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.
Screen and listen to the original interpretation of Shuli Nathan
If your learners are not familiar with the original, we recommend you work through the information on Yael Levine’s website http://www.jerusalemofgold.co.il/
Screen and listen to the re-write of Meir Ariel
You may also wish to read out the interview below in Background Reading.
- Why do you think this song has been overshadowed in the public consciousness, and is almost forgotten, while the Naomi Shemer song is one of the most famous Israeli songs in the Jewish world?
- Is this a shame, or a good thing?
Suggestions for further activity:
- Draw/paint/make a montage of the Jerusalem of Ariel’s song.
- Note the gentle, classical way in which the song is sung. Though iconoclastic in content, the song is still fairly ‘respectful’ of the musical style. Which other songs do your participants know, whose message seems to be at odds with its style?
Comparing the several versions
- In a sense, two competing images of Jerusalem are being placed before us. “Jerusalem of Gold, and of copper and of light”, or by contrast “Jerusalem of Gold, and of lead and dream”. Which image rings truer for you?
- A clear translation to the final line is difficult to come by. Listening to the entire song and looking at its lyrics, which do you think would be the better choice: “Forever will peace dwell in your walls”, or “Will peace forever dwell in your walls?”
- If the former, how do you reconcile the peace within Jerusalem’s walls and the war drawing up to it?
- Why do you think Meir Ariel changed the chorus at the end from “Jerusalem of Iron”, to “Jerusalem of Gold”?
The Man Who Turned Gold into Iron
From “Le’Isha” magazine, #1080, 19th December 1967
“And dawn broke suddenly
It just rose before turning white,
and all was red…”
Words that echoed around the world, and in the heart of every Israeli. A spontaneous song. No one was angry with Meir Ariel, over his writing new words to Naomi Shemer’s Jerusalem of Gold. Everyone understood his motives. A soldier, a parachutist who fought in Jerusalem, whose heart overflowed with emotions, found a quiet moment and wrote with a clear heart. And if the song of Naomi Shemer gained an aspect of the sacred, then the words of Ariel are characterized by sadness and the power of battle.
Together the two songs marched, conquered the streets, were sung from every mouth for a long time. Every child knew to tell about the one who wrote ‘the other’ lyrics: the parachutist who conquered the Old City, Jerusalem. But Meir was unhappy about the publicity given him, or to be more precise, about the way things unfolded. He himself was rather surprised that the whole of Israel ended up singing his song.
“It was all by chance. Completely by chance. I don’t have anything against things that come at you by surprise. It’s just that I – well, I’ve been writing songs for a good while now, and I had high hopes for my writing. It’s difficult to put into words what ambitions I had. I never dreamed of being a poet, but I wanted for people to sing my songs. And now completely by chance, Jerusalem of Iron becomes famous. The words are built according to the melody that someone else wrote, based upon a foreign frame – and not at all the way I wanted to come to be known. And if I did get famous, it wasn’t in my own right, but because of this huge event. That I was a parachutist in the fight for the old city.”
The soldiers were given their battle orders shortly before setting off. Until then, no one knew where they were headed. No one thought about liberating the old city of Jerusalem.
Meir had completed his army service when things were quiet, without having fired a gun in any campaign. During the tension of the days prior to the 6-days, he was called up on reserve duty. The conquest of the Old City was given over to his brigade.
“Only a few days after the conquest of the city, I began to think and understand the significance. We heard people talking about us excitedly. On Liberation day at 4.30 in the afternoon, we noticed that too many important people were racing over to Shchem Gate. Everyone related to us as if we were gods, heroes, almost-saints. We started to come to
conclusions, realise the way things were being understood – and all that of course, had its effect. When we left Jerusalem I had a bit of time to reflect. We were taken by bus, and during the journey I wrote Jerusalem of Iron. Just like that, for the guys. The guys said they liked the song. And so I was looking forward to the opportunity to play it for the whole brigade – at the farewell bonfire, for example.
“But there was no bonfire. There was no time for that. So when there was the first artistic evening in the amphitheater on Har HaTzofim, I jumped up onto the stage at the right moment… I just did it of my own initiative, out of some need to break the huge tension of those days. The guys know me as someone who writes rude songs for our own internal men’s gatherings. They figured that I was going to sing something like that again. They were probably surprised. I was surprised too, when the song was so well received. Rivka Michaeli, who was compering the evening, came up to me afterwards and recorded me singing the song… The next morning the song was heard on Kol Yisrael radio on Rivka’s programme for house-wives. Of course she presented me as a parachutist, and that’s how I remained: a parachutist who coincidentally wrote a song. For the outside world it’s excellent. It’s an attraction: a parachutist who knows grammar and writes songs from war to war. But here in Israel… ”