A Tale of Two Cities

I hold two cities in my heart and in my thoughts today. With one I rejoice. With the other, I mourn.

I mourn with the great city of Manchester, as she buries twenty-two of her sons and daughters, the youngest no more than eight years old, victims of a brutal act of terror committed earlier this week by an evil Islamist fanatic, who, as is the case so often with Islamist extremists, deliberately targeted the weakest and most defenceless, children and teenagers. Just as Boko Haram and the Taliban target schoolgirls, just as Chechen Muslim terror groups targeted schoolchildren in the 2004 Beslan school attack, going so far as to deny their hostages food and water, just as “Palestinian” Muslim terrorists murder Jewish children in their beds, so did Salman Abedi, the British-born son of Libyan Muslim parents, choose as his target a concert where he must have known that a large segment of the audience would be in their teens, or even younger.


Mancunians are tough and in the face of terror, have displayed the same spirit of defiance which typified Britain during the Second World War. In this, they resemble Israelis, who have faced the brutality of suicide bombers over and over again.  It is a spirit expressed to perfection in this poem by Tony Walsh, written in 2013 and performed by him yesterday, at the public vigil following the horrendous attack:


I salute you, Manchester – and I share your tears.


I hold two cities in my heart and in my thoughts today. With one I mourn. With the other, I rejoice.

I rejoice with the Holy City of Jerusalem, Capital of the reborn State of Israel, as she celebrates her Golden Jubilee, half a century since her liberation from the illegal Jordanian occupation and her reunification, under Jewish sovereignty once more, for the first time in 2000 years. Whether or not the rest of the world chooses to recognise it as such, Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. Any dictionary you choose to look in will tell you that a nation’s capital is its seat of government, its administrative centre. No other city in Israel meets that definition. The Knesset, Israel’s parliament, is in Jerusalem. The President’s Residence is in Jerusalem. The Prime Minister’s Residence is in Jerusalem. The seat of the Supreme Court is in Jerusalem. All the major government offices are in Jerusalem. When foreign ambassadors present their credentials to the President of Israel, they do so in Jerusalem – thereby recognising her status as Capital,  de facto if not  de jure.  And most important of all, the Old City of Jerusalem, situated in that part of the city that was liberated in June 1967, in a war that was forced on Israel, contains the holiest site in the world to the Jewish People – the Temple Mount, at whose foot stands the Western Wall, last remnant of the Second Temple.


This afternoon, tens of thousands are marching through the streets of Jerusalem in the annual “Dance of the Flags”, so called because of the row upon row of Israeli flags carried by the participants, a veritable sea of blue and white. Their destination – the Old City and the Western Wall. And they will reaffirm, to all the world, that (in the words of Gen. Moshe Dayan, Israel’s Defence Minister at the time of the Six-Day-War) “We have returned to the holiest of our holy places, never to part from it again”.


The song “Jerusalem of Gold” (ירושלים של זהב – Yerushalayim Shel Zahav) is probably the most famous song to emerge from the Six Day War, although it was actually commissioned by the legendary Mayor of Jerusalem, Teddy Kollek for performance in the (alas, now defunct) annual Israel Song Festival  on Independence Day, which that year fell on May 15th. Composed by Naomi Shemer and sung by Shuly Nathan (an unknown singer at the time), the song derives its name from the golden diadem said to have been given by the great scholar Rabbi Akiva to his wife, Rachel.  When it was first performed, three weeks before the Six-Day-War, it seemed like a bittersweet song of never-to-be assuaged longing for a divided city, where no Jew (let alone an Israeli Jew) was permitted to set foot by the Jordanians – a longing which is reflected in the first three verses. After the Israeli victory, and the liberation of the hitherto unattainable Old City, Naomi Shemer added the fourth verse, which she herself performed before the IDF soldiers who had liberated the city, and in response to their enthusiastic applause, remarked: “It is much easier to change a song than to change a city”. (This works better in Hebrew, as the words for “song”  – shir – and “city”  – ir –  rhyme.)

At all events, here is Shuly Nathan, singing the whole four verses.


And here is the translation:

Mountain air as clear as wine,
And the scent of pine trees, 

Are carried on the twilight breeze,
With the sound of bells.
And in the slumber of tree and stone, 

A prisoner in her own dream,
The city which sits solitary,
And in her heart – a Wall.

Jerusalem of Gold,
And of copper and of light,
Am I not the harp for all thy songs?

How have the water wells dried up!
The market square is empty.
And nobody visits the Temple Mount
In the Old City.
And in the caves within the rock

Winds howl
And no-one goes down to the Dead Sea
By the Jericho Road.

Jerusalem of Gold etc.

But when I come today to sing to thee,
And to attach crowns to thee,
I am but the youngest of thy sons,
And the least of thy poets.
For thy name sears the lips,
Like a Seraph’s kiss.
If I forget thee, O Jerusalem,
Who art all of gold.

Jerusalem of Gold etc.

We have returned to the water wells.
To the market and to the square.
The Shofar calls from the Temple Mount
In the Old City.
And in the caves within the rock,
A thousand suns shine!
And once again, we will go down to the Dead Sea,
By the Jericho Road.

Jerusalem of Gold etc.

After the Six Day War, “Jerusalem of Gold” became a kind of unofficial, second national anthem, although it is unpopular with some left-wing Israelis, such as the writer Amos Oz, who castigated the song’s alleged “inhumanity” in ignoring the Arab presence in Jerusalem. Naomi Shemer replied to this criticism, stating – quite simply – that for her,  Jerusalem without Jews is an empty city.

I hold two cities in my heart and in my thoughts and in my prayers today. With one I mourn. With the other, I rejoice.

For both, I pray for peace.






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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