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Am Yisrael Chai (The Nation of Israel Lives)

Last Shabbat, I taught a version of the song: “Am Yisrael Chai” (The Nation of Israel Lives) by Eyal Golan. The song was released on October 19, 2023 in the midst of Operation Swords of Iron, and remained the #1 song in Israel for several weeks. In addition, I compiled a video which shows how this song not only swept the nation of Israel, but Jewish communities all over the world.

As we search for response to a time of such anti-Semitism and hate, I am seeking to “arm” you with a tool, a phrase and a song. Am Yisrael Chai, literally “the people of Israel live,” is an expression of Jewish continuity and strength called upon in moments of communal hardship. These words are an affirmation of Jewish endurance in the face of oppression. The phrase is said to have originated with a British Jewish army chaplain who reportedly called it out at the liberation of Bergen-Belsen after World War II.

A Jewish composer, Shlomo Carlebach, used that slogan to become an anthem of the fight to liberate Soviet Jewry. This song was boldly sung during significant events such as the Six Day War and the Yom Kippur War. Am Yisrael Chai continues to be the anthem of strength for us as a Jewish community, particularly during times of war and increased antisemitism.

This week, as a dear friend of mine was leaving his Yom HaShoah service in New York City, he experienced extreme anti-Semitism as a Pro-Hamas supporter yelled in his face: “Die you Jew.” He responded by yelling: “Am Yisrael Chai.” He wasn’t sure what else to say, but in that moment, that is what came to his heart, and yes, that expression did arm him with strength.

Next week we will celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut, the celebration of Israel’s 76th birthday. Its Independence Day on the fifth day of the month of Iyar, corresponding to May 14, 1948. On this day, Israel was formally established as the State of Israel. Even more than ever, let’s say, sing, and arm ourselves with: “Am Yisrael Chai” the nation of Israel lives. Let’s sing this song together: Am Yisrael Chai, give each other strength and fortitude and pray for peace for Israel and the return of our hostages.