This month marks the 50th anniversary of what has become, after “Hatikvah,” the second Jewish national anthem — Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach’s “Am Yisrael Chai.”
Reb Shlomo wrote the tune in response to a request by the Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry’s founder Jacob Birnbaum for a marching song for our mass April 1965 “Jericho March” from the Soviet Mission to the United Nations. I vividly remember the moment Shlomo taught it to us at Dag Hammarskjold Plaza. Within minutes, we were singing so loudly our voices reverberated off the surrounding buildings.
In a short time, “Am Yisrael Chai” made its way into the USSR, where young Jews defiantly sang it in front of the few remaining synagogues and in underground groups. The song became the anthem of the entire Soviet Jewry movement, and today is omnipresent within the world Jewish community.
Readers can see and hear Reb Shlomo sing “Am Yisrael Chai” online at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rmWUyOBmwdU.