Original ‘Jerusalem of Gold’ Lyrics, Declaration of Independence Draft Sold in Special Public Auction

The sale of the lyrics, along with other items of historical and symbolic significance, again raises the issue of trafficking documents and items of national value on the private market

A copy of the lyrics of 'Yerusahalayim Shel Zahav' ('Jerusalem of Gold'), in Naomi Shemer's handwriting.
Kedem Auction House

Pages with the lyrics and sheet music of the song "Yerushalayim Shel Zahav” ("Jerusalem of Gold”), in the handwriting of Naomi Shemer, fetched $67,650 at an auction in Jerusalem Tuesday. Many other historical items were also sold off at the auction, including a draft of Israel's Declaration of Independence.

Kedem Auction House, which celebrated 10 years to its founding, told Haaretz that the vendor was the relative of a veteran collector who had bought the item and later passed away. No additional details were given regarding where the collector had purchased the item.

The identity of the purchaser was not revealed, as is customary.

The sale of the lyrics, along with other items of historical and symbolic significance, again raises the issue of trafficking documents and items of national value on the private market. The antiquated Archives Law does not address this issue, which surfaces every few months, usually in the wake of such auctions.

Naomi Shemer
Taly Shani

“Jerusalem of Gold” is considered by many people a historical artifact of national value, since it was written by Shemer in response to an appeal by Jerusalem’s mayor Teddy Kollek, ahead of an annual song festival in 1967, a few weeks before the Six Day War broke out. In the course of the war, the song took on the status of a national anthem.

“Every soldier in Jerusalem and its environs and all residents of the city are constantly singing this song,” Kollek wrote Shemer during the war. Following his request, she added another stanza to reflect the post-war reality.

Music for 'Jerusalem of Gold'
Kedem Public Auction House

In due course, some people suggested turning the song into Israel’s official anthem. After Shemer’s death a letter was discovered, in which she admitted that the melody had been influenced by a well-known Basque lullaby.

Shemer had prepared two handwritten copies of the draft, almost identical to each other. She claimed one of the copies to be the original and official version. The second was the one sold on Tuesday at the auction.

Dr. Hezi Amior, the National Library of Israel’s chief curator, told Haaretz that the library possesses the original copy of the song with the added stanza, as well as the original notes for the song.

Israel's Declaration of Independence

Another precious item that was sold for a high price was a collection of documents related to the Declaration of Independence. The main items were a draft copy of the declaration, an invitation and an entry ticket to the ceremony. The price paid for these documents was $49,000.

The documents had originally belonged to Shlomo Kedar, one of the organizers of the 1948 ceremony and later a diplomat. Kedar died in 1987. The draft of the declaration that was sold on Tuesday was typewritten, with four corrections made by hand, all of which appear in the final version, as well as a typewritten correction.

This document was purchased 20 years ago in another auction, for $700.

Draft of the Israeli Declaration of Independence
Kedem Public Auction House

Meron Eren, the owner of Kedem Auction House, told Haaretz that the auction was an example of people purchasing items of historical value as an investment. He said that last year there was a sharp rise in the price of documents with historical and cultural significance sold at such auctions.

“Collectors and museums are looking for items that hold an interest, ones that are in good physical condition. People are willing to pay higher-than-market value for such items” he said.

Public interest in the sale of a draft of the Declaration of Independence is high, since the state is in the midst of a legal battle with Kedem, attempting to block the sale of another draft, which was offered for sale in 2015.

The offer has been suspended until the court rules on this issue. The debate revolves around the principle of the matter, and may determine the course of further auctions of items such as these.

The 2015 offer involved early drafts which were in the possession of the sons of its author, a lawyer who worked in the Justice Department of the nascent state. The state obtained a temporary injunction forbidding the sale, based on the claim that the state was the legal owner of the document.

However, last year the Jerusalem District Court rejected that claim, arguing that private parties can hold on to archival items of national importance. The state appealed to the Supreme Court, which has not ruled yet.

The appeal says that there is great importance in the state holding on to national assets, and that selling assets that have deep symbolic meaning to the highest bidder is harmful. The state did not appeal the sale of the additional draft that was auctioned this week.

Another item of national-historic value was sold this week, including postcards by early Zionist activist and war hero Joseph Trumpeldor.

The postcards were sent to his parents during his captivity in Japan in 1905. These were written several months after he had been wounded, with his left hand crushed, in the Russo-Japanese War.

“Dear father and mother, we’re still here, not knowing when we’re moving. We go out more for walks in the yard but the guards and fence remain the same. Despair grows, but hope is the food of the young…kisses to the family and regards to acquaintances. Love you, Ossia,” he wrote.

The purchaser paid $13,500 for the postcards.