Musician and poet Naomi Shemer’s song “Jerusalem of Gold,” describing the Jews’ longing to return to a united Jerusalem, became the divine sign that their dream would soon be realized.
A month prior to the Six Day War in June of 1967, Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kollek asked for a special song to be written in honor of Jerusalem and to played at the Israeli Song Festival on Independence Day.
Shemer, already an experienced songwriter and having served in the IDF’s entertainment troupe, initially refused to compose a song, saying that she couldn’t rush her inspiration. But shortly after she submitted the musical notes for the song to be played as an interlude during the competition.
Shemer’s song was the first song written on Jerusalem in 19 years, after the Jordanians had closed off the eastern part of the city in 1948 and had denied Jews the right to visit the holy sites of the Holy City – and the song struck a chord with the general population.
Less than a month later, the Six Day War broke out, and paratroopers recaptured Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, singing the new hit single upon reaching the Western Wall, fulfilling the prophecy that the Jewish People would finally return to their holy sites.
The euphoria that “Jerusalem of Gold” provided in the period after the Six Day War was so high, that MK Uri Avneri even proposed a bill to have it made the official national anthem, but it didn’t pass and it remains the unofficial anthem of the State of Israel.
The first stanza and the chorus describe the great desire to return to the Jerusalem of days of old, alluding to Jeremiah’s description of Jerusalem in the opening verse of Lamentations.
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"The mountain air is clear as wine, the scent of pines
is carried by the afternoon wind with the sound of bells,
in the tree’s sleep and with the stone lost in its dream
the city that lied so deserted, and in its heart a wall"
"Jerusalem of gold, of copper, and of light;
For all of your songs, let me be your lyre"
The other two stanzas continue on that theme, with Shemer finishing off the song with a reference to Psalm 137:
“Your name burns my lips like the bite of a viper
If I forget you, Jerusalem, which is made purely of gold.”
After the reunification of Jerusalem in 1967, Shemer added another stanza celebrating the new status of the Eternal City:
“We’ve returned to the water cisterns, the market and to the plazas,
A ram’s horn calls us from the Temple Mount in the Old City
And in the mountains’ caves thousands of suns are shining
Once again, to Jericho we will descend via the Dead Sea.”
Shemer died June 26, 2004, at the age of 74.
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