Music > Compilations > Jerusalem of Gold

Jerusalem of Gold

R. Shmuel Hanagid is reputed to have said:
A poet who has written five thousand poems and none for Jerusalem is no poet. He who has written but one poem in his life, and that poem is for Jerusalem, is a poet.

 

As the 1967 Song Festival drew to a close, the host Yitzhak Shimoni made the following unusual announcement: "At the request of the audience and the mayor, we will hear Naomi Shemer's song about Jerusalem once again before closing. Jerusalem of Gold, sung by Shuli Nathan." Much has been written about this song, which became, overnight, one of the best known Hebrew songs in the world. In honor of Jerusalem Day, we bring you a selection of unique items from Naomi Shemer's archive, which is among the treasures of the National Library's music department. Each of these items tells the story of "Jerusalem of Gold" from a slightly different angle.
 

Naomi Shemer describes the writing of the song thus: "In the winter of '67 I was approached by Gil Aldema of The Voice of Israel. Teddy Kollek (the mayor at the time) had asked him to commission a song about Jerusalem. For many years, the Voice of Israel held a song competition on Independence Day, until then broadcast on the radio only (because we only got television in 1968). That same year, 1967, they elected, on a one-time basis to also commission songs from five professional composers, I among them. I found it very difficult to write the song, until I recalled the legend about Rabbi Akiva promising his wife Rachel a "city of gold," i.e. a piece of gold jewelry depicting Jerusalem. I chose Shuli Nathan to perform the song. She was a 20-year old soldier-teacher, with a guitar and a voice like bells. The song was a hit from the very first performance and, at midnight, when Shuli was asked to return to the stage, the audience was already singing along on the chorus. At that point we were moving towards war and 3 weeks later, when the paratroopers liberated the Western Wall, they had an anthem at the ready. On that day 7.6.1967, I added a fourth verse to the song in honor of the victory."
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  • On the writing of Jerusalem of Gold, in Shemer's own hand
  • Draft of the added verse, from Shemer's personal journal
  • 1967 Song Festival program cover
  • 1967 Song Festival program - new songs
  • Song Festival ticket

 

The correspondence section of Shemer's archive attests to the interest generated by the song. Among the dozens of letters she received in response to the song is an IDF postcard dated 6.6.1967 – at which time the air force was attacking on the Golan Heights. It says: "At this very moment our planes are bombing the Golan and your song is playing on the radio. Well done and well done. Your song Jerusalem of Gold has become part of our lives as we man our stations. The guys can't stop singing and being amazed because this song is really something, especially as our nation struggles and prevails…"
 
 
The song Jerusalem of Gold became extremely popular with both adults and children. One example is this letter from "A 66-year old Jerusalemite" who wishes to inform Naomi Shemer that "her song Jerusalem of Gold has made its mark in this city". "I am an observant Jew," continues the writer, "but I had to write to you. You can't imagine what this song means to Jerusalem which has seen 3 wars in this generation. The song brings them all together and its lyrics give us hope that Jerusalem will be ours forever…"
 

And then there are the second grade students from Shimoni elementary school in Givatayim who ask Shemer to update the words of the song following the victory in the war. "

 

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  • Postcard from soldier on front
  • Letter from "a 66-year-old Jerusalemite"
  • Letter from the 2nd grade at Shimoni Elementary, Givatayim

Jerusalem of Gold even inspired an arithmetic riddle. A letter received by Naomi Shemer explained: "I am asking your permission to use a line from your song Jerusalem of Gold in an arithmetic riddle. The principle behind this kind of riddle is to find a particular word combination that has meaning and constitutes an arithmetic exercise with a single answer. I found such a combination in your song Jerusalem of Gold… My request is that you allow me to submit the riddle based on the song to the aforementioned publication…."
  

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  • Jerusalem of Gold as an arithmetic riddle

An interesting fact regarding the distribution of the song is evident in a letter Shemer received from Yitzhak Bayer (of Bayer Musical Supplies, Haifa). "Naomi Shemer is the guilty party. Guilty of what? Very simple. It is she who has caused a stir throughout the country with her song Jerusalem of Gold. Our business was paralyzed for about two weeks. After that it began to show signs of life. Yesterday a few customers came in and what did they want? Sheet music for Jerusalem of Gold! And what was I supposed to do? They shout at me, why don't you see to it that it is printed?! Perhaps it has been printed? I think I'll send my wife to the store alone in the hopes that they won't hit a woman. But even my wife won't want to face these threats for very long and when there is still no sheet music in a few days' time, I will be in for it. To pass on the sentence, I decided to write this letter, adding a reminder not to forget the accordionists, who need bass notes in letters. I am begging you to hurry the matter before someone innocent, namely me, gets hurt…"

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  • "Before somone gets hurt...."
  • Correspondence between Bayer Music Supplies and Naomi Shemer
  • Correspondence between Bayer Music Supplies and Naomi Shemer
  • Correspondence between Bayer Music Supplies and Naomi Shemer

In conclusion, we bring you an original copy of Jerusalem of Gold, with a personal inscription in Shemer's handwriting. "To Mom, and in memory of Dad's songs – with love, your daughter Naomi."

 

 


We also bring you a rare and intimate rendition of the song by Jerusalemite singer Avraham Perera.

 

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  • Jerusalem of Gold with personal dedication
  • Jerusalem of Gold with personal dedication