"JERUSALEM OF GOLD"
Lyrics by Naomi Shemer
Originally Sung by Shuli Natan
|THE CAREER OF A SONG
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.