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Naomi Shemer

(1930 - 2004)

Naomi Shemer was an Israeli singer, songwriter and composer known commonly as the “First Lady of Israeli Song.”

Shemer (July 13, 1930; died June 26, 2004) was born on Kvuzat Kinneret 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. 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.

At this time, she married her first husband, the actor Gideon Shemer, father of her daughter Lali. In 1957 she wrote the words to the first show of the Batzal Yarok troupe. Among the songs she wrote for the troupe was Zamar Noded (Wandering Troubadour). The song Hoopa Hey, which she wrote for the IDF Central Command entertainment troupe won an international song contest in Italy in 1960. In 1963, she wrote Hurshat Haecalyptus (The Eucalyptus Grove) for a musical marking the jubilee of Kibbutz Kinneret.

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. 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 the mid-1960s, Shemer and her husband separated and she moved with her daughter to Paris, where the language influenced her songs, including Ha'ir Ba'afor (The City in Gray). When she returned to Israel, she married the attorney Mordechai Horowitz, the father of her son Daniel.

In 1967, Shemer was asked to compose a song for the Israel Song Festival. Though not itself part of the competition, the three stanzas of “Yerushalayim shel Zahav” (“Jerusalem of Gold”) became instantly popular. 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, 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 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 by that name and evolved into an independent hit. This and other songs, many of which have been published in books of her music, have made Shemer’s songs arguably the most-sung in the 1960’s to the 1980’s. For her immense contribution to Israeli music, Shemer was awarded the Israel prize in 1983.

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

In 2005, Shemer was voted the 6th-greatest Israeli of all time in an online poll conducted by an Israeli newspaper.

Sources: Haaretz (June 27, 2004); Wikipedia; The Pedagogic Center, The Department for Jewish Zionist Education, The Jewish Agency for Israel, (c) 1992-2004, Director: Dr. Motti Friedman, Webmaster: Esther Carciente