Forty-eight years have passed since the war in which the tiny state of Israel, only nineteen years in existence, fought yet another war of survival and came out the victor. The country’s inhabitants not been pushed into the sea as was threatened. Instead they’d reclaimed much of their Biblical lands. Although I was a young girl living in America then and far from any of the action, many of my contemporaries were smack-dab in the middle of the fight. I find their memories fascinating.
“What do I remember about the Six-Day War,” Ilana answered my question. “Not all that much. I was only in sixth grade.”
“I do recall helping my mother prepare the windows of our apartment. We cut long strips of heavy fabric and taped them to the glass both vertically and horizontally. My mother explained that if the windows were bombed out the glass shards would stay behind the material. My father wasn’t around. You know he’s a doctor?”
I nodded and Ilana continued. “He was still called up and the army sent him to Kiryat
Shemona to serve in a field hospital. We really missed him. I had to help my mother more than ever. On the first day of the war, only we didn’t know it was the first day then, I took my youngest brother to nursery school like I always did. As soon as I got him there we heard a siren. I didn’t really understand what was going on and it irritated me that his teacher wouldn’t let me leave the building. Then the all-clear sounded and I left for school. I think I was late but it didn’t matter. They sent us all home.”
“They let you go home all by yourself right after an air raid?” I interrupted.
“Uh,” Ilana faltered. “I really don’t remember. But I was home for the next six days. You know, the Lebanese border wasn’t that far from our apartment. It was a very short flight for a bomber jet so we took the sirens seriously. It was very frightening to go down to the bomb shelter. And then,” Ilana smiled, “it was all over. We went back to school but my father still hadn’t come home.”
“That was hard,” I offered.
“Of course,” Ilana agreed, “Now this is the important part of the story. Back at school they tried to make everything seem like normal in the classrooms but on the playground we talked all about the war. And I heard kids talking about Avi Steinfeld, that he’d been killed in the fighting. When I heard that my heart fell. Because,” Ilana hastened to explain, “Avi was my father’s very, very best friend. I decided I wouldn’t believe the rumor.”
“I don’t understand. Wouldn’t the army have come to the family right away if he was killed?”
Ilana shook her head. “It’s not like today. There were no computers. No cell phones. Lots of houses didn’t even have landline phones. Everything was a mess. I decided I wouldn’t believe the rumor and for sure I wouldn’t say anything about it to my mother.”
“It couldn’t have been easy for you to keep such a devastating secret,” I said.
Ilana nodded emphatically. “But I didn’t have to keep it quiet for long. A day or two later my father called home from a field phone. It was so great to hear from him. He told us he might get out for Shavuot. And then my mother began speaking to him in German. That was their ‘secret’ language but I’m not sure why they used it that way. My grandmother who never learned Hebrew lived with us until I was five and I understood everything my mother said. She told my father what everyone was saying about Avi. I don’t know what he said to her but later I found out he refused to believe the rumor, just like me. He did get out for Shavuot but he didn’t come straight home. Instead he took an army ambulance and drove to The Golan Heights.
You know, the roads there are not so great now so you can imagine what they
were like back then.”
|The Golan Today, www.123rf.com|
I agreed picturing the narrow two-lane, rutted highways of the Golan Heights today.
“And he had to worry about land mines but that didn’t stop him from going base to base, looking for Avi.”
Ilana’s voice was full of pride.
“And,” she exclaimed, “He found him! I can only imagine what it was like for my father. But he didn’t lose his head and he told Avi, ‘Write me a note for me to take to your family.’ So Avi did. My father got to Haifa just barely before sundown and he didn’t come straight home. He, of course, went to Steinfelds and they were ecstatic. Then he came home. You wouldn’t believe how he looked. He was covered with dust and full of mud, but were we happy to see him!”
“You know,” Ilana continued “The friendship between us and the Steinfelds just deepened. He taught my brothers to read from the Torah for their Bar Mitzvahs and my father helped Avi’s sons with their Bar Mitzvah speeches. They never forgot the effort my father made to find Avi and we’ve stayed deeply connected to each other until today. What I remember most about The Six Day War is how my father taught me the meaning of friendship. It’s a lesson I’ll never forget.”
*not the real name
** For more memories see
Liberating Shechem, May 25th, 2014
and Memories of the Six Day War, May 9th, 2013