This month of June commemorates the forty-fifth anniversary of the Six Day War, an event that changed Israeli and Jewish in myriad ways. Those of us who lived through those fateful and fearsome days, we recall the foreboding and mental and emotional depression that gripped the Jewish world for the three weeks leading up to the war itself.
The Arabs proclaimed that they would end the State of Israel and throw its Jews into the Mediterranean Sea. The Soviet Union backed the Arabs with its vicious propaganda machine as did the Leftist fellow travelers the world over, many of them Jewish by birth. Those guys are still around in today’s world though their great patron and perfect society, the Soviet Union, is in the ash heap of history.
The Soviet Union armed Egypt and Syria to the teeth and trained their armies while Britain did the same for Jordan. These three Arab countries united their military commands and confidently proclaimed their certain victory before the first shot was even fired. Abba Eban, the then Israeli Foreign Minister, circled the globe’s capitols seeking help for his beleaguered country but finding none.
The ineptitude of the United Nations, the cynicism of the American State Department and the hollowness of the promises of the American President, and the anti-Semitism of de Gaulle, all were now blatantly revealed. I was then a rabbi in Miami Beach and I visited a neighboring church near my synagogue to ask the pastor to sign an interfaith letter supporting Israel that was to be published the next day in the local newspaper. I was shocked and saddened by the vehemence in his voice as he refused to do so. I then realized how truly alone the Jewish people were – and continue to be, when push comes to shove
Well, surprisingly Israel won the war in six days, reunited Jerusalem, acquired the Golan Heights and controlled the biblical land of Israel from the Jordan to the sea. The Jewish world was ecstatic, relieved but utterly confused. What was Israel to do with its victory and gains? The Arab world remained intransigently opposed to any type of recognition of or compromise with Israel.
So Israel began a decades long process of negotiating with itself, slowly but surely frittering away any of the benefits that accrued to it during the war and its aftermath. Over the decades Israel gave back the Sinai, the Gaza Strip, much of the West Bank, the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, recognized the establishment of a neighboring Palestinian state, fought many wars and endured continuing terrorist attacks, signed a number of meaningless agreements, all in a fruitless attempt to achieve a lasting solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict.
The Egyptian and Jordanian peace treaties have never achieved a significant change of the mindset of the population of those countries towards Israel and its right to exist. Those peace treaties by themselves today hang by a thread and certainly cannot be reckoned as being secure and binding by any stretch of imagination.
The Six Day War brought to the Jewish world a sense of unity and solidarity that since then has never been matched. At this point, the stark divisions in the Jewish world have since then been magnified and intensified. The political parties in Israel have splintered and subdivided. The personal animosities and the pursuit of ideology – secular and religious – have overcome the realistic practicalities of life and nationhood.
The leaders of Israel have been found wanting – corrupt, politically and morally, in a way that the original founders of the state would find hard to believe. The dream of Greater Israel has been smashed and the reality of lesser Israel offers little comfort and inspiration to many Jews both in Israel and in the Diaspora.
Yet, the Russian exile has returned home and the country is strong and relatively prosperous. I see Israel today as being paradoxically more Jewish, if not even more observant, than it was forty-five years ago. But the fire of idealism, of a great dream to be fulfilled is no longer present. We are weary of war and conflict and wary of false peace.
We distrust all of our political leaders with equal disdain and doubt their motives and schemes. They betray us on a regular basis – just ask the dispossessed of Gush Katif and now of Beit El. Somehow we never internalized the lessons of the Six Day War, so that the memories of that great moment in our history has turned from nostalgia to regret. History teaches us that when opportunity arises it must be seized. Rarely if ever does it reappear in the same form again.