Music > News > "To sing is to be like the Jordan"

"To sing is to be like the Jordan"

​Untold surprises are buried among the treasures of the National Library. Countless files and documents make up the hundreds of archives in the Library's collection. These riches, replete with hidden pearls that await the curious researcher, must be seen to be believed. One such curious individual is Na'ama Sadan, a geography teacher at "Leyada" high school in Jerusalem. Last summer, the National Library's Education Department invited dozens of teachers to sift through original archival items that might help them prepare lesson plans. Na'ama Sadan was among the teachers who participated in this project. She set out to collect materials on a specific geographic topic: the sources of the Jordan River. Little did she know she would be rewarded with a musical surprise.

​What could be more evocative of the Jordan River than Naomi Shemer's famous song "To sing is to be like the Jordan"? The lyrics, familiar to many of us, are about the sources of the river, and the song lends itself admirably to a geography lesson on the subject.

 לשיר זה כמו להיות ירדן
"לשיר זה כמו להיות ירדן:
אתה מתחיל למעלה בצפון
צעיר, צונן שוצף ומתחצף
אתה שומע ציפורים בסבך
וכל אחת מהן ציפור גן עדן
כי לשיר זה כמו להיות ירדן"

 

  

Na'ama began sifting through Naomi Shemer's archive at the National Library and came upon an original letter containing the lyrics of the song. This was a working copy with deletions and amendments. Especially exciting for the geography teacher was a note at the bottom of the page, which read: "N.B. The first verse follows in the footsteps of our Bat Mitzvah trip (a mere 29 years ago). You see! Nothing is ever lost."


With the help of Dr. Gila Flam, Director of the National Library's Music Department, and Tamar Zigman, a member of staff, Na'ama Sadan contacted Naomi Shemer's daughter Lali. Lali Shemer looked into the matter and found that the letter, song lyrics and personal note, were addressed to Naomi Shemer's mother in 1972, on the twelfth anniversary of the death of Meir Sapir, Naomi's father.


Indeed, nothing is ever lost. The lyrics of "To sing is to be like the Jordan" are preserved in Naomi Shemer's original hand, along with a note to her mother that memorializes a personal, and typically Israeli, recollection of  a Bat Mitzvah trip to the sources of the Jordan river in 1943.