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Naomi Shemer

Naomi ShemerNAOMI SHEMER (1930 – 2004), known as the “First Lady of Israeli Song,” was one of Israel’s most important and prolific songwriters. In addition to songwriting and composing, Ms. Shemer set famous poems to music, such as those of the Israeli poet, Rachel, and adapted well-known songs into Hebrew, such as the Beatles songs Hey Jude and Let it Be.

Ms. Shemer was born on Kvuzat Kinneret, a kibbutz founded by her parents, and grew up overlooking the shores of the Jordan. Many of her songs recreate the landscape that was such a part of her youth and reflect her love of the topography and scenery of Eretz Yisrael. She took piano lessons at an early age and continued her music studies in Jerusalem at the Rubin Academy of Music. Later, she returned to the kibbutz to teach rhythm and to write children’s songs. Ms. Shemer eventually moved to Tel Aviv, where in 1956 she wrote the words to the musical Hamesh-Hamesh (Five-Five), first performed by the IDF Central Command entertainment troupe and later by Haohel Theater.

Ms. Shemer’s music linked the ordinary to the festive, the landscapes of Lake Kinneret to the White City of Tel Aviv, her own biography to the history of Israel between war and peace. Ms. Shemer’s longing for the landscapes in which she grew up wove itself flawlessly into her ability to listen to new tones and unexpected voices. The connection to childhood gave many of her songs a charm and innocence. At her best, she was able to balance all of her loves and write songs that sketched the tension between past and present without attempting to resolve that tension too glibly.

In 1967, Ms. Shemer was asked to compose a song for the Israel Song Festival. Although not part of the competition, the three stanzas of Yerushalayim Shel Zahav (Jerusalem of Gold) became popular instantly. Particularly because the festival occurred just before the 1967 Six-Day War and the reunification of Jerusalem, the song acquired a national significance that spoke to the country’s longing for Jerusalem and its surrounding areas. Broadcast frequently on the radio and sung by many, it functioned as a second national anthem. Following the war, Ms. Shemer composed a fourth stanza to the song, celebrating the liberation of the Old City of Jerusalem and the road to Jericho. Yerushalayim Shel Zahav was translated into many languages and became an international statement on the reunification of Jerusalem.

Of the songs Ms. Shemer wrote about the Yom Kippur War, the most popular became Lu Yehi (Let it Be), which began as a translation of the Beatles song and evolved into an independent hit. This and other songs, many of which have been published in books of her music, have made Ms. Shemer’s songs arguably the most-sung in the 1960s to the 1980s. For her immense contribution to Israeli music, Ms. Shemer was awarded the Israel prize in 1983.

Ms. Shemer was laid to rest at Kibbutz Kinneret on June 26, 2004. She is survived by her husband, two children, four grandchildren, a brother and a sister.

(Source: Jewish Virtual Library)

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