Ha’aretz reports that the melody for Naomi Shemer’s (Z”L) classic song “Jerusalem of Gold” (Yerushalyim shel Zahav) was lifted from a Basque folksong.
Shemer wrote that she had heard the Basque lullaby sung by a friend, Nehama Hendel, in the mid-1960s. “Apparently, at one of these meetings, Nehama sang the well-known Basque lullaby to me, and it went in one ear and out the other,” Shemer wrote.
“In the winter of 1967, when I was working on the writing of `Jerusalem of Gold,’ the song must have creeped into me unwittingly,” she wrote. “I also didn’t know that an invisible hand dictated changes in the original to me. … It turns out that someone protected me and provided me with my eight notes that grant me the rights to my version of the folk song. But all this was done, as I said, unwittingly.”
Well, Naomi, if it’s of any consolation, Stravinsky once said that great composers don’t borrow, they steal (and he was great!). Nothing can ever diminish the power your song had in Israel at the time of the 6 day war or its ability to help connect generations of young Jews to Jerusalem ever since.