[by Earl Blacklock] May 15 is the date that marks Israel’s independence, and in 1967 thousands of people gathered at Jerusalem’s Nation Hall to hear songs commissioned for the occasion.
Jerusalem was at the time divided, in the hands of Jordan to the east and Israel to the west. The Mayor of west Jerusalem, Teddy Kollek, had asked that one of the songs be about Jerusalem. Naomi Shemer responded to his call.
Shemer’s Polish parents had taken her as a child to a number of Jerusalem’s biblical places that were closed to Jews in 1948. She was inspired to write a song about the Jerusalem that Jews from Israel could never see – the Wailing Wall, the temple, and even the “Dead Sea by way of Jericho”. She called her song Jerusalem Made of Gold. [A YouTube version of the song is available at the end of the article.]
At Nation Hall a young girl, accompanied only by her guitar, rounded out the night of celebration with Shemer’s new song. It was received with loud applause for more than seven minutes. The girl sang the song again, and this time the entire audience sang the refrain.
That same night, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser began moving troops into the Sinai Peninsula. In the days following, Israeli soldiers quietly began leaving their homes, and Jerusalem Made of Gold was the one thing that united them. Radio programs aimed at military audiences began and ended their programs with the song. Shemer was asked to sing to various groups of soldiers. And the night before the start of the 6 Day War, Shemer was with General Sharon and his troops. She was told there would be no song that night but that it was important for “someone with soul to share this time with us.”
Three days later, Shemer was at El Arish, huddled with others at a transistor radio, when an announcement was made. “The city of Jerusalem has been taken!” the announcer exclaimed. The program switched to Jerusalem where the account of the fighting still going on was interspersed with the sound of soldiers singing. “Jerusalem of gold, of copper, and of light, let me be a violin for all your songs!”
Shemer’s song was on the lips of soldiers as they battled block by block toward the wailing wall. Their trucks and their tanks were plastered with banners reading “Yerushala’im shel zahav”. And Shemer, tears rolling down her cheeks, realized her song needed a new verse.
“We have come back now to the water cisterns,
Back to the marketplace.
The sound of the shofar is heard
From the Wailing Wall in the ancient city
And from the rocky caves in the mountains,
A thousand suns are rising.
We shall go now to the Dead Sea,
Go by way of Jericho!”
To those who believe Israel could ever surrender Jerusalem, be mindful of the heart of the people of that nation for that special place. We should remember the words of the Psalmist who said “God himself is in Jerusalem’s towers, revealing Himself as its defender” (Psalm 48:3 NLT).