Welcome to 70 Faces of Israel. To celebrate 70 years since the establishment of the State of Israel, we’re looking at 70 people whose remarkable stories have changed our country and the world.
Name: Naomi Shemer (born Naomi Sapir)
Date of Birth: 13th July 1930, Kvutzat Kinneret, British Mandate Palestine
Date of Death: 26th June 2004, Tel Aviv, Israel
Claim to Fame: Israeli singer-songwriter
In 1967… Shemer released her most famous song, Jerusalem of Gold
A first-generation Sabra, Naomi Shemer grew up on kibbutz on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. An early musical prodigy, she led community singing on the Kibbutz and learned piano. Later, Shemer served in the IDF’s Nahal entertainment troupe, then went on to study music at the Rubin Academy in Jerusalem.
Shemer wrote original songs with her own lyrics, and also set poems to music. Additionally, she translated some popular songs into Hebrew. For example, her 1973 translation of the Beatles’ Let it Be, Lu Yehi became a bestselling hit in its own right.
Naomi’s most famous song is Yerushalayim Shel Zahav, which means Jerusalem of Gold. She wrote it for the Israeli Music Festival in 1967, shortly before the Six-Day War broke out. The song text (see below) talks about longing for the holy city. Following the Israelis’ victory, she added another verse which celebrates the reunification of Jerusalem. The song quickly became the country’s unofficial “second national anthem”.
In 1983, Shemer received the Israel Prize for Hebrew song. Naomi died of cancer in 2004, aged 73. She is buried on the shore of the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) near her birthplace. Shemer earned the colloquial title of “first lady” of Israeli music and poetry, and her songs still reverberate across the country to this day.
(Scroll down to hear Jerusalem of Gold as sung by Ofra Haza)
אויר הרים צלול כיין The mountain air is clear like wine
וריח אורנים And the scent of pines
נישא ברוח הערביים Is carried on the evening breeze
עם קול פעמונים With the sounds of bells
ובתרדמת אילן ואבן And in the slumber of tree and stone
שבויה בחלומה Captured in her dream
העיר אשר בדד יושבת Is the city that sits alone
ובליבה חומה And in her heart, a wall
ירושלים של זהב Jerusalem of gold
ושל נחושת ושל אור Of bronze and of light
הלא לכל שירייך Behold, to all your songs
אני כינור… I am a violin
חזרנו אל בורות המים We have returned to the cisterns
לשוק ולכיכר To the market and the square
שופר קורא בהר הבית A shofar calls from the Temple Mount
בעיר העתיקה. In the Old City
ובמערות אשר בסלע And in the caves within the mountains
אלפי שמשות זורחות Thousands of suns shine
נשוב נרד אל ים המלח We will again go down to the Dead Sea
בדרך יריחו. On the way to Jericho
אך בבואי היום לשיר לך Oh! I come today to sing to you
ולך לקשור כתרים And to adorn you with crowns
קטונתי מצעיר בנייך I am the smallest of your youngest children
ומאחרון המשוררים. And of the last poet
כי שמך צורב את השפתיים Because your name burns the lips
כנשיקת שרף Like the kiss of a seraph
אם אשכחך ירושלים If I forget you, Jerusalem
אשר כולה זהב Which is all gold
Previously: 1966: Abie Nathan
Up next: 1968: Zalman Shazar