By Jennifer Raskas
On June 12, 1967, two days after the Six-Day War ended, Elie Wiesel described in the Forverts newspaper the ecstatic response of worldwide Jewry to Israel’s seemingly miraculous victory: “Rarely, as a people, do we feel such a deep connection to each other, of loyalty to the purest principles driven by our shared history.”
Fifty years later, Yossi Klein Halevi, one of the premier Jewish scholars of the Six-Day War, wrote in Sh’ma Now, “Our debate over the existential fears of right and left could itself become an existential threat, tearing us apart…”
This week, as we commemorate this seminal half-century milestone in Israel’s history, Jewish communal leaders and educators can help our fractured community re-focus on unity. The toolkit – 1967 Miracles & Challenges – that we at the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington and The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington created can assist in these efforts.
The profound challenges Halevi referenced have caused deep physical and emotional pain for generations of Palestinians and Israelis, and fomented despair for many who see the unfolding of events over the past 50 years as an impending deterioration of Israel’s identity as a Jewish and democratic state. For others, the security threat to Israel’s very existence remains paramount and relinquishing land would be an egregious error. Additionally, today’s significant internal Jewish religious divisions are played out at the very holy site that so profoundly united us as a people five decades ago.
So how as Jewish professionals and lay leaders can we take steps to regain the unity that marked those heady days after the 1967 war?
We can start by teaching generations of Jews born after 1967 about the historical moment of Jewish unity at the end of the Six-Day War. Talk about the paralyzing fear, dread and isolation that Israel and its supporters felt going into those fateful days. Help young people access the overwhelming euphoria and elation of Jews worldwide when Israel not only saved itself from destruction but also emerged with a resounding victory, reuniting Jerusalem under Jewish sovereignty for the first time in 2,000 years. Let them metaphorically walk in the shoes of Jews who after so many years were once again able to visit and pray at the Western Wall.
Talk to them about the pride that emerged among Jewry worldwide, and as Halevi has said, the “spontaneous need on the part of Jews and the world to physically connect to Israel because of this feeling that we almost lost Israel.” Discuss how Deputy Minister Dr. Michael Oren has stated that the victory formed the basis of the U.S.-Israel strategic alliance.
Then, in the safe spaces of our institutions, whether JCCs, Federations, synagogues, camps, or schools, let us listen to the narratives, stories and reflections of those with whom we disagree. Too often in the Jewish community we dismiss or point fingers at ideological opponents, charging them with not being “true Zionists” or not caring about Israel’s well-being, when the motivating factor for both sides is so often the deepest, purest love for Israel and the future of its people. Leading up to this anniversary so many have analyzed the past 50 years. We can take this entire 50th anniversary year to encounter and absorb perspectives different from our own.
Finally, on this 50th anniversary, we can temper fear, weariness and despair with hope and imaginative, courageous leadership. We can collectively envision our most fervent wishes for Jerusalem, the Jewish people and all of Israel’s inhabitants, and reach across ideological, religious and political boundaries to work toward those goals.
The 1967 Miracles & Challenges toolkit can help us work toward this unity. With its original lesson plans including one on unity and divisions, the toolkit is replete with personal narratives, reflections and analysis, historical documents, Jewish text studies, and geographical and arts pieces from varying perspectives.
We encourage fellow Jewish professionals and lay leaders to take the 50th anniversary year not only to look back with wonder and sobering insight at what brought us to this moment in time but also to look forward and to imagine a brighter future for Israel and a less polarized Jewish community. In appreciating and respecting our collective differences, and in acting on the values and aspirations that unite us, we will be fulfilling our mission — and greatest hope — of securing Israel’s future for the next 50 years and beyond.
Jennifer Raskas is director of the Israel Action Center at the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington.