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The Song that Became a Prayer: "All We Pray For"

Naomi Shemer

If there is one song that symbolizes the Yom Kippur War, it is "All We Pray For" by Naomi Shemer. The idea for the song originated before the war began, when Shemer wanted to adapt the Beatles' song "Let it Be", by Lennon and McCartney, into Hebrew and to change its title to "All We Pray For". Shemer wrote the lyrics during the first days of the war, expressing hope and prayer that the soldiers would return home in peace.  Shemer played the song to Chava Alberstein in its original tune by the Beatles, but at the suggestion of Shemer's husband, Mordechai Horowitz, she decided to compose a new tune for it.  By the height of the war, Shemer had composed a new, original tune for the song, and she played it on Israeli television on the eve of Sukkot, 1973. The performance, on the program "Mifgash Omanim", garnered an incredible amount of attention. Immediately afterwards, the song became popular also among soldiers, thanks to a version of the song performed by Chava Alberstein and "HaGashash HaHiver".

​"All We Pray For" – the Song that Became a Nation's Prayer

Within a small amount of time, Naomi Shemer was inundated with responses from the public. The song became a prayer on everyone's' lips. The lyrics and tune tugged at people's heartstrings. The Naomi Shemer Archive at the National Library contains the original manuscript of the song as well as many letters from scores of people, expressing their excitement and their personal stories that demonstrate how "All We Pray For" became one of the inalienable assets of Israeli culture and a prayer that united Israelis during those days.
 

The Nation Showers Naomi Shemer with Emotion...

השיר שהיה לתפילה: "לו יהי""A few weeks ago we sat and, as usual, talked about them, them, those who aren't with us. Suddenly, in the background of this sad conversation we heard your song and fell quiet. We felt as if we found the answer to what we were trying to express… all we pray for… all we pray for … and indeed, we unabashedly found ourselves wiping away tears…". These are the words of Corporal Ilan Bachar, written at the end of December, 1973.

 

Misha, a soldier on the Western bank of the Suez writes to Shemer: "I sat down to write a few words to you, to thank you for myself, but mostly for everyone, for the emotions that we experience when we hear your new song, 'All We Pray For'. I don't know what the song does for those on the front, but here in Africa it has caused an extraordinary amount of excitement."

 

Two days after the ceasefire, a soldier writes to her: "Naomi, it is hard to express in words what the heart feels regarding your song, 'All We Pray For'. Yes, continue! Yours, an Anonymous Soldier."

 

The Senesh family from Haifa, tells Naomi Shemer that the song lyrics "helped us get through the hardest thing we have ever experienced so far, the uncertainty. Up until we received knowledge that our son is in captivity in Egypt… this song of yours has become a sort of prayer for us, a sort of prayer that helps the believer and comforts them".

 

On the 19th of October, during the war, Shiona Ravitsky writes to Naomi Shemer about how she brought the song to school where she teaches: "It is sung as a prayer here". Bracha Vardi, a war widow, writes to her in December, 1973, and tells her that her son sings the song that "now has a double meaning…". She adds: "When I reviewed the letter that I wrote to my husband, before I knew that he was killed, I found that I copied your song to him so that he would also know your-our prayer, the [prayer of the] whole nation and the children. The letter was returned to me, like the other letters I wrote to him (except for one that he received), and our prayer is lost in the void."


 

Testimony from Shemer's Daughter: Consideration for the Mourning Families

The second verse of the song was omitted from most versions, since Shemer thought that it touched on an especially difficult experience  the possibility of receiving a message about the death of a soldier ("the messenger standing at the door…"), despite the fact that the verse expresses the hope that the messenger will bear good news. Naomi Shemer's daughter, Lali, told the staff of the Music Collection and Sound Archive at the National Library the following regarding the changes to the lyrics:

 
"I never spoke to my mother about the change, but as you (especially) know she made changes to her songs freely, sometimes in the last draft before the books went to print. From my experience with her, and with the proper caution, in my opinion: a) this verse disturbs the fragile balance between hope and sorrow in the song. It is so full of sadness and death (the young and the old!), but without it the balance between light and dark in the song is preserved; b) in her attentiveness to the contemporary language of her time, together with all the rich layers of language that she mastered, she noticed a change in the meaning of the word, "messenger" from its traditional-Biblical meaning. Today the word messenger refers to someone sent from the Ministry of Defense, and the news they are carrying is never good…"

 

  • 1. A soldier writes to Naomi Shemer requesting the lyrics to "All We Pray For"
  • 2. A war widow tells Naomi Shemer about the letter containing the words to "All We Pray For" that she sent to her husband.
  • 3. The family of a prisoner of war writes to Naomi Shemer about "All We Pray For".
  • 4. A teacher writes to Naomi Shemer about "All We Pray For
  • 5. An anonymous soldier writes to Naomi Shemer about "All We Pray For".
  • 6. "All We Pray For" – a manuscript in Naomi Shemer's hand
  • 7. "All We Pray For" – a manuscript in Naomi Shemer's hand (continuation)

 Song Performances (In Hebrew)