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A Sailor’s Hymn

“Home is the sailor, home from the sea; and the hunter, home form the hill”. These verses from the poem by A.E. Houseman, are mute reminders of the contribution that the State of Israel’s small, but important naval forces make for the security of their country. The loss of four members of an Israeli missile boat when struck by a Hezbollah launched missile, once again brings attention to a branch of Israel’s armed forces who have managed to perform their duties in both peace and war, with the loss of relatively few of their comrades. The only graphic exception, outside of this recent incident was the accidental sinking of the Israeli submarine, Dakar, which sank with all hands on board on its maiden voyage back to Israel from England in 1968 after being purchased from the British Royal Navy. Only recently did the true fate of the Dakar and its crew of 69 become known when the long vanished sub was finally located on the bottom of the Mediterranean off the Island of Crete.

Many countries who have both military navies, as well as merchant marine fleets, have their own version of the Sailor’s Hymn. One of the most notable, composed by American Rear Admiral Charles Jackson in 1879, and heard often by U.S, Navy choral groups, begins as follows:

Eternal Father, Strong to save,
Whose arm hath bound the restless wave,
Who bid’st the mighty Ocean deep
Its own appointed limits keep;
O hear us when we cry to thee,
for those in peril on the sea.

Though based on a Christian Protestant song, sung by coastal churches where sailing vessels were a vital part of the lives of people living in cities like Boston, Philadelphia, New York, and Baltimore, the song is still a fitting tribute to those who brave the seas and ocean’s waves on ships of all types; for both war and peace.

Being a Jewish State, Israel cannot use this hymn to honor its men at sea. It would be fitting, therefore for a special song to be composed, with both music and words to pay tribute to those naval personnel who have fallen in the line of duty. The Torah and other parts of the Holy Scriptures have many verses and psalms dealing with the sea, and deliverance from it, including the Chapters from Genesis dealing with Noah and his family, and a later separate book, the Book of Jonah. Both of these examples have fitting excerpts which, together with the proper musical rendition would make into a most beautiful Sailor’s Hymn for Israel’s naval personnel.

The announcement by the Israeli Navy that the bodies of all four sailors were found at least brings some comfort to their grieving families who can now bury their love ones and visit their graves. Those lost at sea, however, such as the Dakar’s crew, are lost forever; as trying to recover them from more than 2,000 feet of water is too difficult, considering the logistical factors involved. They, together with literally thousands more worldwide, share the sea as their common grave.

Still, proper attention needs to be paid to these brave men and the important duties performed for the welfare of their nation. And nothing more suitable and fitting a tribute is needed than to compose a special hymn or prayer in their honor, which will be a lasting reminder of the duties sacrifices by this special branch of Israel’s military forces.

4 Comments

  1. Beautiful thought! I think you should send this to a few of your favorite artists.

    I do have a question though. The above hymn gets its godly attributes from the Psalms or the book of Job. Jewish people could sing it, right?

    I am asking because I’ve noted a stark change in Christian music in resent years. There are many, many songs that are simply praise songs to God without reference to Messiah that could be sung by everyone who Loves God, like Chris Tomlin’s “How Great is our God” (awesome song!), “More” by Matthew West (a song sung as though God were singing to us); I could go on and on, my point being…I believe we should Love God united, to the best of our ability, and allow Him to be judge in the end. What do you think?

  2. Maurice Picow

    July 19, 2006 at 8:23 am

    Hi Virginia,

    I believe anything like this would have to have the approval of the Israeli Armed Forces Chaplain, as well as the Chief Rabbinate for that matter (those two, being Ahskenazi and Sephardic never agree about anything , except that they’re both Jewish – open to intrepretation, of course).

    When I wrote this piece I recalled an Israeli pop tune: Bo Alenu, Alenu l’Yam (Come with us to the sea), but it’s much too ‘camppi’ and more like a recruiting song (which is what it is used for a lot).

    A more dignified and somber melody and lyrics need to be thought up. Maybe someone here will do this.

    Thanks for your comment.

    Maurice

  3. I really get that you (the Jewish people) would want your people to compose/sing for your people, especially in this circumstance, that’s natural. I didn’t mean to suggest that the above hymn be used for this special purpose. I was asking, if I have to be even more blunt, what is the Rabbinate take on “I believe we should Love God united, to the best of our ability, and allow Him to be judge in the end.”

    I am so happy to hear Israel has already begun to sing. I cried with you, I’m darn sure going to sing with you!

  4. We may have more crying, much more singing, and a whole lot more work to do; I believe we can do it together 🙂

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