During the 1967 Six-Day War, against all odds, Israel fought for her life along all borders with Egypt, Jordan and Syria. Not only did the nascent Jewish state survive the onslaught, but it also gained control over Jerusalem, the West Bank, the Sinai Desert, the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights.
I was merely 3 years old at the time, but I remember hearing my parents, both Zionists, talking worriedly and seeing reports on the small black-and-white TV in our living room. Years later, I learned just how significant those six days were.
Just after Israel’s miraculous victory, Jews around the world were elated, but few could know the long-term impacts it would have. That triumph transformed not only the landscape of Israel, but also the entire Middle East, and it changed the lives of Jews around the world.
Returning to the holiest site in Judaism, Jerusalem’s Western Wall, suddenly stopped being a dream; any Jew today, after landing at Ben-Gurion Airport, can find himself or herself praying at the Kotel within a few hours. The Jewish Diaspora worried less and could sleep more easily knowing that the brave soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces passed the ultimate test, and the state of Israel was here to stay.
I first visited Israel in 1985. I distinctly remember standing in the Judean Hills, overlooking Jerusalem in all its historical beauty, and thinking that for more than 2,000 years this was the closest Jews could come to touching the Kotel.
It was thanks to the IDF’s Paratroopers Brigade and the more than 700 soldiers who gave their lives during those six crucial days that I was able to descend to the Old City and walk through Jaffa Gate and right up to the Kotel to pray.
Whether standing there in the Judean Hills or at my home here in Georgia, each time I hear Israel’s national anthem, “Hatikvah,” I am reminded of the sacrifices our people have made in the hope of having a free and peaceful Jewish homeland. Though we sing the first stanza of the original nine-stanza poem “Tikvateinu” by Naftali Herz Imber, the following stanzas most resonate with me as we remember those who came before us. They embody the Jewish people’s yearning to visit their holy city, Jerusalem:
As long as tears from our eyes
Flow like benevolent rain,
And throngs of our countrymen
Still pay homage at the graves of our fathers;
As long as our precious Wall
Appears before our eyes,
And over the destruction of our Temple
An eye still wells up with tears.
On June 7, 1967, Israeli photographer David Rubinger, who died just this March, took what is regarded as the iconic photo of the Six-Day War. “Paratroopers at the Western Wall” shows three war-weary IDF paratroopers looking up at the Kotel after having just won the battle for Jerusalem — and perfectly captures the emotions of Jews everywhere.
Fifty years later, the IDF’s brave young men and women still put their lives on the line every day to keep Israel safe. My organization, Friends of the Israel Defense Forces, supports well-being and educational programs for these soldiers. While their job is to look after Israel, ours is to look after them.
This June, FIDF will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Six-Day War locally by reuniting those three paratroopers, Zion Karasenti, Haim Oshri and Dr. Yizhak Yifat, whom Rubinger’s lens turned into unintentional symbols of Israel’s — and the Jewish people’s — miraculous victory. By bringing these heroes to Atlanta, we can take a fresh look back at that pivotal, historic moment and revitalize our core mission of supporting the men and women of the IDF.
We invite you to join us for this wonderful opportunity. To purchase tickets for our communitywide commemoration at The Temple in Midtown at 6 p.m. Monday, June 12, visit www.fidfse.wixsite.com/sixdaywar, or call 678-250-9030. Funds raised at this event will go toward FIDF’s educational programs for IDF soldiers. To learn more, visit fidf.org.
Seth Baron is the executive director of the Southeast Region of Friends of the Israel Defense Forces.