Jerusalem Stone

April 28, 2021

by: Sarah Yoder, BFP Staff Writer

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What comes to mind when visualizing the City of the Great King? Do you see images of the iconic stones of the Western Wall that have withstood centuries of conflict? Do you see the narrow streets of the Old City zigzagging through a maze of diverse cultures? Or perhaps you see the upscale Mamilla Mall, infused with the energy of high-end shopping and fine dining. No matter which images you envision, you will most assuredly see the ancient material that sets this city apart from all others: Jerusalem stone.

Built from Its Own Stones

I will never forget the first time I laid eyes on Jerusalem. As we drove into the city, the sea of buildings covered in white stone reflected the dazzling desert sun, casting an ineffable glow that left me speechless. Everywhere I looked I saw the same shade of stone, making it difficult for my untrained eye to tell the difference between something old and something new. Every structure I encountered in the city—from the Old City walls to the supermarkets on every corner—was faced with the same shade of luminous stone.

The appearance of Jerusalem’s architecture is uniquely uniform thanks to a municipal law enacted during the British Mandate that remains in effect to this day. This law requires that all structures in Jerusalem be faced in the same stone, preserving the archaic essence of the city and maintaining a legacy of stonework that has enabled so many ancient structures to survive.

Ever since its inception more than 3,000 years ago, Jerusalem has been built and rebuilt of its very own stone mined from deep beneath its hilltops, a practice that continues to provide the necessary stone for each new building raised in Jerusalem.

Ithamar Perath, a retired Israeli geologist and local Jerusalemite, explains that in ancient Jerusalem, it was a sign of wealth that the builders were not forced to transport materials from far away, but could rather quarry from their own backyard. And because much of this quarrying took place underground, it left very few lasting marks on the overall landscape. There are, however, several ancient quarries that have been unearthed in and around Jerusalem, including a quarry from the Second Temple Period that was exposed in the Ramat Shlomo Quarter, a neighborhood in northeast Jerusalem.

Yerushalayim Shel Zahav

 Jerusalem stone has served to not only unify the appearance of the city but indeed the very heart of the nation. “Jerusalem of Gold” (Yerushalayim Shel Zahav)—one of Israel’s most beloved songs—was inspired by the golden glow cast by Jerusalem stone at sunset. And the song was written during one of the most critical moments in the history of the Jewish state.

The year was 1967. Jerusalem’s Old City remained under Jordanian occupation. As Israel approached its nineteenth Independence Day, the mayor of Jerusalem commissioned five songs about Jerusalem to be presented at the Voice of Israel Song Festival. Naomi Shemer, one of Israel’s most proficient songwriters, was more than qualified for the task. However, she struggled to adequately pen the profound importance of the city of Jerusalem. “Jerusalem was personal, beloved and important to me,” Shemer later recalled. “But when I tried to express this, I became terrified. I remembered everything that had been written about the city since ancient times…Who could add a single letter to that?!” The words that came were written through tears as she tenderly wove together biblical references and traditional Jewish poetry that was birthed in times of exile.

When “Jerusalem of Gold” debuted for the first time at the song festival, it was received with deafening applause and became a national favorite overnight, captivating the heart of the Jewish people as they yearned for access to their most beloved sites. Less than three weeks later, the Six Day War began. On June 7, Israel Defense Forces Paratroopers entered the Old City through the Lions’ Gate, advancing steadily towards the Temple Mount. Within mere minutes of penetrating the city, the radio cracked with the famous words of Commander Mordechai Gur: “The Temple Mount is in our hands.” As his battered troop of soldiers gazed upon the Western Wall for the first time, the words of Shemer’s song burst from their lips: “Oh, Jerusalem of gold, and of light and of bronze, I am the violin for all your songs.” I can only imagine the magnitude of that moment as these young soldiers gazed upon the ancient stones.

 A Sure Foundation

 In a city that has endured long and vicious cycles of destruction, siege, attack, capture and recapture, Jerusalem stone has firmly withstood the test of time, calling to mind the words of the prophet Isaiah: “Behold, I lay in Zion a stone for a foundation, a tried stone, a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation…” (Isa. 28:16) For me, this puts everything into perspective. No longer will I take for granted the need to shield my eyes from the glimmering glare of the sun reflecting off the Jerusalem stone all around me. Instead I will cherish every opportunity to bask in its glow and thank the Lord for His faithfulness to Zion.

Photo Credit: Marianna Lanovska/Shutterstock

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