The Meaning of Am Yisrael Chai

Print Article

When the Jews of Bergen-Belsen concentration camp were liberated on April 20th 1945, they sang Hatikvah. At the end of the anthem, British Army Chaplain Rabbi Leslie Hardman, cried out, “Am Yisrael Chai – the People of Israel live!”


Jews in Bergen-Belsen singing Hatikvah


When Golda Meir visited the Great Synagogue in Moscow as the Israeli Ambassador in 1948, the crowd of 50,000 ecstatically welcomed her with shouts of “Am Yisrael Chai!”


Golda Meir in Moscow


In 1965, in order to energize the Soviet Jewry movement, Shlomo Carlebach was asked to compose a song. He wrote the famous version of Am Yisrael Chai.


In 2009, Prime Minister Netanyahu visited Wannsee Villa in Berlin, where the Final Solution for the destruction of Europe's Jews was planned in 1942 by Hitler and leaders of the Third Reich. In the visitors' book he wrote just three words in Hebrew and then translated them into English: “Am Yisrael Chai – The people of Israel live.”


As a slogan, Am Yisrael Chai affirms that despite the systematic attempts to exterminate and annihilate the Jewish people, thanks to God’s guiding hand and the tenacity and resilience of the Jewish People, we stubbornly persevere. God has made an eternal covenant with the Jewish People; He has their back.


Am Yisrael Chai is also a tefilla, a longing for a united Jewish people living together in safety, security and with unity and harmony.


Explaining the words “I will take you to Me as an “עם” a people (Shemos 6:7), Rav Soloveitchik writes:

The political-historical unity as a nation is based on the conclusion of the covenant in Mitzrayim, which occurred even prior to the giving of the Torah at Sinai.  This covenant forced upon us all one uniform historical fate. The Hebrew word עם Am, nation, is identical to the Hebrew word עם Im, with. Our fate of unity manifests itself through a historical indispensable union…No Jew can renounce his part of the unity…Religious Jews or irreligious Jews, all are included in one nation, which stands lonesome and in misery in a large and often antagonistic world…

In the ashes of the crematoria, the ashes of the Chasidim and pious Jews were put together with the ashes of the radicals and the atheists. And we all must fight the enemy, who does not differentiate between those who believe in God and those who reject Him.


The secret to a strong Am Yisrael is a sense of Im Yisrael, being in it together, united, loyal, giving one another the benefit of the doubt and judging each other favorably.


Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, standing in Auschwitz-Birkenau at the March of the Living several years ago said, “We always knew how to die together. The time has come for us to know also how to live together.”


During this most difficult time, may the people of Israel learn to live with one another in harmony and unity. Am Yisrael Chai!