Vox Tablet

Song Cycle

The many lives of ‘Jerusalem of Gold,’ an Israeli anthem

May 10, 2010
(Photoillustration by Abigail Miller/Tablet Magazine; photo by David Rubinger)
(Photoillustration by Abigail Miller/Tablet Magazine; photo by David Rubinger)

In May 1967, at the annual Israel Music Festival in Jerusalem, a song was born. Singing to a live and radio audience of millions, Shuli Natan debuted “Yerushalayim Shel Zahav,” or “Jerusalem of Gold.” With elegiac music and patriotic lyrics by Naomi Shemer (with a sentence or two borrowed from Yehuda Halevi), it immediately won the hearts of many in the audience; three weeks later, after the Six-Day War and the unification of Jerusalem under Israeli rule, the song gained the status of a near-national anthem. On Jerusalem Day, celebrated this year on May 12, it’s inescapable. But the song has its detractors, and it comes with some surprising historical baggage. Tablet Magazine’s Liel Leibovitz tells the story.

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