by Rabbi Don Weber
SIX DAYS THAT CHANGED YOUR LIFE
FROM RABBI WEBER
If you are Jewish or are related to someone Jewish, your life changed 50 years ago this month. Even if you hadn’t been born yet, the events of June 1967 impacted your life. That was when the whole world started to look at Jews in a different light. Some people were inspired by the change; others were (and still are) angered by it. But for the first time in over two thousand years, the word “powerful” started to be used to describe Jews.
Israel became a nation in 1948, but the war of independence was won by the narrowest of margins. It was miraculous that it won at all – 800,000 Jews fought against 25 million Arabs and survived. But the 1948 war and the two decades which followed were a story of marginal survival, of eking out a living, of dreading the next attack.
In May 1967, Egypt ejected the UN troops charged with keeping the peace between Egypt and Israel. On May 25th, Egyptian President Nasser said, “The problem now before the Arab countries is not whether the port of Elat should be blockaded – but how to totally exterminate the state of Israel for all time.” Palestinian leader Ahmed Shukeiry, asked about the fate of the Jews in Israel after the war, replied, “I estimate none of them will survive.”
Israelis started stockpiling coffins (yes, you read that right) and designated parks around the country which would become cemeteries when the Arabs attacked.
But that is not what happened. On June 5, 1967, Israeli warplanes destroyed the Egyptian air force; the total attack lasted less than three hours. In the following days Israel rewrote the geography – and the history – of the Middle East. It was a time of immense celebration for Jews in Israel and around the world. The Temple Mount and the Western Wall were now in Jewish hands for the first time since the year 70. Israel tripled in size, but most important, its enemies were no longer within a stone’s throw of Israeli cities. (Before 1967, Israel was 12 miles wide at its narrowest point – less than the distance from TRT to Long Branch.)
The victory also brought domination of a million Palestinians; people who had been displaced by the War of Independence, and who were cynically used by their Arab “brethren” as pawns against Israel. The years that followed provided plenty of opportunities for both sides to behave badly, and both sides did, indeed, behave badly. But, as I said in a Yom Kippur sermon a few years ago, it would be naïve to believe that the occupied land is the cause of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, because the conflict existed long before Israel took control of those territories.
The real problem – for Israel’s Arab neighbors and, to be honest, for much of the world – is this: Jews are supposed to be weak, and Israel didn’t get the memo. For the last 2,000 years Jews have been the world’s scapegoats, refugees, the “driven leaf” blown around by the winds of powerful nations and powerful people. Jews, even up to my parent’s generation, were taught not to make waves; keep your head down and wait for the storm to subside, no matter what damage it causes along the way. But in 1967 Israel said, “No thank you. We are going to write our own history and control our own destiny.” And Jews around the world started to think differently – not only about Israel, but about ourselves.
Prior to 1967, almost no Jew wore a Jewish star around their neck. Some of us wore a mezuzzah, but we always tucked it inside our shirt. Even the mezuzzot we put on our doors were usually placed way up high, out of the normal line of sight; often we actually painted them the same color as the doorframe so they wouldn’t stick out. But June 1967 changed everything.
Jewish stars and mezuzzot worn proudly in public. Home mezuzzot made by famous artists, placed directly at eye level. T-shirts with the college name spelled out in Hebrew. Jewish lobbies in Washington. The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. Jewish summer camps. Israel Day parades. And teaching our children that if someone calls you a “kike,” you march into the principal’s office and file a discrimination complaint against them. All the products of 1967!
At times we have abused our new-found power. That is one of the dangers of power, for everyone. But even when we use our power wisely, it still annoys some people because… well, because Jews aren’t supposed to act that way. Jews are supposed to be weak, submissive, whimpering… you know, “Good Jews.” Much of the world was not prepared to have us go from “Oh, please don’t hurt us” to “Don’t mess with us, because you won’t like the results” in such a short time. But we have, and since I’ve lived most of my life in the years since 1967, my response is simple: “Get used to it, because we’re not going back.”
I assume there will be demonstrations and protests as the 50th anniversary of the Six Day War approaches. Yes, we need to listen to the cries of those who have been trampled under foot by Israeli power; we Jews are called upon to be a Holy People, and we dare not let our power go to our heads. But at the same time we should feel free to ignore those whose issue with us is not what we do, but that we dare to step powerfully onto the world stage instead of hiding and hoping no one will notice us.
The People of Israel and the Nation of Israel live, proudly and powerfully, whether anyone else likes it or not. Am Yisrael Chai!
Rabbi Don Weber
P.S. If you want to see for yourself what a proud, powerful Jewish country looks like, Shira and I invite you to join us this December as we partner with the Jewish Federation on a 10-day trip to Israel. Information is in this newsletter, or speak with either of us.
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