Chances are you’ve been singing “Yerushalayim Shel Zahav” (“Jerusalem of Gold”) your whole life. But do you know the history of the iconic Israeli song?
In a nutshell, the song became a symbol of hope, resilience, and love for Jerusalem during a critical period in Israeli history. As tensions escalated before the Six Day War in 1967, Naomi Shemer composed the lyrics to convey a profound connection to the holy city, evoking the yearning and longing for its beauty and significance. Shuli Natan’s original rendition of the song struck a chord with the Israeli public, resonating deeply as they faced the imminent threat of conflict. Throughout the war, “Jerusalem of Gold” captured the spirit of unity and determination among Israelis, inspiring soldiers and civilians alike.
There are many accounts of the song’s history floating around the internet, but none told better than by the folks at the “Israel Story” podcast. The episode is a must-listen, and will completely transform the way you listen to the unofficial anthem of Jerusalem.
Now that you’re caught up on the song’s history, allow us to share some of our all-time favorite covers of “Yerushalayim Shel Zahav”. Nearly every Israeli singer out there has covered the song over the years. In honor of Yom Yerushalayim, here are some of the best and most interesting.
The Original – Shuly Natan
When Naomi Shemer picked Shuly Natan out of obscurity to sing Yerushalayim Shel Zahav, no one had a clue that the song would achieve the iconic status it now enjoys. But in the dark days before the Six Day War, Shuly rallied the people with her pure, simple rendition of the song. In fact, when she first performed the song at 1967’s Israel Song Festival, the audience loved it so much that she sang an encore. After the miraculous events of the Six Day War, the song took on even greater meaning, and the final verse was added. Though we haven’t seen any video of Shuly’s original performance, the above video was recorded in France in 1968.
The Best – Ofra Haza
Opinions on the “best” version of a song can vary greatly depending on personal taste and preferences. However, Ofra Haza’s rendition of “Jerusalem of Gold” holds a special place in our hearts – and we’re not alone. Ofra Haza brought a unique and captivating vocal style to her interpretation of the song, with emotional depth and a powerful delivery. Her soulful and evocative vocals added an extra layer of intensity and passion to the already poignant lyrics. Listen to Ofra’s version, and you may never want to hear it sung by anyone else.
The Loudest – Rock On The Walls
In honor of Jerusalem Day 2022, the Jerusalem Municipality celebrated the day in a very unique musical way. More than 400 musicians gathered outside the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City to perform one of the most interesting versions of “Yerushalayim Shel Zahav” you’ve ever heard. Led by HaYehudim, Raviv Kaner, and Guy Mazig, with the Old City as a backdrop, this hard-rocking version is surprisingly inspirational. You’ve never heard “Jerusalem of Gold” quite like this!
Jerusalem of Gold 2.0
“Jerusalem of Gold” means different things to different people. For purists, Shuly Natan’s version is the one and only. But If you were to modernize “Yerushalayim Shel Zahav” for a new generation, what would it sound like? Perhaps Tal Vaknin can help. Along with DJ Niv Edri, Tal offers a new take on the Israeli classic that’ll have you dancing in your chair.
The American Version
During the pandemic, artists discovered all kinds of new ways to satisfy their urge to create. And so, in honor of Yom Yerushalayim 2020, a group of female cantors around the world joined virtually to produce a gorgeous version of our beloved song. The song features performances by Adi Arad of Petach Tikva, Hazzan Alisa Pomerantz-Boro of Voorhees, NJ, Atalya Lavi of Tel Aviv, Cantor Aviv Weinberg of Berlin, Cantor Elizabeth Shammash of Philadelphia, Cantor Julia Cadrain of New York, Laurie Akers of Vernon Hills, IL, Cantor Lisa Peicott of Los Angeles, Cantor Lizzie Weiss of Beverly Hills, CA, Cantor Magda Fishman of Boca Raton, FL, Cantor Rachel Goldman of Los Angeles, Cantor Rebecca Garfein of New York, Cantor Roslyn Barak of San Francisco, Cantor Sara Hass of Long Beach, CA, Cantor Shira Lissek of Charlotte, NC, and Cantor Vicky Glikin, Dallas, TX.
The Newest – Israel Police
New for 2023, the most famous song about Jerusalem sung by those dedicated to protecting it. Israel’s Police Force presents an inspirational version of “Yerushalayim Shel Zahav”, accompanied by a video filled with beautiful scenes of Jerusalem – and beautiful voices to go along with them.
We’ve only just begun to scratch the surface. There are many, many more beautiful covers of, arguably, the most significant song in Israel’s history. Here are a few more for you to enjoy:
- Itay Levy
- Shiri Maimon
- The IDF (new for 2023!)
- Harel Moyal
- The New York Cantors
So, what did we miss? And what’s your all time favorite version of “Yerushalayim Shel Zahav”?