as a struggling secretary in Manhattan. The song deserves a much better platform than the entertaining but forgettable movie. The climactic phrase beckoning “the New Jerusalem” might have been inspired by Simon’s Jewish roots, which perhaps she’ll discuss at more length in her forthcoming autobiography. The words have the quality of a psalm, and the ascending melody befits a song about dreams, overcoming adversity, and triumph.

Watch the video here, with the chilling image of the World Trade Center in the background, but then imagine it set to the backdrop of Zionist pioneers crossing the Mediterranean and Jordan River into the land of Israel. Then listen to Simon discuss the genesis of the song. Below, I’m going to give a Zionist twist to “Let the River Run.” Wouldn’t it make a good Israeli anthem?


Let the JORDAN river run,
let the dreamers OF 2,000 YEARS
wake the nation.
Come, the New Jerusalem.

GOLDEN cities rise,
the morning lights
the streets that meet them,
and THE SHOFAR calls them on
with a PSALM.

It’s asking for the taking.
PRAYING, shaking.

We’re coming to the LAND,
running on the JORDAN,
coming through the fog,
OUR sons and daughters.

We the great and small
stand on a star
and blaze a trail of HOPE
through the dark’ning dawn.

It’s asking for the taking.
Come run with me now,
the sky is the color OF AZURE
you’ve never even seen
in the TASSELS of your TALLIT.

Let the JORDAN river run,
let the dreamers OF 2,000 YEARS
wake the nation.
ZION, the New Jerusalem.


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