In a little more than two weeks, we will mark the 50th anniversary of the Six-Day War, in which a surrounded and threatened Israel battled and defeated its Arab neighboring states of Egypt, Jordan, and Syria, and in the process gained the territories of the Golan Heights, East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, and the Sinai Peninsula. I am hoping some colleagues, such as David Pryce-Jones, who know the region and its history, and this particular war’s significance, will expound on such as the anniversary approaches. That said, a pal (thanks Shraga) suggested I get a copy of the just-republished 1968 bestseller, The 28th of Iyar, written by an American Rabbi, Emanuel Feldman, who in 1967 found himself, and his family, having departed Atlanta for a year-long sabbatical in Israel, as a guest lecturer at Bar Ilan University, and who decided to keep a chronicle of daily life in Bnei Brak (“the very citadel of world Orthodoxy”) at the run-up to the war, and during its brief duration and immediate aftermath.
This is a wonderful book. The unfolding drama, the tension (ratcheting up with every passing day, and hour), the temptations (leave, or stay?), the volunteering (Feldman the mailman), relentless gossip, unnerving officials (Prime Minister Eshkol’s infamous radio address to the nation — “hemmed and hawed and stammered . . . if his words were calculated to inspire confidence, they had the opposite effect”), hopes (President Johnson called who?), fears (Nassar said what?), the spiritual fervor — it is all so engrossing. Rabbi Feldman writes with clarity and wisdom, and humor, and some of his descriptions of religious gatherings are exquisite. As is his account of finagling press credentials, thereby allowing him to get into Jerusalem, the Old City, and praying at the Western Wall on the war’s fifth days. He knows how to tell a tale, and well at that, and whether he meant to or not, in addition to giving a real-time account of a crisis, Rabbi Feldmen also tells the larger story of the character of a nation, a region, a faith, and of the obligations of citizens. It’s a short book, and a worthwhile one, but hard to find except through the publisher, which you can do here. You should. I heartily recommend it.