There are events in one’s life that even as a toddler becomes forever etched in one’s very being and soul.
Beer Sheva. June 1967.
“Abba”, I called out. “Where are you going?” I ran towards my Father as he stood near the doorway dressed in his Tzahal army fatigues, with his knapsack, ready to go off to war.
At that age I knew nothing of my Father’s Palmach days and his commando deeds. That my Father was Motke Eish HaGarzen, Motke the Axeman. The Palmach commander and legend that led the 21 Palmachnikim that conquered Har Zion and rescued 1,700 Jewish men, women and children from the Old City on May 17/18 1948. I only knew that one of the two loves of my life, my Father, was off to war. The other love of my life, my Mother, was preparing the house to take care of my two brothers and myself.
My Father was my hero. Brave, strong, handsome, charismatic and the cultural minister of Beer Sheva. Being his son I had the access to climb tanks and jeeps. Nothing to me was as grand as the army, the jeeps and the bravery of our soldiers. But this morning my Father was off to war. Instantly I knew that it might be the last time I ever saw my Father ever again.
Even as a toddler my Mother had trained me to quickly run to the shelter when we heard jets fly overhead. The sound of jets and danger was so ingrained in me that even when I lived in the United States as a young boy I would run for cover. It would take years for that reflex to lessen. Even today my heart slightly races as the instinct to take cover still permeates my subconscious.
But in June 1967 my family, my friends, my neighborhood, and my whole country were all on edge.
Who would come back? Who would be an orphan? Who would be a widow? Who would be a grieving parent? Who would become maimed, disfigured, or insane?
All of us, every Israeli Jewish child was brave and trained to run for shelter, to hold back his tears, to not show fear, to be brave and a role model for all the other kids. Each boy acted cool so the little girls would feel safe. Each one of us, boy and girl was a little soldier.
And so as I ran to my Father, he crouched down and was eye to eye with me, showing and treating me with love, respect, care and dignity that only a true father can.
“When are you coming back, Abba?” I asked.
My Father gave me an answer that only an Israeli Father can give. I was satisfied. My Father always kept his promises to me. I felt confident he would not let me down.
He kissed me and I kissed him. And off he went to war.
And now my Mother had to remain strong and brave. It was her second war. In 1956 she was a new mother staying at home with my brother while my Father was fighting in the Sinai War. Now 11 years later she was now a mother of three and in her second war.
As the days passed we were glued to the radio, waiting and listening to any news report.Three days and no word from my Father. No word of his company. No word from anyone. Jets flying overhead. War reports on the radio. And all of us in the dark.
And as the war was proceeding and the news of victories and of fallen soldiers was coming into our neighborhood, each city was unto itself. It was too dangerous to venture out.
Every mother was holding down the fort. Every sibling was encouraging his/her sibling. Each son and daughter was praying to G-d that their father would return. Each wife was pleading with G-d that her husband would step through the door and give her the hugs of a lifetime.
And then as the seven days of war had come to an end, my Father, on whose birthday I was born, fulfilled his promise. A promise that only an Israeli father could give his son so as to comfort him.
“Abba. When are you coming back?”
“I will be back in a week.” Father replied.
And so it was. My Father, the love and hero of my life, fulfilled his promise and returned in one week.
I will always be grateful to Hashem that I was blessed to have my Father return alive and whole.
And I will forever mourn for my fellow friends whose Fathers did not come home, or came home with life long wounds.
To be Israeli is to know war, to mourn for others, to celebrate victory, to be fearless, to fight gloriously on the battlefield and to constantly hope for peace so no child will ever be an orphan or see their able-bodied hero or heroine parent maimed and crippled by war.
Forever in my blood, soul and heart are the Six Days of 1967.