In the summer of 1973, Israeli songwriter Naomi Shemer, best known for writing “Jerusalem of Gold,” set out to write a Hebrew cover of the Beatles’ classic “Let it Be,” which frequently played on Israeli radio.
But when the Yom Kippur War broke out that October, the Beatles’ hit became what Shemer later called “a jumping-off point for an entirely new song.”
Shemer changed the lyrics to a prayer expressing hope for the battles to end and for IDF soldiers to return home peacefully.
The lyrics express longing for a better future, even when everything looks dark: “There is still a white sail on the horizon, facing a heavy black cloud.”
Shemer wrote the song for singer Chava Alberstein, who had wanted to perform it at an event for pilots’ wives.
“The Hebrew version that I prepared for her had no connection to the original, but was about the concerns and fears of the war that had broken out a day or two earlier,” Shemer later wrote of the songwriting process.
At first, she kept the Beatles’ tune, but her husband, Mordechai Horowitz, on a reprieve from fighting in the war said: “I won’t let you waste this song on a foreign tune. This is a Jewish war, and you should give it a Jewish tune.”
A handwritten draft of the lyrics in the National Library of Israel shows that Shemer originally wrote at the top of the page: “From the songs of the Beatles - A Hebrew version,” but changed it to “Music and Lyrics: Naomi Shemer.”
The draft includes a verse about someone “bringing news standing at the door” to tell a family about their loved one’s death, which she later removed, because it was too sad, her daughter Lely Shemer wrote in an email Sunday.
That day, Shemer was asked to perform on television, and she came up with an original tune for the song in the car on the way to the studio, a tune that she described as “the sigh and distress of the war.” The song was broadcast the next day, and a day after that, Alberstein performed it on Army Radio.
Shemer’s “Let It Be” (Lu Yihi) became the unofficial song of the Yom Kippur War
, played and sung by soldiers on duty.
Shemer received many letters from Israelis who were touched by the song, which can be found in her archive at the National Library of Israel, and she told a story that when IDF chief of staff David Elazar first heard the song after the war ended it made him cry.