I’ve read many accounts of the Six Day War, as I’m sure many of you have, but I’ve never read a first- person account – until now. Rabbi Emanuel Feldman’s 50th anniversary edition of his book, The 28th of Iyar, is an excellent addition to the canon of literature about this pivotal moment in history. Rabbi Feldman brings a fresh perspective with his book, written as a first-hand account through the eyes of an American in Israel.
There are many details here with which most of us are familiar. We know about the call-ups, about the streets empty of able-bodied people for weeks as everyone waits. We are familiar with the dread that people felt and the overwhelming feeling of betrayal that Israel faced, realizing that no other country cared enough to help.
What Rabbi Feldman brings to the stage is his unique perspective. He lived through these days as an American on sabbatical in Israel. He could have left at any moment, and was actually encouraged by his family in the States and by the American government to get out. Yet he and his family stayed; in doing so, they lived through some of the most significant, terrifying, exhilarating and ultimately victorious days in our history.
While reading his journal, I was moved and surprised by how much I related to many of his experiences, as an American Olah living here 50 years after the war. At the beginning of the book, writing about the efficiency with which the call-up takes place, Rabbi Feldman writes, “In view of the pathetic bumbling, hopeless red-tape, and buck-passing bureaucracy of almost every aspect of public and governmental life in Israel, the remarkable efficiency of the mobilization is miraculous.” While the bureaucracy has certainly improved, I’m often surprised by the juxtaposition of inefficiency and efficiency in our daily lives.
There are so many anecdotes with which I can relate, even so many years later. I’ve always been touched by the news we still hear every hour, on the hour, in Israel. It amazes me that the country is still small enough to have a national news review, and that the situation here is still ever-changing enough to need this review hourly. In the middle of the book, he wrote,
“Every few hours the radio carries messages to and from the soldiers and their families: ‘Chaim Zohar’s wife and daughters from Ein Hanetziv wish Chaim well and ask him to write.’ ‘Yosef Kohen is fine and sends love to his family in Haifa and tells them not to worry, everything is b’seder.’”
Even with today’s hyper-connected world, I can picture this happening.
In one humorous account, he recalls going to the post office to send a telegram, and watching as the post office clerk changes every person’s message to include only positive alerts. As Rabbi Feldman explains, “He edits and deletes and rewrites and censors – a word here, a phrase there. If the outside world this morning is receiving unusually ecstatic messages from a country at war, they have this clerk to thank.”
Short and easy to read, the book is uplifting and inspirational. It’s certainly a great reminder to those of us who have moved to Israel and set our future with this tumultuous, miraculous country. It’s a life-affirming account of one family’s tenacity and victory, along with a nation’s.