My memories of those six days, June 5-10, 1967, are still vivid and alive with me, and in my interviews for this project, I saw that I was not alone. Here are the thoughts of Prof. Chaim Waxman, whose recollections I found especially inspiring:
The Six Day War moved me greatly. I remember it like it was yesterday. I used to sleep with a radio next to my bed. I listened to news before sleep and woke up to news in the morning. That Monday morning, June 5, 1967. I was still in the Twilight Zone when my radio woke me with the news that Israel was at war. In this hazy state, I pictured a map of Israel with tanks rolling in from every side. I was B’PANICKA. Because of my year in Israel, I felt very close to the situation. The month leading up to the war had filled us dread of an immanent disaster. When we finally got the report of what really happened, we were overjoyed. I remember davening that Shavuot (a week later) like I never davened before.
And Rav Eliezer Berkowitz, who later became President of Bar Ilan University, wrote in 1967:
When in the early spring of 1967 we decided to set down our thoughts on the problem of faith raised by the European holocaust,…(because of a) threat even more fateful than Auschwitz itself, would becloud the skies of Jewish existence. The Arab nations resolved to wipe the small state of Israel off the map of the earth…the fact that the frightening drama of perhaps ultimate extinction would find its redemptive denouement in the awe-inspiring return of the Jewish people to Zion and Jerusalem could not have been visualized by the wildest imagination as being within the realm of historical possibilities…Was it in truth—to use the phrase of Isaiah—the “hiding” God of Israel who acted as the savior?…Did we really experience one of those rare occasions when God—almost as in biblical times—made his presence manifest as the Redeemer of Israel?
For many of us the answer was a resounding YES!
We woke up on the morning of June 6 with a new reality. The Israeli Air Force had basically won the war in a few minutes the previous day, but we only became aware of that as the Israeli news blackout was lifted. Now we were all following the progress of the armored corps across the Sinai Peninsular.
We were all trying to figure where this Mitla Pass was, and why it was so important.
That morning we again were listening to news reports on those little transistor radios during school. It was a beautiful day, and when we ate our lunch outside some kid had brought an Israeli flag (I wish it had been me!) and people (Jews and non-Jews) were taking turns waving it.
But the best was yet to come.
The next day was the 28th of Iyar, according to Rav Shlomo Aviner, the date on which Joshua beat Amalek in the Sinai at a place called Rephidim. Those Jews saw Moshe sitting on a rock waving them on to victory. This day we watched on the evening news as paratroopers scrambled across the plaza of the Temple Mount, and flew our flag for all to see. We heard Motta Gur OB”M, declaring, ‘HAR HABAYIT B’YADEINU!’ The Temple Mount is in our hands!
I can’t even type those words without crying anew.
Then we were flooded with other images: Hard-boiled paratroopers were embracing the cold stones of the Western Wall as lovers embrace their most beloved. Rav Shlomo Goren, Rav Roshi of the IDF, blew the Shofar; Moshe Dayan placed a KVITTLE (note) between the rocks of the Western Wall; Chief of Staff Yitzchak Rabin arrived with Prime Minister Levi Eshkol. No one could tell who was dati and who was not. That moment wasn’t about politics, and I believe strongly that any Jew who doesn’t feel the significance of Yom Yerushalyim doesn’t know or remember or fathom what happened that day.
A couple of years ago, on the fiftieth anniversary of the war, The Atlantic magazine ran a long collection of essays about the events of those six days. One writer was Einat Wilf:
For many decades, religious Zionism remained a marginal, and quite meek, movement in Zionism—and in Judaism. But 1967 changed that. In six short days, Israel swung from the fear of annihilation to the euphoria of an astounding victory. The tiny country tripled its size to include not just the Golan Heights and Sinai Peninsula, but the cradles of Jewish civilization, including the Temple Mount, East Jerusalem (the Zion of Zionism, home of holy sites), and the West Bank (the territory of Judea, home of the ancient Judeans). For those who believed that God works in mysterious ways to bring about the redemption of the Jewish people, 1967 was proof.
I don’t say the prayer Al Ha’Nissim on Yom Yerushalayim for reasons of tradition and cowardice, but we definitely witnessed:
You delivered the mighty into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few, the impure into the hands of the pure, the wicked into the hands of the righteous…
We were, basically, overnight, saved from the brink of destruction. We weren’t conquering territories; we were saving our lives, and the live of our families. In the days before the war, graves were quietly and secretly being dug in the thousands. We were fighting to make sure they wouldn’t be needed.
It also happened that:
We have returned to the cisterns
To the market and to the market-place
A ram’s horn calls out on the Temple Mount
In the Old City.
And in the caves in the mountain
Thousands of suns shine –
We will once again descend to the Dead Sea
By way of Jericho!
Jerusalem of gold
And of copper, and of light
Behold I am a lyre for all your songs.