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How the Six-Day War changed American Jews

By Ben Sales

NEW YORK (JTA) – On the morning of June 5, 1967, as Arab armies and Israel clashed following weeks of tension, Rabbi Irving “Yitz” Greenberg sat anxious amid his congregants at daily prayers – fearful that the Jewish people would face extinction for the second time in 25 years.

“One of the people said, ‘They’re going to wipe out Israel. What’s going to be?’” recalled Greenberg, then the spiritual leader of a synagogue in the Riverdale section of the Bronx.

“I said, ‘They’re not going to wipe out Israel, and if they do, there’s going to be a sign up: The shul is closed.’ Faith could not go on with an unmitigated catastrophe of that size happening again.”

The fear felt by Greenberg pervaded the air in American Jewish communities that week. Two decades after the world learned the full extent of the Holocaust, Americans looked on from afar as Egypt and Syria threatened the young Jewish state.

Jonathan Sarna, then 12, remembers watching on TV as Israelis dug mass graves to prepare for potential slaughter. A teenage Yossi Klein Halevi remembers the broadcasts of mass rallies in Cairo calling for Israel’s death.

But many American Jews, haunted by their failure to act during the Holocaust, didn’t just passively watch events unfold – they decided to mobilize. They raised tens of millions of dollars. They held rallies. They lobbied President Lyndon Johnson.

Within days, however, the fear turned to relief. The relief turned to pride when Israel won the war in six days, tripling its territory and taking control of Judaism’s holiest sites.

The Six-Day War, as it quickly became known, intensified American Jews’ love for Israel and imbued them with a new confidence to advocate for their interests at home and abroad. And the terror that consumed the community in the run-up to the war led to an increased emphasis on Holocaust remembrance.

The shift from terror to power experienced by the Jewish community in June 1967 set up Holocaust memory and support of Israel as the twin poles of American Jewish identity. At the same time, however,

it sparked debates on territory, history, identity and occupation – issues that continue to consume American Jews 50 years later.

“There was an emotional trajectory that united Jewish people in a way I don’t think we’ve ever seen since the revelation at Mount Sinai 3,500 years ago,” said Klein Halevi, author of Like Dreamers, a chronicle of Israel’s Six-Day War generation. Growing up in Brooklyn, he recalled “moving from existential dread to relief when we realized that Israel had taken the offensive.”

American Jews poured their money into supporting the embattled state – creating a precedent (and expectations) for Jewish philanthropy for decades to come, historians say. In the New York City area alone, the United Jewish Appeal raised more than $20 million during the week of the war. Greenberg recalls a congregant taking out a second mortgage to donate $20,000 to Israel. In Scarsdale, N.Y., seven high school students raised $10,000 from their neighborhood on the war’s second day.

“American Jews didn’t want people to say we did nothing,” said Sarna, a professor of Jewish history at Brandeis University. “There wasn’t much they could do, but they knew they could give of their wealth.”

Jews also took to the streets to support Israel. On June 8, the third day of the war, 50,000 Jews rallied outside the White House, already demanding that Israel be allowed to keep its battlefield gains. The day after the war, 20,000 Jews filled New York’s Madison Square Garden to cheer the victory.

The victory gave American Jews an increased assertiveness to advocate for their own interests. Israel’s victory energized the movement to free Soviet Jewry, which would go on to organize large rallies in Washington, D.C., and protests at Soviet consulates, missions and cultural events across the country.

American Jews also became far more comfortable displaying their love for Israel, and Americans in general supported Israel in the war. Klein Halevi remembers his doctor decorating his waiting room with an enormous photo of Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Dayan.

“It really intensified a sense of Israel being central,” Sarna said. “American Jews love moments when their Americanness and their Jewishness reinforce one another. There’s this sense that the Six-Day War is a victory for America and for the Jewish people.”

Jews also began traveling more to Israel, which experienced a period of euphoria following the war. Immigration to the Jewish state rose steadily in the late 1960s and early ‘70s, and American Jews would later have a disproportionate presence in the settlement movement.

“There was just this spontaneous need on the part of Jews and the world to physically connect to Israel because of this feeling that we almost lost Israel,” said Klein Halevi.

Five decades later, says Hirschhorn, the joy felt in 1967 has faded for many American Jews born long after the war. They don’t remember the Six-Day War as a massacre averted or a near miraculous victory of David over Goliath. For Jews with memories of 1967, Hirschhorn said, feeling strong was an exhilarating experience. Now American Jews are still grappling with the meaning of Jewish power.

“The pride they felt in that moment has changed for our generation, who look at it in a different way and have seen the outcome of the war,” said Hirschhorn, who was born well after the war. “Now the question of our generation is, how do you manage Jewish power responsibly, whether that’s in the State of Israel or outside of it?”


Hadassah to Celebrate 1967  Return of Mount Scopus Hospital

Hadassah’s Mount Scopus campus today.

JERUSALEM — Hadassah will celebrate the 1967 return of its Mount Scopus hospital and the 50th Anniversary of the Reunification of Jerusalem at a May 25 ceremony with Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat.

The May 25th ceremony will recreate the memorable “key return” when then Hadassah National President Charlotte Jacobson received a commemorative key to Hadassah Mount Scopus from Jerusalem Mayor Teddy Kollek, reuniting Hadassah’s two hospitals in Jerusalem. The Mount Scopus hospital, which was closed after the 1948 attack on a convoy of hospital personnel, had become a UN-protected Israeli exclave guarded by Israeli security forces.

“Hadassah is the heartbeat of Jerusalem and our hospitals have always served as an oasis of healing and a tower of hope for the entire population of Israel – Jewish, Arab, Christian and others,” said Ellen Hershkin, the 26th National President of Hadassah. “The May 25th ceremony will honor the memory of those who made the ultimate sacrifice to Jerusalem’s Reunification and pay tribute to those people whose tireless efforts have made HMO a modern complex that rivals the best hospitals and research facilities anywhere in the world.”

Completed in 1934, Hadassah Mount Scopus was critical to the success of Hadassah’s mission to introduce modern health care to Israel. Following the closing of the Mount Scopus hospital, Hadassah Medical Organization (HMO) – an alliance of hospitals and medical centers throughout Jerusalem — was established. Hadassah Ein Kerem was completed in 1961.

When the June 1967 war began, Hadassah Ein Kerem was prepared for massive casualties thanks to a meticulous emergency plan created two years earlier by Director General Kalman Mann and his staff of physicians, nurses, hospital personnel, medical students and volunteers.

Fifteen-thousand sandbags were filled, hundreds of blackout shields created, 2,000 windows and glass doors were covered with anti-splinter gauze, 40 tanks of drinking water were distributed, and an emergency power system was made operational. Nine panels of the Hadassah Ein Kerem’s 12 iconic Marc Chagall Windows had already been removed for storage when Jordanian shells exploded in a courtyard, damaging one of the three remaining windows as well as the gynecology and obstetrics departments.

Only 92 physicians – of which 17 were surgeons – remained on Hadassah Ein Kerem’s staff because all doctors under the age of 49 had been called up by the Israeli Army. Working non-stop over the next three days, the doctors performed more than 400 major operations with the assistance of dentists, dermatologists, researchers, public health doctors, psychiatrists and anyone with any medical experience at all who could withstand the round-the-clock pace. Over the next three days, five women would give birth at Hadassah Ein Kerem.

On June 7, the road to Mount Scopus was opened again and the hospital was reclaimed by Hadassah. Just as Jerusalem was reunited, so Hadassah was reunited with its two hospital campuses. Hadassah Mount Scopus re-opened in 1975.



Three of Israel’s latest ‘miracles’

By Jacob Kamaras/JNS.org

With its forces vastly outnumbered by Arab armies, Israel’s victory in the 1948 War of Independence was widely considered a modern-day miracle. The Jewish state shocked the world again in 1967 by significantly expanding its borders and reunifying Jerusalem during the Six-Day War.

In 2017, the perceived miracles keep coming. JNS.org recounts five of Israel’s latest crowning achievements.


Baseball fever

Team Israel’s Cody Decker at the World Baseball Classic (WBC), with the team’s mascot, Mensch on a bench.

Team Israel far surpassed expectations at the World Baseball Classic (WBC) in March, starting the international tournament with a four-game winning streak—including victories over baseball powerhouses South Korea, Taiwan and Cuba—before losses to the Netherlands and Japan ended its run.

Israel’s squad, comprised of Jewish Americans who are eligible for Israeli citizenship, garnered significant attention from major mainstream media outlets. ESPN ran a feature article dubbing Israel the “Jamaican bobsled team of the WBC,” given its current underdog story. The New York Times ran with the headline, “With Mirth and a Mensch, Israel Upsets South Korea in WBC,” referring to the team’s mascot, the popular plush Hanukkah toy Mensch on a Bench.


A ‘new sheriff’ at the UN

Ambassador Nikki Haley

Israel has experienced decades of bias and disproportionate criticism from the United Nations, but the nascent Trump administration—under the leadership of Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley—is vowing to chart a new course for the world body’s culture on the Jewish state.

During her speech at March’s AIPAC policy conference, Haley described herself as the U.N.’s “new sheriff in town” and declared “the days of Israel-bashing are over.”

Haley, who in April assumed the U.N. Security Council’s rotating monthly presidency, has promised to refocus the council away from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“The incredibly destructive nature of Iranian and Hezbollah activities throughout the Middle East demands much more of our attention. It should become this council’s priority in the region,” she said April 20.


Energy independence day?

A satellite image of the Mediterranean Sea. The future Israel-Europe gas pipeline will run 1,200 miles undersea between the Jewish state and Italy. Credit: Eric Gaba/NASA World Wind.

What says “independence” more than energy independence?

Government ministers from Israel, Cyprus, Greece, Italy and the European Union this month agreed to advance the creation of the world’s longest gas pipeline, running 1,200 miles undersea between Israel and Italy.

The pipeline—which will cost upwards of $5.5 billion and is slated for completion by 2025—is expected to significantly increase Israel’s natural gas export potential and strengthen the Jewish state’s position as an emerging energy powerhouse in the Mediterranean.

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