Jerusalem of gold, a song by Naomi Shemer

By Hervé Roten

Jerusalem of gold (in Hebrew : ירושלים של זהב – Yerushalayim shel zahav) is the name of a popular Israeli song written by Naomi Shemer in 1967. It was first sung by Shuli Nathan, before being covered by numerous artists, including Rika Zaraï and Ofra Haza who sang it for the ceremony of the 50th anniversary of the State of Israel in 1998. The song was such a worldwide success that it is now considered the unofficial counterpart to the Hatikva, the anthem of the State of Israel.

jerusalem-mur-lamentations-mosquee-al-aqsa_1_729_1094_300px_vertic.jpgThe first part of the chorus, “Jerusalem of gold, copper and light”, refers to the golden color into which the buildings of the city, built in Jerusalem stone, change during dawn and sunset. The second part, “Of all your songs, Am I not the lyre? [1]The Hebrew word kinor probably refers to a lyre or harp. is inspired by a verse from the Songs of Zion, “I am like a lyre for your songs”, by the Spanish Jewish poet Judah Halevi (1075-1141). There are other biblical references too: in the first verse, the expression “the city that sits solitary” comes from the Book of Lamentations 1:1, and the third verse from Psalm 137:5 “If I forget you Jerusalem“.

The circumstances leading up to the writing of this song are highly symbolic. In 1967, the mayor of Jerusalem, Teddy Kolek, commissioned a song about Jerusalem for the Song Festival to be held on the evening of Independence Day, May 15, 1967. Naomi Shemer, a singer-songwriter, was given the task. The song describes Jerusalem before the Six-Day War, when the city was still divided by a wall separating the Kingdom of Jordan from the State of Israel. Judaism’s holy sites – the Temple Mount, the Western Wall and the Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives – were then inaccessible to the Jews expelled from the Old City after the War of Independence. This song, 34e666735a_116922_mur-lamentations_300px_larg.jpgperformed by Shuli Nathan just three weeks before the outbreak of the Six-Day War, was a great success, particularly with the Israeli soldiers who took part in the conquest of East Jerusalem. After the war, Naomi Shemer added a verse to her poem, to celebrate the reunification of Jerusalem and the return of Jews to the Old City’s Western Wall[2]One of the verses in this new couplet, “The shofar sounds on the Temple Mount”, refers specifically to the fact that the army chaplain, Rabbi Shlomo Goren, blew a shofar immediately after … Lire la suite.

Elected “Song of the Year” in Israel in 1967, Yerushalayim shel zahav has since been performed by artists from all over the world, including Finnish singer Carola Standertskjöld, Greek singer Demis Roussos, American rock band Phish, German rocker Klaus Meine of the Scorpions, Brazilian singer Roberto Carlos and the French singer Hélène Ségara. According to the Society of Authors, Composers and Music Publishers of Israeli music (ACUM), there are over 300 different versions of this song, translated into numerous languages, including Esperanto. Moreover, the tune has been introduced into the liturgy of many Ashkenazi and Sephardic communities in Israel and the Diaspora. Frequently played at official ceremonies, Yerushalayim shel zahav is a cultural phenomenon at the crossroads of politics, Israeli national identity and popular culture.

Shortly before her death, Naomi Shemer admitted that she found her inspiration in an old Basque lullaby Pello Joxepe that she heard during a concert of the Spanish singer Paco Ibáñez in Israel in 1962. I do not consider it as plagiarism, declared Ibáñez after that announce, adding : I am happy that it helped in a certain way.

Yerushalayim shel zahav – Shuly Nathan 

Sources : Wikipedia

Read Naomi Shemer’s biography
Listen to different versions of the song Jerusalem of Gold (Yerushalayim shel zahav)

Watch 12 historical performances of the song Yerushalayim shel zahav, in the article « 12 versions of the song Jerusalem of gold », Kef Israël, May 17, 2012.

Original score of the song Yerushalayim shel zahav

1 The Hebrew word kinor probably refers to a lyre or harp.
2 One of the verses in this new couplet, “The shofar sounds on the Temple Mount”, refers specifically to the fact that the army chaplain, Rabbi Shlomo Goren, blew a shofar immediately after the capture of the Western Wall


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