Jerusalem of Gold (Yerushalayim Shel Zahav), 1967
At the beginning of 1967, Teddy Kollek, mayor of Jerusalem, commissioned a song about Jerusalem from the famous songwriter Naomi Shemer. This song, "Yerushalayim Shel Zahav" (Jerusalem of Gold), was written for the Israel Song Festival and became one of the most famous Israeli songs ever. Written during the Jordanian occupation of the Old City, at a time when Jews could not enter the Old City and worship at their holy places, it describes the longings of the Jewish people for Jerusalem.
"The water cisterns are dry,
The marketplace is empty,
We cannot visit our temple in the ancient city
Where winds wail in the rocky caves
Over the mountains.
We cannot go to the Dead Sea
By way of Jericho. "
The song also includes hints to both the Talmudic story of Rabbi Akiva who created a jewel named "Jerusalem of Gold" for his wife and to a poem about Jerusalem written in the Middle Ages by Rabbi Yehuda Halevi.
"Yerushalayim Shel Zahav" was performed by the young singer Shuli Nathan at the Israel Song Festival in May 1967 and became an overnight success. Less than a month later, the Six Day War broke out and on the 7 June, 1967 the Israel Defense Forces captured the Old City, enabling the Jewish people to return to their holy places. Naomi Shemer’s new song about Jerusalem became the unofficial anthem of the Jewish people the world over. However, the song, written as a lament for the abandoned city, was no longer relevant, so Naomi Shemer added a final verse which countered the mournful second verse:
"We have returned to the cisterns
To the market and the square.
The shofar calls on the Temple Mount in the Old City.
And from the caves in the rocks, a thousand suns glow again.
We will go down to the Dead Sea by way of Jericho."
This photograph is of a page from Naomi Shemer's personal pocket diary. You can see that on one of the pages, together with a phone number she had jotted down, she had written out the words for the new fourth verse of the song "Jerusalem of Gold."
Naomi Shemer's personal archive is housed in the Music Department of the National Library of Israel. In addition to the original words and musical score of the song, many other related documents can be found including letters and translations of the song into many languages.
Teachers of Jewish History can teach about the history of the song and its connection to 1967. They can also use the song as a trigger for studies about the history of Jerusalem from 1948 to 1967.
Jewish Studies teachers can use the song to teach about the centrality of Jerusalem in the life of the Jewish people.
Israel Studies teachers can use the song to learn about the changes in the borders of Israel as a result of the Six Day War. Literature and Music teachers can present this manuscript when teaching about Israeli poetry and songs in general and about Naomi Shemer in particular.
Jerusalem of Gold – the story of the song, National Library of Israel
Jerusalem of Gold, Jerusalem Insiders Guide
Jerusalem of Gold lyrics, Israel Forever
Reunification of Jerusalem, Six Day War
Six Day War, Ynet
The Temple, Wikipedia
Schindler’s List (final scene), YouTube
Jerusalem of Gold? Toldot Yisrael, YouTube
What is this song?
Who wrote it?
Which places in Israel are mentioned in the song?
Which places in Jerusalem are mentioned in the song?
Which of the five senses are referred to in the song?
In verse two, where do people not go?
How is the first line of verse two different from the first line of verse four?
Reading Between the Lines
When was the song first written?
What was the situation in Jerusalem at the time?
In verse two, why don't people go to the Temple Mount in the Old City?
What happened on June 7, 1967, three weeks after the song was published?
Naomi Shemer changed the song and added the fourth verse.
Why did she do this?
Why have the people returned to the marketplace in verse four?
What enabled this return?
Do you know the song?
Do you remember when you learned it?
Why do you think that this song is still as popular today as it was in 1967?
The song is featured in the 1993 American film Schindler's List towards the end of the film.
Why do you think this caused some controversy in Israel?
Why do you think Spielberg originally chose "Yerushalayim Shel Zahav" to play at the end of the film?
Naomi Shemer received many letters praising her song "Yerushalayim Shel Zahav."
Write her an imaginary letter with your feelings about the song.
Illustrate one scene from the song.