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Lyrics by Naomi Shemer
Originally Sung by Shuli Natan
by Yael Levine
It all began when Naomi Shemer was invited,  to gather with four other colleagues, to compose a song for the second and non-competitive part of 1967 Israel  Song  Festival,  during which the votes were  to be counted. The Song Festival was initiated in
the early  sixties by  the  national radio station,  KOL YISRAEL   (The Voice of Israel),  took place at Binyanei ha-Umma, and
was broadcast on the radio as the main program on Israel Independence Day.  (Television was introduced into Israel only in the latter part of the sixties).

Jerusalem Mayor Teddy Kollek had asked that the songs be performed on Independence Day of 1967 (May 15) be related to Jerusalem.   Gil Aldema, producer of the festival, had searched the archives of Kol Yisrael and found no more than half a dozen recordings of songs concerning  Jerusalem  written  by Israeli poets and composers since the turn of the century.  None of the songs composed after the establishment of the  State mentioned that the city was divided and that Jews could not approach the Kotel (Western Wall).

Shemer's four colleagues  were intimidated  and refused  to comply with the request  to compose a song on the proposed theme.  She,  too, was taken  aback at the prospect, but never the  less agreed.  Shemer possessed  a special  affinity to Jerusalem.  She had completed  the Music  Academy in  Jerusalem and  had given  birth to her daughter  in the city.  She used to spend part of every summer in the city with friends.  She traveled to the city to draw inspiration.  

She had  made a conscious  effort for some time to  compose such a song,  but to  no avail.   She  then  phoned Aldema, asking him to release her  from the  commitment. He told  her to compose a song, but asserted that it did not have to do with Jerusalem.  To the  people in his office he told:  "Now  she will write  about Jerusalem".  That very night "Jerusalem of Gold" was born.

The Talmudic story  concerning  Rabbi  Akiva who slept with his  wife in a  straw bin after her father had disavowed her from
his  property and  promised  her that if  he had  the means  he would  give her  a "Jerusalem of Gold" came to mind.  "One must
remember that in those days Jerusalem was gray, and not golden",  said Shemer.  So I asked myself:  Are you sure, 'of Gold'?   And something  within me replied:  Yes  indeed, 'of Gold'".  The term "Jerusalem of Gold" had also been used in the writings of several poets shortly before Shemer composed her song. 

It was  night time  when she set down  to write the lyrics and  melody.  he  following day she brought the song to "Kol Yisrael".  Aldema was deeply moved by it.

This first  version of the song included the first and the third stanzas only.  When she played the song to Rivkah Michaeli, she asked her:  "What about the Old City?"  Shemer said that she had already referred to the Old City  in the words "U-ve-libbah homah"  ("And in her heart a wall"). Michaeli  replied that  her father had been  born in  the Old City,  and dreamt about it every night.  Shemer then  composed the  second  stanza commencing  "Eikhah  yavshu  borot ha-mayim".  In it, she bemoaned the 
fact that the market  place was empty,  that no visitors  frequent  the Temple  Mount,  and that no one descended  to the Dead  Sea on the  Jerusalem  road.  Shemer explained that in  writing this stanza  she saw before her eyes  2000 years of destruction,
and not the 19 years that had transpired since the establishment of the State of Israel.

Shuli Natan as soldier, was asked to perform  the  song  at the  festival. In  the  army she  was a  Hebrew  teacher for immigrant women.  At  the  same time, she  sang folk songs.  She  appeared  on a radio program  featuring young talents.  Naomi  Shemer happened  to turn on the  radio and hear  her sing.  It was just  after she had written "Jerusalem of Gold", and she  was debating who  would  sing  it. When she  heard  Natan sing, she  decided that it  would be her.  When she approached  the  producers of  the  song festival  she was  told  that  it was not  possible,  since  Natan  was  an amateur.  A  friend of  Shemer told  her that if she  believed  in  Natan she  should  be insistent.  And she  was.  She  informed  them  that  if they  did  not let  Natan sing,  she
would not  agree that  the song  be sung.  Natan  herself  was  initially somewhat reluctant to accept the undertaking.

The song was an instant success and  touched  upon  the hearts  of many.  When  the first prize  was awarded, people shouted  that they  wanted to hear  "Yerushalayim Shel Zahav",  and Teddy  Kollek   asked  her to  perform  it once again.

Chief of Staff  Yitzhak  Rabin who  was present at the festival  received word that Nasser had declared the closing of the Tiran Straits,  and hastened to leave the building. The military situation with  Egypt had caused considerable tension in the public. 
"When I sang the song,  it somehow broke the  tension and the audience sang the  refrain with me", reminisced Natan.  Several  days  later the  army  began  mobilzing  its  reserves,  and  the  song  served  to  encourage  the  soldiers.

The Six Day War broke out on Monday,  June 5, 1967.  The Old City of  Jerusalem was  captured by the Israel Defense Forces on June 7.  When the war broke out and Jerusalem was freed "Jerusalem of Gold" immediately became an anthem of sorts. 

During the liberation of the City,  the  soldiers  burst out singing  "Jerusalem of Gold"   at the Western Wall. Television producer Yossi Ronen,  who at the  time reported  from the  scene, noted  that  "the excitement reached its peak."  Rabbi Shlomo  Goren,  chief  rabbi  of  the IDF,  blew  the shofar,  and recited  prayers."  The   paratroopers burst out in song, and I forgot my role as 'objective reporter' and joined with them in singing 'Jerusalem of Gold'". 

Shemer  and Natan  had traveled  south and joined the effort to raise the morale of the soldiers.  Shemer  also heard these voices,  wrote the last  stanza in  El-Arish on  the day the  Old  City  of  Jerusalem  was  freed,  and  sung  it that evening before soldiers.  This stanza gave voice  to the changes  that had taken place in the  city with the unification of both parts, and relates directly to
the second stanza. 

Several months following the war  Shemer told  Geulah Cohen in an interview that as far as she was concerned, the song was complete  without the  additional stanza.  She  wrote it since it was a  neccessity of the time; she was afraid that people would 
come and append their own version to it. 

A day after the Six  Day War was over, author Amos OZ c riticized her  n the  daily Davar for the articulations verbalized  in the additional stanza,  maintaining that the market  place was not empty,  but full of Arabs.  And so were the  cases with the Temple Mount and Jericho Road.  Naomi Shemer was at variance  with his stance, and also spoke out  against the timing of  the charge,  stating that the song  had gained popularity immediately,  and no protest  ad been voiced.  Twenty years after  the   incident  and   after  much   contemplation,  Shemer  reiterated   her  viewpoint  in   a  newspaper suppliment commemorating  twenty years of the  reunification of the city:  Jerusalem devoid of Jews was mournful and in ruins, and the land of Israel without Jews was in desolation.

The song continued to arouse political controversy,  and has continued to do  so until today. Ironically,  it was Knesset member  Yuri Avneri who in 1967 tabled a bill to make  "Jerusalem of Gold"  the  national anthem,  in replacement of "ha-Tikvah".  Avneir met with her in a cafe,  and  attempted to  explain to her its importance.  Shemer found it amusing.  "I  like  ha-Tikvah",  he said,  "and it is not replaceable".  The bill never went to committee.

The  late  song  writer  Meir Ariel  composed a protest takeoff of the song.  "Jerusalem of Iron/ Of lead/And of gloom/To your  walls we  proclaim  liberty".  In  1997  Ariel  said  that  his  song  was  flawed,  and  portrayed  the  experience  of one platoon.  "It was probably a product of combat shock and whiskey".

"Jerusalem of Gold"  was chosen as "Song of the Year",  and Natan won the  "Kinnor David"  prize.  Shemer and Natan traveled  around  the  world  performing  and  promoting  the  song. "Jerusalem  of  Gold"  has  assumed  the  place  of a classic,  and  is  referred  to  as  the  second  national  anthem  after  "ha-Tikvah".  It has  been  translated  into  dozens   of  languages,  and has been performed by many.  The song has come to be regarded as a  national  symbol.  It has been included in movies, and has assumed a prominent place in national events. 

"Jerusalem of Gold" was selected as "Song of the Jubilee" on Israel's 50th  Independence  Day,  celebrated in 1998.  In a survey carried out jointly by the Reshet Gimmel radio station, Channel 1 televsion station and the Yediot Aharonot Daily, the song  was selected as the most popular in Israel's first 50 years.  As the  top ten  songs were  announced,  Shemer appeared  on  television,  and  played the  song. In the hit parade marking  the  40th  anniversary of the State on Reshet Gimmel  it  was chosen  as "Song
of the Century".  "Jerusalem  of  Gold"  was recently included in the  collection of four  CD's of the best  songs partici-pating in
the 17th song festivals that have taken place, released in Spring of 1999. 

Educator and scholar Nathan Greenbaum, who pointed to  parallel's to some of the  song's  motifs in Jewish sources, gave voice
to his view  according to which  "Jerusalem of Gold"  is worthy of being  incorporated into  the  synagogue liturgy. 

Naomi Shemer has continued to fulfill a formidable role in the  shaping of Israeli music.  In  1983 she was  recipient of the Israel  prize,  traditionally  awarded  on  Israel  Independence  Day,  for  her  outstanding  contribution  to  Israeli  music.

Shuli Natan continued to perform in both Israel and abroad, and produced  albums for ten years after her success. She  then met  and  married  Matthew  Weiss.  After  devoting  some   ten  years  to  raising   children,  Natan  resumed  her singing career, and has since released several albums.  She resides in Ra'anana with her husband and five children.
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