As a nurse anesthesiologist, Elan Esterson was moved by the shows of support from his neighbors during the scariest days of the pandemic, when they would open their windows to clap and cheer in appreciation for health care workers.
So this week, when he was thinking about how to support Israel after its deadly invasion by Hamas, he envisioned a similar kind of gesture.
“Please open your window or go to your rooftop and sing Hatikvah in unison with all of your NYC neighbors,” he wrote on a flier that he posted online and sent to Jewish organizations, exhorting everyone who got it to pass it along.
Esterson’s idea is that New Yorkers will join together in a communal singing of “Hatikvah,” Israel’s national anthem, on Friday at 6 p.m. Esterson plans to take part from his home on the Upper West Side, but he has grander visions for the gesture.
“I’m just one person trying to reach as many people as possible in a very short amount of time,” he told the New York Jewish Week. “I would love for it to go nationwide. Worldwide.”
Inspired by COVID lockdowns
Esterson was inspired in part by looking at different ways communities around the world are responding to the crisis in Israel. “Hatikvah” has been sung at pro-Israel rallies across the world, from New York to London to Tokyo, but a video of a more homegrown rendition, in an Israeli neighborhood, went viral — racking up more than 1.6 million views so far on TikTok.
Valerie Gerstein, a Jewish mother and Columbia University graduate student, shared the flier on Facebook and said she plans to participate on Friday evening.
“It is brilliant,” she said. “Just as Israel led us with the communal support for healthcare and essential workers during COVID lockdowns, they are leading us in how to respond to this terror.”
Esterson said this is the first time he’s ever organized a public call to action, and he was moved to do so because he was raised with a “very deep belief system in Judaism and the State of Israel.” As a high school student in Baltimore, he traveled to Israel to support Jewish families that moved out of Gaza after Israel pulled out in 2005, volunteering in cities including Ofakim, which was targeted in this week’s Hamas attack. (“What we did was a very little thing,” he said at the time. “But it meant so much to the people.”)
“I was brought up to protect the State of Israel and to do whatever I can to give back to the country that will do everything for me as well,” Esterson said.
Esterson said he’d be happy if the communal singing doesn’t become a sustained tradition like the health care-workers applause, which happened nightly for months in 2020. But he is following the news reports suggesting that Israel is preparing to invade Gaza in response to the assault, and has heard Israeli leaders say to expect a prolonged war.
“Hopefully, this is the last time we have to do it,” Esterson said about the “Hatikvah” singalong. “But I have a feeling we’re going to have to do it again.”