Musician Naomi Shemer Dies
Naomi Shemer. Photo: Alchetron

June 26, 2004

Israel Prize-winning musician Naomi Shemer, best known for writing “Jerusalem of Gold,” dies at age 73 at Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv after a long battle with cancer.

Born in 1930 at Kvutzat Kinneret, a Sea of Galilee kibbutz her parents helped found, she began singing at a young age and led community music at the kibbutz. She served in the Israel Defense Forces’ Nahal entertainment unit and studied music at the Rubin Academy in Jerusalem.

In addition to writing songs for herself and other Israeli artists, Shemer translated and adapted songs such as the Beatles’ “Let It Be” into Hebrew and set poems by Israel’s Rahel Bluwstein, America’s Walt Whitman and others to music. Her “Let It Be” adaptation, “Lu Yehi,” was a response to the Yom Kippur War of 1973.

She wrote “Jerusalem of Gold” (“Yerushalayim Shel Zahav”) for a song festival in 1967, and the Israeli public treated the song, recorded by Shuli Natan, as the anthem of Jerusalem’s reunification after Israel’s victory in the Six-Day War in June that year. Shemer added another verse after the war to celebrate the city’s reunification.

Shemer is buried at the kibbutz where she grew up, not far from the grave of Rahel, the poet whose work she put to music. During the nationally broadcast funeral, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon says: “Using marvelous lyrics and melodies, she succeeded in connecting us to our roots, to our origins, to the beginnings of Zionism. Today, as we bid farewell to Naomi Shemer, we bow our heads with sorrow and are grateful for the wonderful gift Naomi gave us.”