Chairman’s Message – Spring 2017

In the spring of 1967, as the inevitability of war in Israel became apparent, Jews the world over were gripped by fear and anxiety. Egyptian and Syrian leaders repeatedly stated that their goal was to eradicate the Jewish State. “We shall destroy Israel and its inhabitants,” declared PLO head Ahmed Shuqayri, “and as for the survivors—if there are any—the boats are ready to deport them.”

A little more than two decades after the Shoah, another Holocaust seemed imminent. In Israel, the hospitals were preparing to contend with thousands of war casualties; graves were being dug; men of military age were called up. The country was in a state of sheer terror and panic.

And then, suddenly, miracles started happening. Miracles of almost Biblical proportions.

As I write this message, the parashah we read this past Shabbos, Parashas Beshalach, comes to mind. The Jews are fleeing from Egypt when suddenly they realize they are being pursued by the Egyptian army. They are trapped—ahead of them is the Yam Suf, the Sea of Reeds, behind them is the Egyptian army. Bnei Yisrael are filled with fear; the situation seems dire, hopeless. But then Hashem commands Moshe to place his staff on the water and to split the sea. Bnei Yisrael are saved, and emerge safely on the other side of the Yam Suf.

Is the Splitting of the Sea so very different than the miracle that took place in the early morning of June 5, 1967? On that day—the very first day of the war—Israel surprised the Egyptians with a pre-emptive strike, resulting in the destruction of half of the Egyptian Air Force—204 planes while they were still on the ground!

More miracles. Tiny Israel succeeds in defeating the formidable forces of three Arab countries—Egypt, Syria and Jordan, not in two or three years, or in a few months, but in less than one week! In six days, Israel triples its territory; it gains the Sinai Peninsula, Judea and Samaria, the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights as well as the Old City and the Western Wall. Even the most secular Jew could not help but see the obvious Hand of God directing the war, bringing about a stunning victory.

In June of 1967, I was in the States. A recent college graduate, I had just started working as a news editor at WNEW Radio. In those days, it was not common to find Orthodox Jews in media, certainly not working in radio or TV. And even secular Jews in the field tended to keep their Jewish identity quiet.

While I was monitoring the situation in Israel closely, the Israeli government had imposed a strict news blackout so very little accurate information was trickling through. Meanwhile the Arab propaganda machine was in full force—with fake news reports that Tel Aviv was subject to incessant bombing. I called newly elected Philadelphia Mayor James Tate, visiting Tel Aviv, who told me from his hotel balcony overlooking the city that “everything was serene except for Israeli fighter jets flying overhead to and from their targets.”

On the second day of the war, I was working the overnight shift. Suddenly at 6:00 in the morning radio host Ted Brown appeared in the office. He was not due to be on the air until much later that afternoon. “What are you doing here?” I asked, surprised to see him.

“I want to keep track of my people,” he said.

I was astounded—I had no idea he was even Jewish.

But the Six-Day War seemed to remind so many Jews of their Jewishness and to awaken so many neshamos. Jews around the world, secular and religious, were euphoric to hear that the Kotel was back in Jewish hands, and that our holy sites were once again under our control. That Shavuot, which fell only a few days after the war ended, residents of Jerusalem saw an awe-inspiring sight: some 200,000 Jews—from secular kibbutzniks to Meah Shearim Chassidim—came to pray at the Kotel. Similar to ancient times, thousands streamed through the Old City in celebration of the holiday. Is it any wonder that the Teshuva Movement came about but a few short years later?

In honor of the fiftieth anniversary of the re-unification of Jerusalem, this issue includes a special section that we hope will bring readers back to that historic time in Jewish history. Drawing from the writings of some of the most prominent rabbis and leaders at that time including Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, zt”l; Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz, zt”l and Rabbi Shlomo Goren, zt”l, among others, this special section recalls both the fear and trepidation of the dark days preceding and during the war as well as the awe and wonder of this entirely unpredicted, unprecedented victory.

In addition, this issue is jam-packed with an array of thoughtful and timely articles including a fascinating study on divorce in the Orthodox community; a tribute to musical genius Ben Zion Shenker, z”l, and the latest halachic concerns surrounding reproductive technology. Also, don’t forget to check out our recipes for Pesach as well as our nutrition writer’s advice for those who will be spending Pesach at a hotel.

Before signing off, I want to remind everyone that we are always interested in hearing your comments and concerns, so feel free to e-mail us at ja@ou.org.

Wishing everyone a chag kasher vesame’ach.

Gerald M. Schreck is chairman of the Jewish Action Committee and vice chairman of the OU Board of Governors.

 

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This article was featured in the Spring 2017 issue of Jewish Action.
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