I knew next to nothing about Israel when the Six Day War broke out fifty years ago. I was just a kid in June 1967. Israel barely registered in my consciousness. My immediate family was not overtly Zionist. Nor was the Reform Temple in which I grew-up a place where Israel was spoken about often.
I do have faint memories of collecting dimes to plant a tree in Israel (20 dimes did the trick back then). In Religious School, we occasionally saw movies about Israel. I remember seeing endless loops of Israelis picking oranges in the fields and dancing the hora all night long.
But all that changed in late May of ’67. I sensed my parents’ anxiety. The television was on all the time in the family room. Words like “Straits of Tiran,” “blockade,” an “act of war” permeated the air. Abba Eban, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, spoke eloquently of the dangers the tiny country of Israel faced against hostile Arab nations.
Then came the first day of the war and Israel’s lightning strike against the Egyptian and Syrian Air Forces, destroying their planes while they were still grounded. There were hard fought battles in the Sinai, the Golan Heights, and the West Bank. And then came the most stunning achievement of all, the capture of not only East Jerusalem but the Old City and the Western Wall.
At the time, I had little understanding of the importance of Israel’s victory. I poured over photos in Life Magazine, looking repeatedly at battles scenes. However I was too young to comprehend the significance of Israel’s achievement.
Yet I know now that the Six Day War was a profound event not only for Israel, but for American Jews as well. It was a moment in which American Jewry’s relationship to Israel was transformed. Israel was no longer a small, vulnerable nation but a strong military power. American Jews discovered a sense of pride and identity with the Jewish state.
Just as importantly, for those Jews in America who had lived during the Holocaust and felt profound guilt for not doing more to save European Jewry, the Six Day War triggered an astonishing outpouring of financial support and political activism on behalf of Israel.
Israel’s Six Day War transformed not only Israel but American Jewry as well. The consequences of that war still impact World Jewry, the Middle East, and the world fifty years after the war concluded.