Jerusalem of Gold
Naomi wrote Jerusalem of Gold – in Hebrew, Yerushalayim Shel Zahav – for the Israel Music Festival of 1967, which took place the day after Israel’s 19th Independence Day celebrations. The melody was inspired by a Basque lullaby, but the lyrics describe the Jewish people’s longing for the holy city of Jerusalem.
At the time, Jerusalem was torn apart by war. The Old City was entirely in Jordanian hands, and Jordanian soldiers walked Jerusalem’s ramparts, firing daily at the Israeli homes at the foot of the walls. So despite Israel’s independence, the longing for Jerusalem and its holy cites remained a painful dream for most Jews.
The song was first performed a few days before the music festival, when Naomi sang it for Israeli troops. Almost overnight, Jerusalem of Gold became the unofficial hymn of the Israel Defense Forces.
Three weeks after the debut of the song at the music festival, the Six Day war broke out. On June 7, IDF paratroopers liberated the Old City of Jerusalem and were the first Jews to approach the Western Wall – Judaism’s holiest place of worship – in 19 years. They prayed, they cried … they sang Yerushalayim Shel Zahav.
When Naomi Shemer heard the soldiers had sung her song at this historic moment, she wrote an additional verse, recalling the blasts of the shofar from the Temple Mount that heralded the liberation of Jerusalem.
Since then, many artists have recorded the song, in Hebrew as well as other languages. Artists who have performed Jerusalem of Gold include, among many others:
Ask any Israeli – we all have our favorite memories associated with this song. Mine is of an early summer evening I spent sitting under a tree on Mount Scopus with several other fellow students from Hebrew University, all of us singing this song while someone played the guitar and the sun set over the Old City.
Because the song is so much part of the Israeli national psyche, the movie Schindler’s List had to modified for Israeli audiences.
It is featured at the end of Schindler’s List, as the music to which the remaining Jews leave the camp at the end of the war and walk over the hill to freedom.
Israeli audiences were very disturbed by this. The song is totally unrelated to the Holocaust and for Israelis – to whom it is indelibly tied to the Six Day war – its use made the end of the movie disconcerting and silly, rather than triumphant.
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