This week marks fifty years since the so-called “Six Day War.” Israel was a young country, surrounded by hostile enemies, who had pledged the destruction of a country that didn’t belong in the Middle East. In the weeks prior to the war, the armies of Egypt, Syria and Jordan had amassed and it was apparent that attack on Israel was inevitable. Beginning with a pre-emptive strike on the Egyptian airforce, Israel was (miraculously) victorious in but six days, during which time it gained footholds in Gaza, the West Bank, and the Old City of Jerusalem.
I was a teenager growing up in San Francisco at the time. I remember a great outpouring of concern and money to help Israel in its dire struggle, and I remember that Jews seemed to “come out of the walls” as their Jewish identity had been provoked and inspired. The same occurred in Jewish communities throughout the world. People who had displayed little concern for things Jewish suddenly came forth to affirm their identity, and to reach out to their brothers and sisters.
Fifty years have passed since that time. Regrettably, repeated efforts to reach a peace agreement have failed, and the prospects for such an agreement in the near future are not good. Yes, the majority of people in Israel favor a two-state solution as they want a better and safer future for their children and grandchildren. I believe that they will demand of their government that significant concessions be made if it appears that there is a realistic chance of reaching a peace agreement. But on the Palestinian side there is leadership chaos, and the continued refusal to recognize Israel’s right to exist. Still young Palestinian children are taught that they will one day destroy the Jewish nation!
The Six Day War taught us some enduring lessons that resonate with Jews today. No longer is our collective story one of victimhood. Israel’s strength and ability to stand up to its enemies made us proud and caused us to walk taller as Jews. And we were reminded of another important lesson: that we Jews are responsible for one another’s well-being, and that we are linked together past, present and future. And another lesson: We were reminded of how we are each needed, and how each of us has a contribution to make to the survival of Judaism and the Jewish people.
Fifty years have passed since Israel’s resounding victory in the 1967 Six Day War. But still we face great challenges. Israel continues to be surrounded by hostile neighbors, and anti-Semitism is on the increase throughout the world. And we American Jews especially face some great challenges. Upon what are we basing our Jewish identities? How deep is our commitment to Israel, or have we grown tired of responding to the needs of our Israeli brothers and sisters?
While I recognize Israel’s conflicts, both external and internal, I feel incredibly proud of all that Israel has become. A “mini” super power not only in military terms, but when it comes to science, medicine, technology, agriculture; and of course, the great experiment of bringing together Jewish people from throughout the world and trying to create a just and compassionate society. Yes, Israel deserves our continued support and engagement. For our grandparents, the notion of an independent and secure Jewish country was a distant vision. For us, it is a blessed reality that continues to impact upon our sense of ourselves as proud and worthy Jews.