I was not yet sixteen when the Six Day War broke out in June, 1967. Over 25 years ago I recorded what happened to me the day before the war started.
I jumped out of bed when I heard my mother's voice. Listening to the 7:00 a.m. news, I heard CBS Radio's Israel correspondent Jay Bushinski say that Israel Defense Forces had advanced 10 miles into Egyptian territory and had destroyed the entire Egyptian Air Force. During the following week, I walked around school dazed, distracted. But not so distracted that I couldn't drag out a Hebrew grammar book to study abandoned verb conjugations and forgotten vocabulary. I carried a new dream within me.
Only twenty-four hours before – Sunday morning – it would have been like Vietnam; another war in a far off place.
After Memorial Day, 1967, Brighton Beach was my second home. I soaked up rock-n-roll tunes from the radio as I lay on a blanket playing poker and browning my back.
My best friend at the time was an Israeli, Shlomo Rozenberg. Sunday, June 4th, he and I kicked a soccer ball around while gentle winds blew and sea birds flew over Brighton beach. As afternoon shadows lengthened, the soccer game disintegrated. Shlomo and I made our way to a forest of legs surrounding a centrally located group of beach blankets and umbrellas. This was "Bay 3" the central hangout for Israelis living in New York on hot summer days.
Together with eight others, we clambered over each other's shoulders to form a human pyramid. While I struggled to maintain my balance, someone began to play a Hebrew love ballad on his guitar. A bongo drummer softly kept rhythm.
Almost everybody sang along. Guys put muscled arms around their girlfriends' olive shoulders. Giant Stars of David reflected gold, copper and light.
I was silent.
I neither knew the words, nor understood the language. All I knew at that moment was how lonely I felt. I wanted to walk away from this crowd of foreigners, lay on my blanket and listen to the Beach Boys and the Stones. I didn't. Shlomo had his left leg on my right shoulder. He needed my support.
By the time the unsteady pyramid had collapsed, Jack Goldberg – card sharp and pre-eminent party giver in Brooklyn's felafel ghetto on 13th Avenue – was making a speech about breaking Nasser's noose on the Straits of Tiran. To shouts of "kol hakavód!" and "bravo!," he orated passionately that the Russians could drop dead and that Israel would drive the Egyptian monkeys to the gates of Cairo. He yelled "'Am Yisraél Hai!" and "long live America!," The rest of the crowd soon took up Ya'akov's calls.
In the midst of the shouting the staccato of a bongo drum pierced the air like a machine gun. A girl began to sing "Hava Negila" and grabbed Shlomo's hand. He grabbed mine and we danced a hora to the steady beat of the knee drums.
I danced and whirled and jumped. Concentric circles formed dancing clockwise and counter-clockwise. I kicked sand, running first to the right then to the left. The knee drums pounded their cadence into my brain. As more and more people joined the hora, I sang the one song I recognized that day in a voice of voices.
The ancient spirit of Israel rose within me. Walls of isolation dropped. I felt my soul link with the souls around me. I shared fear. I shared concern. I shared joy. For the first time in my life, I didn't feel like an outsider. I belonged.
That night we watched a television "special" about the Middle East. My mother looked at the map on the TV and said to my father, "Louie, they have us surrounded." She had never referred to Israel as "us" before.
When I went to sleep that night, He Who guards Israel did not sleep. Only He – and the Israel Defense Force – were prepared for the six days that followed.
What had happened was a miracle. First of all, that event on Brighton Beach and the events of the week that followed it shaped the rest of my life, telling me where my own identity really lay. Even though it would be over thirty years before I would fulfill my own dream of coming home to Israel, the seed leading to its fulfillment had been planted.
But on a far larger level, a small insecure nation surrounded by millions of hateful enemies determined to drive it into the sea and massacre all of its inhabitants had defeated all of its enemies on the field and totally humiliated them. In the words of the great Israeli writer, Ephraim Kishon, "Israel solved the problem of winning a two-front war by fighting a three front war." In six days, David had downed Goliath using airplanes, tanks, and sheer moxie. And the Arabs, just like the Philistines 3,000 years earlier, pulled off their boots in the sand and ran as fast as they could.
From a country with a central section 10 miles wide, Israel had expanded to cover all the land from the Mediterranean to the Jordan, a broad and good land; it had conquered the Heights of Golan, so that never again would Syrian gunners bombard kibbutzim and towns in the north and force the inhabitants to sleep in underground bunkers; it had liberated the city of Jerusalem from foreign rule and re-united it under the rule of the only people who pray for the city's welfare daily, the Jewish people; it had conquered Gaza, an infectious nest of murderous terrorists; and as a security buffer, it had conquered the entire Sinai peninsula, ending forever the danger of a blockade of Israeli shipping in the south, as well as that of a massive land invasion that would overrun Ashkelon, Beersheva, and Tel Aviv. In addition to all this, most of the inhabitants of the territory that had been under Jordanian rule for 19 years waited at three bridges at the Jordan River, seeking to flee Israeli rule.
Rabbi Shlomo Goren, the Chief Rabbi of the IDF, wanted to build a synagogue on the Temple Mount. The opportunity to have Judea and Samaria nearly empty of Arabs stood before the leaders of Israel. Had a synagogue been built on the Temple Mount it would have cemented our claim to it, mosques and domes notwithstanding. Had the Arabs fleeing Israeli rule been allowed to leave, the settlement of Judea and Samaria would have been a far easier and less controversial task. It is likely that the territory would have been annexed to the State and living in Ma'aleh Levona, for example, would be looked upon as normal, instead of theft of someone else's land by self righteous, finger-wagging foreigners, and ignorant Israelis who think they know better than G-d Himself.
But this is not what happened.
Spitting at the Miracle
The key person who began the unravelling of the miracle of the Six Day War, was the IDF's Chief of Staff, the late Moshe Dayan. Consulting with a large number of rabbis who tended to feel that entering upon the Temple Mount was an affront to G-d, Dayan banned the idea of the synagogue. Rabbi Goren's view was a minority one at the time. But, as if to lock out the possibility of a synagogue ever being built, Dayan handed control of the Temple Mount to the Waqf, a Moslem community organization. Given that the secular establishment ruling the country then (and now) did not want to see a strengthening of the religious community in Israel, and certainly rejected the view that Israel should be a publicly Jewish state, this act certainly went in line with its vision for the nation. But the rabbis who advised Dayan that a synagogue should not be built on the Temple Mount, advice that gave him cover for his actions, probably do not have the sense to now say "t'aínu" – "we made a mistake". This, in spite of the acts of the Waqf to erase all Jewish presence on our Temple Mount over the last several years.
Additionally, Dayan blew up the bridges at the Jordan River, thus preventing the Arabs living in Judea and Samaria from leaving. So they left the sites of the blown up bridges, returning to their homes. The Israelis attempted a "light-handed" occupation, but there is no such thing as a light-handed occupation of a potentially hostile population being fed hate propaganda daily.
Because Dayan did not allow the Arabs at the Jordan River bridges to leave, he created the problem of wanting to "annex the land but not the people". He handed to the Arabs a legitimacy they would not have had otherwise in demanding the land for themselves and undermined any Jewish claim to our land. He built the stool upon which the PLO stood, the stool upon which the Hamas stands. His act was an act of rank cowardice that has cost thousands of Jewish lives in the last forty years, not to mention thousands more Arab lives.
Very few Jews, living in Israel or elsewhere foresaw the disastrous consequences of these two acts when they were done. But this looks at events only from the point of view of political analysis. The real issue is that the last forty years spent in the shadow of the Six Day War has only made clear what happens when a people, particularly its leaders, spit at a miracle. In 1967, and indeed even into 1973, this nation had land, a sense of security, and a joie de vivre that one could feel in the festive air. The history of the last 33 years at least is the history of how this nation has lost all it gained in the Six Day War, along with the joie de vivre it had possessed when going into battle in June, 1967.