Jerusalem of Gold
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|Music for Holidays|
"Jerusalem of Gold" (Hebrew: ירושלים של זהב, Yerushalayim Shel Zahav) is a popular Israeli song written by Naomi Shemer in 1967. The original song described the Jewish people's 2000-year longing to return to Jerusalem; Shemer added a final verse after the Six-Day War to celebrate Jerusalem's re-unification, after 19 years of Jordanian control.
Naomi Shemer wrote the original song for the Israeli Music Festival (it was not in competition but had been commissioned by the Mayor, Teddy Kollek), held on 15 May 1967, the night after Israel's nineteenth Independence Day. She chose the then-unknown Shuli Nathan to sing the song.
Some of the song's melody is based on a Basque lullaby, Pello Joxepe (Foolish Joseph), composed by Juan Francisco Petriarena 'Xenpelar' (1835-1869). Shemer heard a rendition by singer/songwriter Paco Ibañez, who visited Israel in 1962 and performed the song to a group that included Shemer and Nehama Hendel. She later acknowledged hearing Hendel perform Pello Joxepe in the mid-1960s, and that she had unconsciously based some of the melody on the lullaby. Shemer felt very bad when she found that it was similar to Pello Joxepe, however when Ibañez was asked how he felt about the issue, he replied he was "glad it helped in some way", and that he was neither angry nor did he perceive it as plagiarism.
At that time, the Old City was still controlled by the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and under its sovereignty rule. Jews had been banned from the Old City and the rest of Jerusalem east of it, losing their homes and possessions and becoming refugees. All Jews were barred from either returning or entering the areas under Jordanian control, and many holy sites were desecrated and damaged during that period. Only three weeks after the song was published, the Six-Day War broke out, and the song became a morale-boosting battle cry of the Israel Defense Forces. Shemer herself sang it for the troops before the war and the festival, making them among the first in the world to hear it.
On 7 June, the IDF wrested the eastern Jerusalem and the Old City from the Jordanians. When Shemer heard the paratroopers singing "Jerusalem of Gold" at the Western Wall, she wrote the final verse, countering the phrases of lamentation in the second verse. The line about shofars sounding from the Temple Mount is a reference to an event that actually took place on that day.
Many of the lyrics refer to traditional Jewish poetry and themes, particularly dealing with exile and longing for Jerusalem. "Jerusalem of Gold" is a reference to a special piece of jewelry mentioned in a famous Talmudic legend about Rabbi Akiva; "To all your songs, I am a lyre" is a reference "Zion ha-lo Tish'ali", one of the "Songs to Zion" by Rabbi Yehuda Halevi: "I cry out like the jackals when I think of their grief; but, dreaming of the end of their captivity, I am like a harp for your songs.
The poem is woven with mournful Biblical references to the destruction of Jerusalem and subsequent exile of the Jewish people. "The city that sits alone" is from the first verse of the Book of Lamentations; the first word after the first chorus, איכה (the lament "How?") is its Hebrew name. "If I forget thee Jerusalem" is a quote from Psalm 137, i.e. "By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion." This contrasts with the joyous return from exile in the fourth verse.
English translation of lyrics
- The mountain air is clear as wine
- And the scent of pines
- Is carried on the breeze of twilight
- With the sound of bells.
- And in the slumber of tree and stone
- Captured in her dream
- The city that sits solitary
- And in its heart -- a wall.
- Jerusalem of gold
- And of bronze, and of light
- Am I not a violin for all your songs.
- How The cisterns have dried?
- The market-place is empty
- And no one frequents the Temple Mount
- In the Old City.
- And in the caves in the mountain
- Winds are wailing
- And no one descends to the Dead Sea
- By way of Jericho.
- But as I come to sing to you today,
- And to adorn you with crowns
- I am the smallest of the youngest of your children
- And of the last poets
- For your name scorches the lips
- Like the kiss of a seraph
- If I forget thee, O Jerusalem,
- Which is all of gold...
- We have returned to the cisterns
- To the market and to the market-place
- A ram's horn calls out on the Temple Mount
- In the Old City.
- And in the caves in the mountain
- Thousands of suns shine -
- We will once again descend to the Dead Sea
- By way of Jericho!
Many artists recorded their own versions for the song.
- The late Israeli singer Ofra Haza sang one of the most popular versions of the song at Pa'amonei HaYovel (Bells of the Jubilee), Israel's 50th Anniversary celebration in 1998.
- Klaus Meine, vocalist of the popular rock band Scorpions, recorded a cover of the song together with Israeli Liel Kolet.
- The Greek singer Demis Roussos recorded a version of the song as well, though he changed the verse melody considerably.
- The jam band Phish also performs the song on tour and recorded a rendition of the song on the 1994 album "Hoist".
- Brazilian singer-songwriter Roberto Carlos covered the Portuguese version of the song in 2011, and even sang a verse and the chorus in the original Hebrew.
The song also features prominently at the end of the film Schindler's List (with the exception of the Israeli release), when the remaining Jews leave the camp and walk over the hill in the direction of a nearby town. Initial Israeli audiences were amused by the use of this song, due to it being written over 22 years after the Holocaust and being totally unrelated to the subject of the film. Following this, it was replaced with Hannah Szenes's song Eli, Eli for Israeli showings.
The song has been translated loosely into many languages. It was chosen as the "Song of the Year" in Israel in 1967 and "Song of the Jubilee" in Israel's 50th Independence Day in 1998.