Yom Yerushalayim Day
begins in the evening of Tuesday 04 June 2024
and ends in the evening of Wednesday 05 June 2024
Yom Yerushalayim, also known as Jerusalem Day, commemorates Jerusalem's reunification in 1967. This day begins on 28th day of the month of Iyyar in the Hebrew calendar.
Michael Wegier, CEO of UJIA was our guest speaker for our special Yom Yerushalayim Brunch today.
In a very interesting talk about the challenges facing modern Jerusalem he used 2 of its mountains- Mount Moriah and Mount Herzl (or Har Hazikaron) as representing the religious and the modern worlds and the challenge in navigating both at the same time. Michael went on to describe how the various groups of people living in Jerusalem are both frightened, and frightening to other Jerusalemite communities.
He ended by saying that the greatest challenge and opportunity of today is being respectful and respecting of each other so that instead of being the poorest city in Israel, could one day be a role model for the rest of the country.
Many thanks to UJIA for their visit today, and have a great Yom Yerushalayim!
Neil Cohen's Shabbat Seudah Talk Entitled
Yerushalayim shel Zahav
Jerusalem’s own anthem
On 7 June 1967, after six days of war and a miraculous victory, Jerusalem was united and once again restored as the capital of the young Jewish state. This was more than 3,000 years after King David sanctified it as the capital of Eretz Yisroel and the city of the Temple, and nearly 1,900 years after it fell following the destruction of the Second Temple.
A little less than a year later, in May 1968, the Chief Rabbinate of Israel declared the 28th of Iyar a minor religious holiday. And in March 1998, the Knesset passed the Jerusalem Day Law, making the day a national holiday celebrated by parades through the city of thousands of people from around the world. This day holds such importance for the Jewish people that Hallel is recited (as indeed it is on Yom Ha’atzmaut).
Naomi Shemer was a leading Israeli musician and songwriter, hailed as “the first lady of Israeli song and poetry”. She served in the entertainment troupe of the IDF Nahal Brigade.
In 1967, before the Six Day War and at the request of the then mayor of Jerusalem, Teddy Kollek, Shemer wrote Yerushalayim shel Zahav, meaning "Jerusalem of Gold", today regarded by many as Israel's second national anthem. In fact, contrary to popular belief, the song was not composed to commemorate the victory in the Six Day War, but instead was originally commissioned for the Israel Song Festival which had existed since the early 1960’s, and which was broadcast as the main program on Yom Ha’atzmaut. Teddy Kollek had asked that the songs to be performed in 1967 be related to Jerusalem which, as events unfolded, turned out to be a remarkably prescient decision. So Shemer travelled to Jerusalem to draw inspiration.
The Talmud at Nedarim 50a tells of Rabbi Akiva who slept with his wife on a bed of straw after her father had left her penniless. Rabbi Akiva promised his wife that if he had the means he would give her a "Jerusalem of Gold" which translates as a beautiful golden ornament with “Jerusalem” engraved on it.
As the story tells, Rabbi Akiva departed from his wife to go away and study, and did not return for 24 years. During that time, as the Talmud relates (for example, at Avodah Zarah 10b), Rabbi Akiva became wealthy and amassed 24,000 students. He eventually returned to his wife and, in fulfilment of his promise, presented her with a "Jerusalem of gold".
This story from the Talmud inspired Shemer as to the theme of the song she had been asked to compose. Not only does it tell of a city of gold but also contains the themes of departure and eventual return.
This first version of the song did not obviously refer the Old City in Jerusalem, so Shemer composed what is now the second verse beginning "Eikhah yavshu borot ha-mayim", meaning “How the cisterns have dried”. The verse goes on to mourn the fact that the marketplace was empty, that no visitors frequented the Temple Mount, and that no one descended to the Dead Sea on the Jericho road. This was indeed the position when the song was composed.
The poem is woven with mournful Biblical references to the destruction of Jerusalem and the subsequent exile of the Jewish people. For example, the first word of the second verse just mentioned is Eikhah (meaning "How?") from the book of Eikhah which we recite on Tisha B’Av, mourning the loss of the First and Second Temples. The third verse contains the famous words,
"If I forget thee Jerusalem", which derives from Psalm 137, which says: "By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion." We recite this Psalm at the beginning of the evening service on Tisha B’Av.
The song was first performed by Shuli Natan, a soldier and Hebrew teacher for immigrant women. She was not a professional singer but Shemer fell in love with her voice and insisted.
The song was an instant success.
Chief of Staff Yitzhak Rabin who was present at the Israel Song Festival received word that President Nasser had declared the closing of the Tiran Straits, effectively separating Israel from the ocean routes. A few days later the IDF began mobilizing its reserves, and the song served to encourage the soldiers. It was becoming iconic as the days passed.
The Six Day War broke out on Monday 5 June 1967. The Old City of Jerusalem was captured by the IDF two days later. During the liberation of the city, the soldiers sang Yerushalayim shel Zahav at the Kotel; and as we know from the famous picture, Rabbi Shlomo Goren, chief rabbi of the IDF, blew the shofar, and recited prayers. What is perhaps less well known is that he joined in the singing with soldiers.
Shemer and Natan had travelled south during the War to raise the morale of the soldiers. It was then that Shemer added the final verse, sitting in El-Arish in the Sinai on the day the Old City of Jerusalem was freed. As she sang it that night before the soldiers, one can only imagine the scene, it must have been incredible. This final verse tells of the unification of Jerusalem and represents a contrasting emotion to the second verse which I mentioned a moment ago. It begins:
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.
Interestingly, the song aroused contrasting views, and indeed continues to do so to this day. The day after the Six Day War, author Amos Oz criticized Shemer, saying that the final verse was inappropriate since the Old City had not yet been repopulated by the Jews. By contrast, however, later in 1967, Knesset member Uri Avneri tabled a bill to make song the national anthem, replacing Ha-Tikvah.
The song was chosen as "Song of the Year", and Natan won the Kinnor David prize, a major cultural award for outstanding achievement. Shemer and Natan travelled around the world performing and promoting the song. Eventually, it became known as the second national anthem, although I would suggest it is not only that, but also Jerusalem’s own anthem. It was also selected as "Song of the Jubilee" on Israel's 50th Independence Day in 1998.
As for Naomi Shemer, in 1983 she was recipient of the Israel Prize, traditionally awarded on Yom Ha’atzmaut, for her outstanding contribution to Israeli music. She passed away in 2004. But her legacy of song remains at the heart of Israeli culture and we will, in some ways, also commemorate her memory this evening, the beginning of Yom Yerushalayim.
However, enough of all these facts, you have in front of you the lyrics of the song in Hebrew and English. I think it would get Yom Yerushalayim off to a wonderful start if we sing it together, with heart and feeling. Thank you.