Photo Credit: Faigie Heiman
Museum and Knesset, Rechavia Valley

Another June morning dawned over the Judean Hills, illuminating the sky over Jerusalem’s Rechavia neighborhood where we lived. Beneath our balcony on Rechov Hatibonim, the green and brown valley stretched across to the Israel Museum and the Knesset. A few soldiers were visible donning tallit and tefillin alongside partially-hidden tents, their military equipment camouflaged. The sun rose, slowly heating the cool air. Having observed the artillery corps battalion for three weeks as they set up camp in the valley readying for war, I didn’t think this day would be any different than the preceding days. Yet by noon, I doubted if I would ever see the sun rise or set again.

 Hatibonim 22 balcony facing Rechavia Valley
Hatibonim 22 balcony facing Rechavia Valley

There didn’t seem to be a reason not to send our four-year-old to kindergarten early that Monday morning. The children had filled burlap bags with sand and stored them on the window ledges of the gan to act as shields against falling shells and shrapnel. An inner windowless room was prepared as a makeshift shelter, and the children were trained to behave under attack. The kindergarten teacher, younger than my twenty-six years, was calm and confident so that leaving a child in the kindergarten any time during the three-week build-up to the war seemed normal, the most sensible Israeli thing to do.

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The siren sounded around 11 a.m. As I took one last look over the rails at my valley that had been so green, I spotted soldiers removing the brown camouflage netting from menacing artillery. Long-necked guns directed toward our building appeared like bulls eyes about to burst. I turned from the balcony and grabbed the key to the front door that dangled from a rubber band-turned bracelet. I scooped up our two year-old in one arm, grabbed two folding chairs in the other and started down the stairwell to the shelter as the front door slammed behind me. The siren rose and fell with alarming precision, alerting us to the reality that Jerusalem was under fire. It was June 5, 1967 and Jordan had joined Egypt and Syria and declared war on Israel.

I had never been challenged by war, never sat in a confined area, a dark grey cement-walled shelter together with neighbors, none of whom had much information about what was happening. One neighbor held a transistor radio. Reception was poor, and Kol Yisrael had a blackout on news. The country was at war and radio announcements were mainly emergency instructions for the public.

So I sat frozen, unable to think of anything beyond the moment. Rebbe Nachman of Breslov was not part of my spiritual awareness. He wasn’t popular in 1967. “The entire world is a narrow bridge,” he had said. His main point: “lo l’fached klal.” Did he really mean, “Do not fear”? I was not with him on that point because I was terrified! If I focused on my four-year-old whom we had left in gan early that morning, tears welled up, so I didn’t allow myself to think, not about my daughter, or my husband, or my parents, or anyone who wasn’t with me in the shelter.

Kotel, 29 Iyar, June 8, 1067
Kotel, 29 Iyar, June 8, 1067

Ice. I was a thin sliver of ice, immobilized, and under fire.

My neighbor, who also had a child in the same kindergarten, was levelheaded, and experienced. At one p.m. she announced she was going to pick up her daughter from the gan. She asked permission to bring our daughter home too.

“I know how to walk among exploding shells,” she assured me, “I did it in 1948.”

My tongue stuck to my palate; silently, I nodded permission.

An hour later my neighbor returned with both children and news that she met my parents in the gan.

“They were on the bus, returning from Hadassah Hospital where they visited your grandfather. Suddenly the siren sounded. The bus driver stopped on Aza in front of the gan and ordered his passengers to exit and proceed to the nearest shelter. Your parents followed instructions and soon found themselves in the corridor of the kindergarten together with your daughter, Hennie.”

“Where are they now? Why didn’t you bring my parents here?”

“They left the gan when I did and they’re walking home. They refused to return with me,” my neighbor said apologetically.

The shocking news drew me out of my freeze and into a near panic attack. My parents lived at least a fifteen-minute walk from the kindergarten. They did not have a shelter at home, and they did not have the experience my neighbor had of “walking among exploding shells.”

As the sky darkened, the IDF opened a crushing offensive attack. We heard the soldiers in the valley outside our shelter. “Three…two…one…FIRE!” “Three…two…one…Fire!” I held on to the children as each blast thundered into the air, as each blast shook our building to the foundations, frightened that each blast could turn into our last moment on earth.

My husband next to soldier at Kotel on Thursday, June 8, 1967
My husband next to soldier at Kotel on Thursday, June 8, 1967

Night had fallen. There was a narrow pile of sullied mattresses in the shelter where I put the children to sleep. Canon fire did not cease. I listened as the bombs burst in air, and I wondered, “Would they prove through the night that Jerusalem is still there? That we are still here?

My heart skipped a beat at footsteps, a creaky sound, and then a bolt as the door to the shelter opened. I could not turn my head, “Jordanian Legionnaires,” I thought, “they’re here! Yet, my neighbor is smiling, she seems happy.” So I turned slowly, stunned to see my husband enter the shelter. He was breathless from running through Rechavia streets after an entire day and some of the night at work in Boys Town in Bayit Vegan. The wheel of his car had fallen off and he left the car somewhere on the road.

He was as an angel, sent from heaven to placate my fears, to relate news that Israel had destroyed the Egyptian, Syrian, and Iraqi air forces. “We are still fighting,” he said, yet he assured our neighbors, “You’ll see, we will all walk to the Kotel HaMaaravi on Shavuot.”

One neighbor who was not religious looked up and said, “If what you predict is correct, even I will walk, and I will pray from my mother’s siddur, something I never did before.”

The rockets’ red glare, bombs bursting in air…” It was non-stop, back and forth throughout the night. Jordanian Legionnaires put up a fierce fight, yet on Tuesday morning, miraculously, we were still there, up and down, and in and out of the shelter.

On Wednesday at noon we heard the soldiers in the valley shouting and singing. We had no idea yet what had happened, but my husband noticed that the long-necked guns positioned toward Jerusalem had been turned southward, toward Bethlehem and Chevron. My husband managed to make it to Hadassah Hospital early that morning to see my Zaida. He returned with news that the entire lobby at the hospital was filled with stretchers, a makeshift provisional emergency room. The price of war was exorbitant, especially in human resources, in human life, and loss of limbs.

The radio continually reported news from towns and villages with unfamiliar Arabic names, where white sheets hung at doorways, windows and balconies, a sign of surrender to the Israel Defense Forces.

At 5 p.m. the news broadcast caught every Jew in a heart-stopping moment; an electric shock jolted the entire nation. “Har Habayit b’Yadeinu” – the Temple Mount is in our hands,” General Motta Gur announced.

Shofarot sounded, proclaiming victory in the Old City and at the Western Wall, liberated by our paratroopers from 19 years of Jordanian occupation.

How does one describe an historic moment of excruciating joy that defies reality? Yeshuat Hashem? Salvation? Deliverance? All in three days? And what of the three days that followed? Chevron, the Caves of the Patriarchs, Kever Rochel, Beit Lechem, and the Golan Heights, all part of a supreme miraculous military victory in a total of six days!

Euphoria ruled the nation, and a search for meaning followed. For some, that search concluded trusting that a return to pre-1967 armistice lines was the wise and just answer to save us from hostile Arab nations, to save us from acts of terrorism, to save us from self-destruction. That faithless fear-filled view was and still is insupportable.

The alternative conclusion was: faith in One G-d, His nation, the Land of Israel for His people.

Who Knows Fifty? The Jubilee celebration in Israel commemorates the Six-Day War, Yom Yerushalayim, Yom Chevron, Yom HaGolan – days that must be remembered, stories that must be told.

In every generation they rise to destroy us…” It is not just another popular song, it is the text we read in the Pesach Haggadah that is part of our nearly three-thousand-year old narrative, the story of where we came from, who we are, and what we have been through; text with a promise of Divine salvation, “v’Hakadosh Baruch Hu matzileinu miyadam.”

Our survival does not necessarily depend on physical strength or strength in numbers. Our survival depends on our collective memory, on our ability to recall events whereby the greatness of the Almighty and the outstanding and ongoing miracles that He continues to bless us with are retained and proclaimed annually.

Forged in slavery, solidified as a nation upon our exodus from Egypt, Israel has developed into an independent, powerful, economically-vibrant state where we live miracles daily. Sharing our story, sharing our joy and gratitude, sharing in celebration is our legacy.

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Faigie Heiman is an accomplished short story and essay writer, born and raised in Brooklyn, and who made aliya in 1960 where she lives with her husband in Jerusalem. A frequent contributor to Olam Yehudi, she authored a popular memoir titled “Girl For Sale” in which the events of the Six-Day War appear.