1967: Naomi Shemer

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

 

Biography

 

Naomi Shemer

Naomi Shemer (source: wikimedia)

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”.

 

The Legacy of Naomi Shemer

 

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.

 

Jerusalem of Gold

 

(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

 

Chorus

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