Editor’s Note: Rabbi Emanuel Feldman, on sabbatical from his Atlanta pulpit in 1967, was living in Bnei Brak and teaching at Bar Ilan University. Rabbi Feldman’s daily journal of the tense weeks before the Six Day War and during the war itself was published soon after. The dramatic story of an American family living through the frantic and historical days of June 1967, the book has been republished by Feldheim in advance of the 50th anniversary of the war.
26 Iyar: Monday, June 5
Air-raid sirens begin to plead again. We grab our packages of foodand water – and the transistor radio – and run down to the shelter….
We hear thudding noises in the distance. Bombs? Cannons? Artillery? Shells? No one knows. A new sound now – staccato – the sound of anti-aircraft guns. No wonder they are called ack-ack guns. Exactly. Ack-ack- ack, ack- ack- ack- ack. There are other sounds: poom – poom poom poom poom, stopping suddenly like interrupted sentences. The ground trembles beneath us. Are they bombing Tel Aviv? Everyone is silent, listening intently. If the children are frightened, they hide it well. But they are frightened. Amram’s eyes are huge black marbles, and Chavah is staring at me.
The children! It hits us suddenly that Ilan and Jonathan are still in school. Do they have a shelter at school?
“Yes, yes,” say the neighbors, “don’t worry, a fine shelter.”
Good. They have a fine shelter at school. Odd how grateful one can be for a simple thing like a fine shelter at school. Nice project for the next PTA meeting. Furnish the fine shelter at school. Wall-to-wall carpeting, wall-to-wall everything…. Oh, how lovely how sweet how nice how pleasant how comforting to know that they have a fine shelter at school and the air battles are going on above us and tank battles and infantry and poom poom poom as the ground trembles….
Good Lord, our Father, our King save us for Your sake Hashem is my shepherd I shall not want the dead cannot praise Hashem some trust in chariots and some in horses but we call up the name of Hashem our G-d blessed are You O G-d redeemer of Israel Creator of fine shelters at school.
The all-clear sounds. I dash out of the shelter and run the two blacks to the school to pick up the boys. By the time I get there, all the children are out in the school yard. Ilan and Jonathan and their classmates are gathered around their teacher, a man of sixty. He is gently telling them not to be afraid, for G-d will not permit His holy land to be destroyed. I take the boys and we run back to the shelter.
It is excruciating. The radio gives us absolutely no news. It is now almost noon. We have been in and out of the shelter all morning. The booming echo of artillery and/or shelling is heard. There is a war on, but where are we fighting? In the desert? In the North? And how are we doing? Maybe the enemy is advancing on us. Unlikely, but anything is possible. In the back of my mind – and I keep it to myself – is the terrible, lurking fear of Egyptian missiles. There is no defense against missiles directed against civilian centers. But all we hear are the brief, curt, quiet announcements that “we are engaging the enemy on all fronts.” And martial music….
Finally, at two o’clock – we are back in the shelter – as if it had been uncorked from a full bottle, we get a flood of hard news. At 1:20, Kfar Saba was shelled by Jordanian artillery; since this morning, Jordanian artillery has been pounding Jerusalem, and at 1:35, twelve civilians were wounded in the center of Jerusalem….Lachish in the north was shelled by artillery, as was the Mei Ami settlement; Syrian planes have penetrated Israeli air space and bombed Netanya (10 miles north of us) and Megiddo in the Galilee; Egyptian artillery has attacked Nahal Oz in the Negev.
The news is over. And now that we have heard it we wish we hadn’t. There is an ominous ring to it. And Jordan – sly, treacherous Jordan – is in it too, up to her neck. A voice from the far corner of the shelter: “What are our troops doing? Why no news about what we are doing? Surely we’re not just sitting still are we?”
“From all sides, from all sides,” Mrs. Herman says with a nod of her heard.
“Yayardeinim – the Jordanians. They’re in it, too. This is worse than Suez. Then we had only to worry about the Egyptians.”
“Yihyeh tov – It will be good.”
But we are worried and apprehensive. And the sirens wail us in and out of the shelter regularly. We run down dutifully, we trudge back up. Gradually, the shelter fills up with people and with furniture: mattresses, cribs, pillows, jugs of water, buckets of sand. Some families make plans to spend the night. Chavah begs permission of us to spend the night in the shelter with her friends….
* * *
Today the greetings to me have changed. No one asks, Why are staying? This is a moot question now, since all airports and harbors are closed and no one can get out if he wants to. Today the greeting is: “Ah, I see you stayed,” with a smile of pleasure. It makes them feel good. It makes us feel good. No more fancy metaphysical reasons for staying. Perhaps the real reason was that we were certain there would be no shooting. We were quite wrong….
On R. Akiva Street I run into B, the well-known black-market dealer. For some reason, I am very fond of him.
“It will be all right. We will win,” he says. Not very original, but hopeful. Then he looks around him and whispers to me, “I have vowed not to deal in ‘black’ until the war is over. The government needs the dollars.” He is obviously very proud of his gesture. But it worries me: if B has suddenly become patriotic, things must be very bad….
During a lull in the shelling, Ephraim comes over to the house. He is an American college student now studying at Ponevezh Yeshiva and has been very close to us. “I wanted to say goodbye to you,” he says.
“Goodbye? Where are you going?”
“I’m not going, I’m staying here. But I just thought, just in case anything happens, you know – I just wanted to come by and…” His voice trails off.
I am somewhat embarrassed. “Well,” I say lamely, “it will turn out all right. How are things going at the Yeshiva?”
“Everyone is down in the shelter, and we are all studying down there. The Rosh Yeshiva has put us on a kind of 24-hour duty for the duration. He wants at least 50 boys studying at every minute of the day and night. You know Rav Kahaneman. He says that Torah study is the generator which will keep our men in the field going.”…
* * *
The afternoon lull ends abruptly at about four o’clock with the familiar wail. This time the shelter is packed. All the men who were caught at work since early morning have managed to get home. We begin setting up sleeping arrangements for the night. Sheinfeld balks: “No need to worry about tonight. The Arab pilots are afraid of night flying.…”
Sheinfeld is wrong: the worst and longest alert begins at night, at eight, and lasts for three hours….
We hear the sound of airplanes overhead – our or theirs? Flares shoot up, darkness becomes light for a full 60 seconds…. It is like a stage set, pretty but unreal: the sudden bright orange, the yellow flares in the night sky, the crimson spew of flames bursting and flashing for a quick moment into the dark blue of the night. We huddle in the black shelter and we can only watch, and wonder, and hope….
Inside, the children are restless, trying bravely not to show their fear. Only children and fools think that fear is something to be ashamed of. Amram tries to be funny: “It’s like a movie.” Jonathan has one major concern: “Do you think we’ll have school tomorrow?”
“No, I would think not.”
At least someone is happy with this war.
Reprinted with permission from The 28th of Iyar – 50th Anniversary Edition (Feldheim) by Rabbi Emanuel Feldman.