Shabbat and the Six Day War

June 16, 2017

Fifty years ago last Sunday, June 11, 1967, was the conclusion of the Six Day War. (June 5 – 11) The war began, when the Israeli Air Force, threatened by the buildup of Egyptian troops along the Israeli Border with Egypt, attacked every military airfield in Egypt.  By the end of the six days – the war was won, and Jerusalem was re-unified . . . it had been a divided city, with the old walled city itself over the border in Jordan, and West Jerusalem, the “Jewish” part of Jerusalem West of the old city in Israel. 

I was in college in 1967 – I was finishing up my sophomore year at UW Madison. Oddly enough, in addition to finishing up the semester, I was making plans to travel to Israel in July for my junior year in Israel at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. It was finals week during the war – but none of the Jewish students could concentrate. We were all glued to our radios. And . . . after the Israeli victory, there was Euphoria. Israel won. Later on that year, when I started studying at the Hebrew University, I was 20 years old and of military age. I was a foreign student, and of course I wasn’t serving in the Israeli military. However, so many of my fellow students (who tended to be a bit older than me since they served in the army before going to college) had fought in the war. Some of the older people I met had fought in THREE wars (1948, 1956 & 1967) . . . or even FOUR wars, if you include WWII. Many had lost friends and family.

The first Shabbat after the Six Day War, concentrated on both the pride and the tragedy. Jews worldwide flocked to our synagogues. Special prayers were said: the Mi Sheberach thanking God for sending us victory and keeping us “safe,” the Kaddish mourning the dead, even the shehechiyanu remarking on the joy of arriving to this time, after twenty years of the division of the City of Jerusalem, seeing it reunited.

But war is complicated and painful. The reunification of Jerusalem also meant the occupation of the West Bank of the Jordan, and of Gaza. But that Shabbat was one of amazement. It was a Shabbat of unity for Jews world wide. There was controversy, of course, among some even then; but, the reality of occupation, of danger, of terrorism, and of the responsibility of being a victor hadn’t sunk in yet.


June, 1967 – Israeli soldiers watch as Rabbi Shlomo Goren, the head of the IDF (Israel Defense Forces), blows the shofar at the Kotel (the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem).