As the 50th anniversary of the Six-Day War approaches, I very vividly recall one of the times that I was extremely proud to be a Jew.
During the early days of June 1967 I was in Camp Drum, N.Y., fulfilling my two-week active duty obligation as a member of the New Jersey National Guard. Jews and other supporters of Israel were becoming increasingly fearful and anxious as threats against Israel increased at an alarming rate. Egypt, Syria, Jordan, and Iraq were massing armies. They had the support of Israel’s nuclear-armed antagonist, the Soviet Union. Our country was mired in Vietnam and was only able to offer moral support to Israel.
Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser ordered United Nations peacekeepers to leave the Sinai Peninsula, clearing the way for an Egyptian invasion, and the United Nations acquiesced. This was after Nasser defied international law and blocked the Straits of Tiran. Except for some mild protests, the world community did little to counter an act of belligerence by Egypt.
On the eve of the war, I was very apprehensive of Israel’s fate, and I remember one of my buddies exclaim in sympathy, “poor little Israel.” On the early morning of Monday, June 5, my company assembled for the day’s training at which time I was able to glimpse at the early edition of the local newspaper. The headline was that hostilities broke out between Israel and Egypt. Reports were very fragmentary but indicated that fighting was taking place across a wide area including inside Israel (which thankfully was false). I heard nothing else that morning as I tended to my national guard duties. However, my apprehension only increased during those long hours as I hungered for updates. After lunch I entered my barracks just in time to hear the CBS radio news broadcast when the reporter said that in only six hours Israel had won its war against Egypt. As he proceeded to give details, a loud shout and whoop erupted from my bunk mates, most of whom were not Jewish.
Incredibly “poor little Israel” turned around what appeared to be a very grave situation and astounded the world with an amazing and heroic victory, and I was happy, relieved, and proud beyond measure.