Jerusalem of Gold

In the amazing and very varied repertoire of Israeli songs, there are two which Israelis, both young and old, will stop in their tracks and sing along to wherever they are: HaTikvah, and Jerusalem of Gold.

Although there is somewhat of a competitive edge between the two songs,  throughout the years, Jerusalem of Gold has become so cherished by Israelis,  that until today, some see it as a viable alternative to HaTikvah, the national anthem of the Jewish State. 

The song was written by Naomi Shemer, arguably the most popular singer-songwriter in Israel at the time. Shemer drew upon ancient sources to bring the past to the present and the present to the past. Among other themes, the lyrics deal with exile and the Jewish longing for Jerusalem. This takes after a medieval Jewish poet, Yehuda Halvi who is famously recorded as saying  “To all your songs, I am a lyre.” The title “Jerusalem of Gold” refers to a piece of jewellery mentioned in a famous Talmudic parable about Rabbi Akiva, who was martyred by the Romans after the Bar Kochva Revolt. In addition there are many Biblical references from the book of Isaiah and also Lamentations, a book read out on the fast day of the 9th of Av. 

Way back on May 15th 1967, the night after Israel’s nineteenth Independence Day, the inimitable mayor of Jerusalem, Teddy Kolleck, commissioned Jerusalem of Gold to be sung at the Israel Song Festival. At the time, the Old City was under Jordanian control and against all International agreements. Jews had been banned by the Jordanians from entering the city since the conclusion of the Independence War 19 years earlier, a war which saw Jewish people who had lived in the Old City, lose their homes and become refugees. Some were even taken as Prisoners of War to Jordan. No Jews were allowed to return to the city, even for a visit. 

Only three weeks after the song was sung at the festival by the-then unknown Shuli Natan, the Six-Day War broke out. It was a war that was to change the history of Israel, and the Jewish people world-wide. Just three days into the conflict, Israeli Paratroopers took the Temple Mount. Standing where King Solomon had built the Temple, they burst into song, with “Jerusalem of Gold.” 

Against all odds and defeating the mighty Arab armies, the Jewish people were sovereign again in their land, and in the holiest place on earth. 

Shortly after the momentous and historic reunification of Jerusalem, Naomi Shemer realised that her song was now incomplete. Accordingly she wrote a new ending. “We have returned to the cisterns, to the market and to the market-place. A shofar calls out on the Temple Mount in the Old City.” 

Shofars indeed blew from Temple Mount on that day, which is what inspired Shemer to write about it. And while it may not be the official anthem of Israel, Jerusalem of Gold is indeed an anthem of triumph.