A book in time for 6-day war’s 50th anniversary

The 28th of Iyar – The Dramatic, Day-by-Day Journal of an American Family in Israel During the Six Day War By Rabbi Emanuel Feldman, Feldheim Publishers, Jerusalem, © 2017, ISBN 978-1-68025-294-1, p. 171, plus glossary, $14.95.

By Fred Reiss, Ed.D.

Fred Reiss, Ed.D

WINCHESTER, California –  If you’re old enough, you know where you were on December 7, 1941, November 22, 1963, and September 11, 2001. If you’re old enough and Jewish, you know where you were on June 6, 1967, or in the Jewish calendar 28 Iyar 5727. If you’re Israeli or happen to be in Israel at this time, 28 Iyar represents the culmination of nearly a month’s worth of gut-wrenching anxiety, hoping that Egyptian President Nasser is bluffing, but fearing that the hell-of-war falling on this tiny country is inevitable.

The 28th of Iyar is a minimally redacted journal written by Rabbi Emanuel Feldman, who with his wife and children, spent his sabbatical year in Israel, touring the country, living in “ultra-pious” Bnei Brak, and teaching at Bar Ilan University.

Feldman’s journal entries, which begin on 8 Iyar (May 18) and continue to 1 Sivan (June 9), convey the personal and passionate feelings of an Orthodox American Jew caught up in the whirlwind of political forces determined to end the Jewish state of Israel.

Feldman, refusing to leave, is deeply connected to Israelis through his students, the friends he made, and even his resident brother. By 14 Iyar, he is scorning the meaningless diplomatic rhetoric, while the Straits of Tiran are being mined, and noting the shortages of food coupled with a malaise falling over the home front: women, children and elderly men. Even he, usually optimistic, is feeling, like most around him, apprehensive. Each succeeding day is an emotional roller coaster as rumors ebb and flow, “and the latent religiosity of the average Israeli becomes more apparent,” describing how even militant anti-religionists have the word “God” on their lips.

Many of his American colleagues are fleeing, and although the Feldmans are scheduled to depart June 13, they remain, a decision that he attributes to the intensity of his wife’s convictions. Yet, Americans are arriving daily to assist Israel, and he learns from someone arriving from New York that “the American Jewish community is in a state of complete hysteria and frustration.”

Feldman describes the average Israeli’s frustration with Levi Eshkol and his government. Even some newspapers are openly calling for Ben Gurion’s return and demanding the service of Moshe Dayan, especially with the Egyptian-state newspaper stating that there is no alternative to armed war with Israel.

With the news on 21 Iyar that Jordan and Egypt signed a military pact, and now being virtually surrounded by as many as eight Arab armies, the feeling becomes mutual. Eshkol abruptly appoints Dayan Defense Minister and Feldman reports that on Shabbos, 24 Iyar, the country takes a sigh of relief, a feeling that continued into the next day. Two days later, while his children are enjoying breakfast, “we hear the throaty sound of wailing sirens.” Only a test. More sirens…all clear. Still more sirens, and now the town is deserted… An announcement on the radio; it’s Dayan. He is saying that Israeli defense forces are engaged in air and tank battles.

“We will defend our land against all our enemies, although we are a small people, outnumbered and surrounded.” Later that day, in a bomb shelter, Feldman writes that the radio is reporting Arab penetration on several fronts, including Jerusalem, but not a word about Israeli successes. It’s night, airplanes are heard overhead; sounds of ack-ack and poom-poom-poom are heard. Theirs or ours? Finally, he admits that perhaps he and his family should have returned to America. All clear.

Back in bed he turns on the radio, it’s Radio Cairo, and a German-accented announcer says,” We are coming! Forty million Arabs are coming to liberate our Palestine homeland! You had all better leave. Dayan and Rabin have already escaped. Eshkol is in Greece. Your army has been routed, your air force destroyed. We are coming! We are coming.”

The 28th of Iyar is not a soldier’s story – heroics on the battlefield, but one about how common people are going about their daily lives, coping with the shadow of an indifferent world and the memory of the Holocaust hanging over them. With humor, mockery, satire, and an obvious intense belief in God’s goodness and love for Israel, Feldman captures and conveys life inside a pressure-cooker about to explode.
Dr. Fred Reiss is a retired public and Hebrew school teacher and administrator. His newest book is The Jewish Calendar: History and Inner Workings.  He may be contacted via [email protected]

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