Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem

What has the Pope got to do with the Jerusalem Oratorio Choir’s annual Gala concert which took place almost two weeks ago, and how is any of this connected to the longer-than-usual gap between posts on this blog?

Well, to begin with, the many extra rehearsals (sometimes as many as four a week) which preceded the Grand Gala, left me with little time – and even less energy – for sitting down at the computer and writing a blog.

Secondly, the concert was originally scheduled for the evening of Sunday, May 25th. However, it turned out that that very evening, Pope Francis was due to arrive in Jerusalem on the Israeli leg of his Middle East tour. Bitter experience with Papal (and other VIP) visits has taught us (as citizens of Jerusalem)  that the closure of roads for security reasons was likely to make it impossible for many people to get to the Jerusalem Centre for the Performing Arts, where the concert was due to take place in the Henry Crown Auditorium. The concert date was therefore switched to the evening of May 28th – Yom Yerushalayim  (the anniversary of Jerusalem’s reunification  in 1967, as a result of the Six Day War).

Unlike our usual annual Gala Concert, this time, instead of performing one large work, we were to perform popular choruses from Italian operas, such as “Aida”“Nabucco”, “La Forza del Destino”, and “Cavalleria Rusticana”, as well as liturgical and secular pieces by Italian composers.



Moreover, all five choirs making up the Jerusalem Oratorio Choir would be individually showcased, each choir performing on its own or in conjunction with one of the other choirs, as well as putting the massed forces of the full Oratorio Choir through their paces.

The Jerusalem Oratorio Chamber Choir, as is fitting for the choir which is billed as “the representative body of the Jerusalem Oratorio Choir” had to work the hardest since, in addition to performing on our own, and as part of the full choir, we were supporting all but one of the other component choirs. Thus, we joined the Bel Canto Choir for the Orlando di Lasso madrigal “Matona Mia Cara” and the Antonio Lotti motet “Crucifixus” –  the former, under the baton of Bel Canto conductor Noa Burstein, the latter under the baton of our own conductor, Ofer Dal Lal.

We also performed the Kyrie section from Rossini’s “Petite Messe Solennelle” together with the Oratorio Singers, under the baton of Na’ama Nazerathy-Gordon, who later conducted the full choir in the Vivaldi “Magnificat”.

The women from the Chamber Choir then  joined Flora Vinokurov’s Cantabile Women’s Choir for a Neapolitan song, “La Mammoletta”, and for the charming “O Pastorelle Addio”, from the opera “Andrea Chenier”, by Giordano.

All this involved taking part, not only in our own rehearsals and in the rehearsals of the full choir, but also the rehearsals of the other choirs whom we were supporting.

On our own, we performed the heart-breaking final chorus  – “Plorate, filii Israel” – from Carissimi’s oratorio, “Jephte”, which tells the story of Jephthah’s daughter:



We followed that up with an unscheduled addition to the programme, in honour of Yom Yerushalayim – English Renaissance composer Richard Nicolson’s arrangement of verses from Psalm 122: “O pray for the peace of Jerusalem. May they prosper that love thee. Peace be within thy walls and prosperity within thy palaces.”

This work, which we first performed several years ago under our previous conductor, Ronen Borshevsky, has become one of our signature pieces over the last couple of years, especially on our recent tour in Germany, Switzerland and France earlier this year.  We shall be performing it also at the  Chamber Choir’s own end-of-the-season concert in Tel Aviv next week (to which end, we have three rehearsals this week…)

Psalm 122 has long been a particular favourite of mine, since June 1967. Almost every English translation renders verse 3 thus: “Jerusalem is builded as a city that is compact together“. But what does this mean – “a city that is compact together”?

The original Hebrew says: ירושלים הבנויה כעיר שחוברה-לה יחדיו (Yerushalayim habnuya k’ir shechubra la yachdav).
The Hebrew verb לחבר (lechaber) means “to join, to unite”. Throughout the centuries, none of the translators (not even of the poetic and beautiful King James version, a classic of the English language) could understand why the Psalmist, writing fifteen centuries before the birth of Muhammed and almost sixteen centuries before the Arab conquest of Jerusalem, should describe the Israelite capital as “a city that is joined together”. They therefore mistranslated the word as “compact together”. It was only after the reunification of the city on June 7th 1967, nineteen years after it had been brutally torn apart by the apartheid wall erected by the illegal Jordanian occupiers of its eastern half, that the prophetic nature of the psalm became clear. Jerusalem was, indeed, a city which had been united together.

Nicolson’s arrangement, however, is of verses 6 and 7 – “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem …Peace be within thy walls…” Accordingly – and to get back to the Papal connection, in view of Pope Francis’s joint “pray-in” with outgoing Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian Authority Chairman Abu Mazen in the Vatican the day before yesterday (June 8th) – I will leave you with the Jerusalem Oratorio Chamber Choir’s rendition of this beautiful piece of Renaissance polyphony.



About Shimona from the Palace

Born in London, the UK, I came on Aliyah in my teens and now live in Jerusalem, where I practice law. I am a firm believer in the words of Albert Schweitzer: "There are two means of refuge from the sorrows of this world - Music and Cats." To that, you can add Literature. To curl up on the sofa with a good book, a cat at one's feet and another one on one's lap, with a classical symphony or concerto in the background - what more can a person ask for?
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9 Responses to Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem

  1. Carolyn says:

    Shimona, I love the Bible study of Psalm 122. In my Young’s Literal translation, it actually does say “joined together”, and the ESV puts “bound firmly together”, but you are right of course! most English translations put compact!

    The choral music is beautiful. Rich, textured and full of heart! 🙂

    • Hi, Carolyn.

      As far as the study of the Psalms go – I am beginning to appreciate them more and more. In Jewish tradition, it is customary to recite them in times of trouble, which is why the families of the three Israeli teenagers kidnapped by terrorists in the so-called “West Bank” (Judaea and Samaria) last week have asked that we all pray and recite psalms for the safety of the boys.

      I am glad you enjoyed the music. You may enjoy another piece performed by my choir, if you haven’t seen this one yet (I believe I posted it a while back):

    • Angelo says:

      I know German and Latin (and French). But not well enough to catch evietyhrng, and certainly not well enough to be confident about picking out the words from a choir.

  2. Carolyn says:

    The news of the kidnap even made it onto the BBC News!! Yes we do pray for their safe return! That setting of Psalm 121 is beautiful and beautifully sung. Have you CDs? Must check out!

    When I was in Jerusalem many moons ago I stayed with an Israeli lady one time who also loved reading the Psalms. As her English wasn’t good and my understanding of modern Hebrew was “meh”, we read the Psalms together. The sound of her voice and the way she read each word so carefully and lovingly stays with me to this day!!

    • I’ve no doubt the BBC managed to (not so) subtly shift the blame for the kidnappings to Israel!

      The Jerusalem Oratorio Chamber Choir has only one commercial CD, as far as I know. It’s called “The Seventh Gate”, produced by Harmonia Mundi and Ad Vitam Records. It includes the setting of Psalm 121 which you mentioned. We actually won an award for this disc! We’ve also produced several CDs for “internal consumption” as it were. I’m not sure if the latter are available for purchase but I can find out, if you like.
      We do have both a Facebook page and a YouTube channel, as well as my own YouTube channel and YouTube channels of several other members of the choir who have posted some of our recordings.

      • Carolyn says:

        The BBC certainly did! They concentrated on the dozens of arrests made by the Israelis. BTW did you know some Australian politicians have been quite outspoken in their support for Israel recently? The Foreign minister, Julie Bishop and the Attorney General, George Brandis, I think.

        I think I liked the JOCC facebook page, but will check. Don’t worry about the CDs. I will find them on YouTube and will check iTunes. The variety afforded us by technology, eh!

      • Yes, I have very happily noticed the shift in Australia’s position under the new government. Canada also is not so ready to accept the Politically Correct Israel-bashing line and I believe the Czech Republic has also been swimming against the tide.

        About the non-commercial CDs – they are mostly discs of the full Oratorio Choir, performing large-scale works such as Mendelssohn’s “Elijah” (one of my all-time favourites!), Mozart’s Great C-Minor Mass, the Fauré Requiem etc. We also have some DVDs of the big choir.

  3. Ian G says:

    There are a great many important things to pray for, but I am a Bible Teacher and Preacher so I loved the prophetic insight on Psalm 122.

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