Dear Rabbi Fried,
There’s been a lot of talk about the Six-Day War on its 50th anniversary.
It was obviously a special victory given the odds and the advantages of the combined armies of four Arab countries banded together against a relatively newborn state. But, for us Millennials, it’s pretty distant history and hard for us to see what impact it has on our lives at this late date, since we didn’t live through it and it’s something so distant from us. On the other hand, I feel a little guilty not sharing in the excitement lots of people seem to be having over it.
Any insights that could help me?
— Brittany K.
As an American Jew, the Six-Day War undoubtedly has had a most profound affect upon your life and those of your generation, although you were not alive when it happened and it’s something that seems so far away.
For Israelis and especially Jerusalemites the War was nothing less than a miraculous rescue, “parting of the sea,” from what was predicted to be the “second Holocaust.” Israel was completely surrounded, outnumbered, and at a huge tactical disadvantage militarily, with Arab military machinery and airpower at least 4 to 1 against Israel. Parks and graveyards were being prepared for what was expected to be the biggest slaughter of Jews since the Holocaust. Survivors of that calamity solemnly declared that the world, again, didn’t care about the Jews as Nasser and the other Arab leaders spoke openly of the decimation of Israel once and for all. And the world truly didn’t care, once again.
I strongly recommend you read Six Days of War: June 1967 & The Making of the Modern Middle East by Michael Oren, a masterful and detailed account of both the mayhem and confusion in the Israeli government through the events leading up to the War, and just how grave the danger was to the survival of the country. It is a breathtaking account of the blow-by-blow stages of the War, and the profound effects of its aftermath in the reshaping of Israel and the Middle East.
The historical and political account understandably does not take another profound effect of the War into account, on both sides of the ocean. In Israel, it gave birth to the “Baal Teshuva” movement. This was a tsunami of young Israelis, many of whom served in the IDF during the war and many of whom were involved from the sidelines, who truly felt they had experienced a great miracle of Biblical proportions and were, for the first time, seeking their Jewish roots. That movement, which has ebbed but in many ways, continues until today, has had an enormous effect on the spiritual and religious demographic of the State of Israel. Untold thousands of “returnees” and their children and grandchildren today populate Israeli cities and towns throughout the country. Immediately following the war, several moving accounts of miraculous events, especially by pilots in the Israeli Air Force but also by regular foot soldiers, went viral and brought about a surge of consciousness of God’s role in this historic event that has had a huge impact on the Israel of today.
As for the Jews of the Diaspora, a profound observation was pronounced by one of the leading sages of America, Rabbi Yaakov Kaminetzki ob’m, at a national convention. He observed that if not for the proclamation of the State of Israel in 1948, Jewish pride was so low that the entire generation would have assimilated after the Holocaust. Only that proclamation caused a resurging of Jewish pride that would buy us another generation. And what the birth of Israel did for its generation of American Jews, the Six-Day War did for its generation. Jewish pride was again at an all-time low and with the lack of Jewish observance, most American Jews had little to hold on to.
It was Jewish pride engendered by the Six-Day War that breathed a spark of life into your parents’ generation, having an incalculable impact on your own Jewish identity. That certainly behooves yourself and us all to review and study its details. At the same time, as you observed, the effect of that War and the pride it brought about are quickly waning; time is quickly running out for the Jewish identity of so many in your generation.
Visiting Israel is very important and a wonderful thing, but that alone won’t do it. The only thing which is alive, well and available to all who seek it to breathe life into Jewish identity in a lasting way is the study of our rich heritage and connection to our amazing past, our Torah and Jewish wisdom. This, coupled with an appreciation of Israel, will make you and your generation a strong foundation for a vibrant Jewish future.
Rabbi Yerachmiel Fried, noted scholar and author of numerous works on Jewish law, philosophy and Talmud, is founder and dean of DATA, the Dallas Kollel.
Questions can be sent to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dear Rabbi Fried,