Naomi Shemer

Composer and songwriter best known for 'Jerusalem of Gold'

Naomi Shemer wrote the kind of songs Israelis wanted to hear: warm, patriotic, nostalgic, rooted in childhood memories and an idealised biblical landscape.



Naomi Sapir, composer and songwriter: born Kibbutz Kinneret, Palestine 1930; married first Gideon Shemer (one daughter; marriage dissolved), second Mordechai Horowitz (one son); died Tel Aviv 26 June 2004.



Naomi Shemer wrote the kind of songs Israelis wanted to hear: warm, patriotic, nostalgic, rooted in childhood memories and an idealised biblical landscape.

Soldiers were comrades, never oppressors. The land "belonged" to the Jews. In a verse she added to her "Jerusalem of Gold" after the 1967 war, she wrote: "The market square is empty." Critics pointed out that it was not empty at all, just full of Arabs. But her talent, as composer, lyricist and occasional performer, was never disputed.

Even the singer Hava Alberstein, who disagreed with her politics, eulogised her as "an artist at the level of Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen". Another popular songwriter, Ehud Manor, said this week:

She is the single most important figure in the history of Israeli music. There were a few titans, but they were all either composers or poets. She was the first to marry words and music with such power, and she did it to perfection.

She was born Naomi Sapir in 1930 in Kibbutz Kinneret on the south-western shore of the Sea of Galilee. Her parents were among the community's founders. She did her military service in the army entertainment troupe, the cradle of Israeli show business. In 1955 she left for Jerusalem to study music at the Rubin Academy, settling afterwards in Tel Aviv.

At first she was a jobbing lyricist, writing the words for other people's musicals. One such show starred the young Haim Topol. On a return visit to Kinneret in 1963, she wrote one of her first hits, "The Eucalyptus Grove". At her request, it was one of four songs sung at her funeral in the kibbutz cemetery. Another was "My Kinneret", her setting to a poem by Rachel Bluwstein, Israel's most enduringly popular poet and a contemporary of her parents, who is buried close by.

But Shemer won a wider, international audience with "Jerusalem of Gold", which was commissioned by the Mayor of Jerusalem, Teddy Kollek, for a song contest just before the Six Day War. What began as a nostalgia trip for Israelis barred from the Old City became the anthem of a triumphant return.

Chastened Israelis embraced another of her songs, "Lu Yehi", inspired by the Beatles' "Let It Be", in the soul-searching wake of the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Later in that decade, Shemer supported the Gush Emunim settlement movement, which she celebrated as a continuation of the pioneering spirit that had moved her parents' generation. The settlers adopted her composition "Do Not Uproot What Has Been Planted" as a battle hymn, though its tune and lyrics were so catchy that its appeal spread far beyond the expansionist right.

After the evacuation of Yamit and other settlements from Sinai under the 1979 Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty, she lost her appetite for the struggle. "We have relinquished our flagship - the commandment to settle the land," she said.

In 1996, on the first anniversary of Yitzhak Rabin's assassination, she translated Walt Whitman's "O Captain, My Captain" (written after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln) and set it to music. Rabin was murdered by an unreconstructed "Greater Israel" fanatic for ceding land to the Palestinians.

In 1983 Naomi Shemer was awarded the Israel Prize for her contribution to music.

Eric Silver

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Production Technician

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Production Technician is required to join a ...

Recruitment Genius: Network Support Engineer - Hosted Telecommunications

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity for a Ne...

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor / Partner - Cheltenham

Excellent Package: Austen Lloyd: A very rare high level opportunity with a fir...

Recruitment Genius: IT Manager

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This distributor of electronics...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower