Naomi Shemer was born in Kvutzat Kinneret on July 13, 1930, to parents who were among the founders of the community. With her mother’s encouragement, Naomi began to learn the piano at the age of six, before later studying music in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Returning to Kvutzat Kinneret after completing her studies, Shemer taught rhythmics to children, and it was through this work that she composed her first songs, including The Mail Comes.
During her military service, Shemer served in the Nachal command. She later began her musical career by setting the poems of Yohanan Zarai to music for a musical entitled "Five-Five". Shemer went on to write songs and compositions for army troupes and for ensembles such as "Batzal Yarok" and "The Sambatyon". Many of her early works enjoyed instant success; examples include Hot Winds in the Outpost, A Wandering Minstrel, and many others. Shemer wrote hits for the Nachal troupe, including Tomorrow, Umbrella for Two, and The Big Outing. Other songs written by Shemer were performed by the "Gesher Hayarkon Trio", including Love for the Building Workers, A Serenade for You, and others, many of which enjoyed enormous popularity.
The song Jerusalem of Gold was a major milestone in Shemer’s artistic career. Written just before the Six Day War, the song was originally composed from a personal perspective, focusing on Shemer’s own memories of the city, but it soon acquired a symbolic and national meaning and gained a unique status in the repertoire of modern Hebrew songs. Shemer’s song We are Both from the Same Village also acquired canonical status as an expression of the mourning that has accompanied Israeli history, together with other songs of longing and mourning such as Every Fall – Giora, and The Binding of Isaac. Throughout her career, Shemer integrated numerous Biblical and traditional Jewish themes in her songs; prominent examples include the songs Father’s Song (“May the Temple Be Built,”) I Shall Not Die but Shall Live, The Jar of Flour, The Song of the Grasses, and many others. Equally, Shemer’s works include many light-hearted songs (I Have Not Loved Enough) and even satirical works (Never a Dull Moment).
Shemer set numerous poems by leading Hebrew poets to music, including Rachel’s poem Kinneret (“There Are the Golan Mountains,”) Nathan Alterman’s Endless Encounter, Shaul Tchernichovsky’s O, My Land, My Birthplace, and poems by Haim Nahman Bialik and Lea Goldberg.
In 1983, Shemer received the Israel Prize for Hebrew Song. The panel of judges wrote: “The Israel Prize for Hebrew Song is awarded to Naomi Shemer for her songs, which are sung by all thanks to their lyrical and musical quality, their wonderful blending of word and music, and their expressions of the people’s feelings.” Shemer received honorary degrees from most of the academic institutions in Israel, and the city of Tel Aviv-Jaffa made her an honorary citizen.
Naomi Shemer’s songs were performed by leading Israeli artists. Shemer also recorded some of her songs herself and performed around the world. She wrote Hebrew translations of songs written in various languages. Translations from French included Twenty-Year-Old Love, If Only Birds, and songs by Georges Brassens; other songs were translated from English and Yiddish. Shemer and her first husband, actor Mordechai Shemer, had one daughter, Haleli, born in 1956. In 1969, Shemer married Attorney Mordechai Horowitz. The couple’s son, Ariel, born in 1970, is a songwriter, composer and performer in his own right.
Naomi Shemer passed away on June 26, 2004 (7 Tammuz 5774) – in the middle of Tammuz, as Shemer predicted in one of her own compositions many years earlier. She was buried in Kinneret Cemetery, close to her birthplace, and alongside her parents, Meir and Rivka Sapir.
Since her death, Shemer’s grave and her parents’ home in Kinneret have become places of pilgrimage for many who treasure her life and works.