Old Songs Renewed

We often feel how the soul of Israel was conjured for us through its music. Who can imagine connecting to Israel without Yerushalayim Shel Zahav, for example? Yet  often we find ourselves torn. On the one hand, we know that Israel is no longer the land of clean emotional simplicity that those old songs conveyed. But at the same time we feel loath to present Israel only in the light of its difficulties and complexities, without any of its pure ‘soul’.

This program presents five songs that feature in the ‘canon’ of classic Israeli song, but that have been remade and adapted anew by contemporary Israeli artists in the last few years. It is the combination of the old beloved songs, with their modern interpretations, that will give us a fascinating window into the developing soul of Israel.

This unit

For each interpretation of each song we provide:

  1. Internet links for songs and information.
  2. Hebrew lyrics and translations
  3. Background information about the songs
  4. Suggestions for educational activities emerging from the songs

You may well find that the songs are enough to spark your imagination for educational activities. Without doubt the juxtapositions are so rich, one could take them in many different directions. Feel free to develop your own activities. For our part, we have added some broad guidelines for educational activities that leave enough room for you to make the appropriate adaptations for the populations you are working with. They are for you to use, or ignore! Please write to us with your own ideas and comments, and we can add them to the unit. makom@jafi.org


This unit includes background information about the songs, translations of the lyrics, and many youtube links! On youtube one can now find many short films, video clips, and Israeli songs with subtitled translations. Because of their immediacy and quality, we would highly recommend making use of these youtube videos. For this you will need a good LCD computer projector, and good sound system that plugs into your computer.

[We are told there are ways to save and play youtube videos offline. We suggest you consult with someone under 20 about the technicalities and legalities of doing so! Otherwise, you’ll also need a wide-band connection to the internet for these sessions.]

A note about the music

The unit is built around music. Clearly an important element of the songs is their lyrics. But an equally important element is the music itself. The vocals, the rhythms, the harmonies, the instruments. Make sure that you do not lose this aspect when you present the songs to your participants. (Imagine studying Van Gogh in black-and-white, or enjoying a ballet with your eyes shut.) This means that an important part of your preparations for this unit will involve prioritising equipment. The speakers of a computer or of an LCD are not enough to fill a room. Make sure you get hold of good speakers.

Of course when we say that lyrics are essential to the experience of a song, we need to take care of the translation, as well! Hearing a song while understanding the lyrics is a very different experience from listening to a foreign song and then looking at the translation on a piece of paper. The synchrony between words and music are what suggest for us the emotional meaning. Bearing this in mind, we have taken efforts to refer you to as many simultaneous translation films as possible. Make sure you get hold of a good high-lumens LCD projector (at least 2000 lumens), so that the picture is clear, and you won’t need to dim the lights.


The songs

Yerushalayim Shel Zahav – Natan and Ben


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Looking at a mizrachi-sounding version of Naomi Shemer’s classic, and comparing it with the original.

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Yerushalayim Shel Barzel – Jerusalem of Iron


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Immediately after fighting in the parachutist unit that conquered Jerusalem in 1967, Meir Ariel wrote new words to Naomi Shemer’s then-new song. Jerusalem of Iron was a massive hit in Israel, until Shemer added her post-6 Day War additional verses.

Although some thirty years later Ariel dismissed his song as the “product of combat shock and whisky”, it continues to resonate for a segment of the population. In general, Ariel’s work is cited as a huge influence on Israel’s top musicians of today.

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2) I wanted you to know – Ratziti Shetida – רציתי שתדע


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A gentle children’s song questioning war, is transformed into a powerful anti-war tirade. To Full Post

3) This was my home – Zeh haya beyti – זה היה ביתי


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A song exploring concepts of “home”, and the emotional impact of the Gaza disengagement.

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4) Without Saying a Word – Bli Lomar Milah – בלי לומר מילה


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A Shalom Chanoch classic is transformed from a soldier’s tale to a woman’s relationship with a non-communicative man.

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5) Sixty Years Old – Bat Shishim – בת שישים


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A song that celebrated the birthday of a kibbutz, is transformed by a rapper into a celebration of Israel’s 60th birthday.

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