'This is where I belong'

An eyewitness account of a Hebrew University student’s experiences during the Six Day War.

six day war 521 (photo credit: GPCI)
six day war 521
(photo credit: GPCI)
‘As we marched into Jerusalem, the culmination of four days of tramping through the Judean Hills, we stepped lively down Jaffa Road to a multitude of cheers from those assembled to greet us. Who would have believed that a few weeks later, we would be under fire as we walked down that same street near the main post office. A barrier on Jaffa Road was one visible spot where the two parts of the city were separated, Jewish and Jordanian.”
Speaking is Dr. David Wilensky of Jerusalem, who has lived here for over three decades. When the Six Day War broke out Forty-five years ago, he was studying at the Hebrew University. He and all the other students in his program lived in the Hebrew University dormitories.
“Three weeks before the war, the country went on emergency status. The only ones left in the dorms were foreign students and Arab students,” he says.
David remembers those days well.
“On full blast in all our rooms was the English news from Jordanian radio concluding each broadcast with: ‘and to all you Zionists in Israel’ (with the sound of machine gun fire in the background).”
Wilensky realized these non-Israelis had their own agenda.
“The Arab students in the dorm, whom we lived with on a daily basis, were having victory parties, and someone left a bathing suit hanging on the door of our Israeli counselor in the dorm [Jews into the sea].”
Since the regular workers were in the military service, the American students volunteered for all types of jobs.
Many went to the kibbutzim to help with the spring harvest or whatever else was needed.
“I and some of my friends went to Kibbutz Ein Tzurim,” David noted. “Since they had no bomb shelters, our first job was to dig trenches near the houses so they would have somewhere to seek shelter in case of attack.”
Next they received an agricultural assignment.
“We went out and weeded the long rows of cotton plants that were just starting to grow.”
Another student, Adrienne Dodi’s experience was a bit different. She volunteered to work at the Hadassah Hospital switchboard. While there in those last weeks in May, the newspapers ran advertisements from the American embassy advising American citizens to leave. Adrienne received a more personal notice. Her parents had convinced their congressman to contact the embassy here, which duly dispatched an official to her dorm.
“Your parents have requested the ambassador to send you home,” he announced. “Why are you remaining in a country in a state of war?” Even back then it was clear where her heart was.
“I’m not in a foreign country,” she recalls saying. “This is where I belong.”
Adrienne has been here for many years, recently retiring as director of Shekel.
In 1967 Sheldon Weinstein was an attorney in Wilmington, Delaware. Now, he and his wife Ruthie are Israelis, living in Jerusalem. Sheldon approached the war in Delaware in a bit of an unusual way. Addicted to the portable radio under his pillow at night, he kept up with the breaking news since he could not sleep soundly. He knew about the crisis here in Israel as he followed the reports of the Arab countries’ preparation for war.
“In the early hours of June 5, 1967, I had to be one of only a few persons in Wilmington, Delaware to learn, via KYW [a Philadelphia 24-hour news station] which had just received a report from Reuters news agency out of London, that Israel had launched surprise air strikes against Arab forces. There were also reports that Israeli forces were reportedly engaged in major land and air battles on many fronts against overwhelming opposition.”
Weinstein could not go back to sleep; his mind was racing with the news he had just heard and with all the negative reports he had been showered with during the previous weeks. He got dressed and made his way to his law offices downtown wondering what might happen to our homeland Israel.
“Having parked my car and as I walked the four blocks to my office building at about 6 a.m., I passed by a liquor store owned by a Jewish merchant whom I knew. He was about to open his store and when he saw me he began to wave feverishly.”
Most people, that first morning of the war, both in Israel and throughout the world, did not know what was really happening. So the Weinstein report here was unusual.
“The liquor store owner had his short-wave radio in his hand and informed me in a very excited fashion that the reports he was receiving provided positive reports about Israel forces in battles on all fronts... yes, it did seem that Israel was advancing and not in retreat.”
The opening of the war for David Wilensky, who returned to Jerusalem from Kibbutz Ein Tzurim, was quite different. Let us listen to his firsthand report.
“On the first morning of the war, the siren went off at eight in the morning. We, of course, had returned to the dorms, and I remember how the cleaning lady stood at attention with her ‘sponga’ stick since she thought it was a memorial day. The only communication was by radio so we listened closely, hearing about the battles with the Egyptians but also being told by the announcer that it did not appear as if Jordan would enter the war.”
College students always like to move around, as David explains.
“So I and three other students headed downtown to take our laundry to the regular store where we had it done, which was located next to the main post office building on Jaffa Road. As we were waiting to hand in our laundry, suddenly, we heard the sound of artillery shelling and small arms fire. For those who only know Jerusalem as it is today, the old border dividing Jewish Jerusalem from Jordan was only a few hundred meters away from where we were standing.”
The next few seconds seemed an eternity for David, as it indeed it must have been.
“The proprietor of the store, where we were, started to cry because he had several sons in the army. As the shelling continued, no let-up whatsoever, we dashed across Jaffa Road, jumping into the stairwell of another building for protection. We huddled up there as the firing continued from the Jordanian troops. There were moments of real uncertainty. To our relief, about an hour later, Israeli tanks rolled up Jaffa Road in the direction of the border. That was the first time we were a little reassured. I guess as a New Orleans native, I was reminded of the Battle of New Orleans where civilians were lucky to survive.”
Even with the tanks, the shelling did not cease.
“We decided that the main post office building would offer us better protection. Running across the street we relocated to that building.”
One family planning aliya from the US at the beginning of June 1967 had to alter their plans unexpectedly.
Shoshana Dolgin-Beer, living here in Jerusalem since July 1967, explains what happened.
“The Six Day War not only changed Israel’s future, but it left my husband and me and our three daughters in Los Angeles, California in total limbo.”
Their fourth daughter, Ethel Zehava Dolgin, had spent the year 1966-1967 in Jerusalem studying at the Horev High School for girls and planned to meet her parents when they arrived.
“Moreover,” Shoshana said, “we had sold our house in LA; we were staying with family just awaiting the confirmation of a flight to make aliya.”
In her typical approach to a crisis in the history of Israel, Shoshana reported to the Los Angeles Jewish Agency offices.
“I helped register a multitude of volunteers prepared to fly to Israel to help in any way needed. In addition I contacted a friend whose daughter was also in Israel as we frantically and hopefully sought some uplifting news and comfort. We were among the lucky ones since our daughters had contacted us – we knew they were safe.”
A month and a half later the family did make aliya to Israel and have been here ever since.
When Wilensky and his friends found safety in the main post office, they asked if there was anything to do to help. The shooting of the Jordanians outside could still be heard.
“Our first task,” David recalls,“was to paste black paper over the windows of the telegraph room since there was a total blackout ordered for the city.”
Now this young man learned what Israeli bureaucracy was all about.
“Despite the emergency situation, the person in charge had to be sure to fulfill his normal duty in which he required us to sign a pledge of secrecy in terms of what we might read or hear. We all learned how to use the teletype machine. I even got to send a message to my parents in New Orleans [to tell them] I was safe.”
“Our tasks were important because we had to send out all the news dispatches,” David explained.“These correspondents had to come to the post office to send their stories which we teletyped for them. All other facilities were closed.”
One line has remained in his mind these 45 years. A story began, “Tonight shells rained down on the city of Jerusalem.”
On the second day of the war, David and his friends returned to the dorm at the Hebrew University. That was a target, too.
“Shells hit the campus at Givat Ram because the Army had placed the artillery batteries below in the Valley of the Cross. I slept in a building where it appeared we were safer.”
By the third evening of the war, the students went to the cafeteria. It was there the news came.
“‘The Kotel is in our hands,’ and over the radio we heard Rav Goren blow the shofar.”
The most wonderful moment for all those who were in Jerusalem on Shavuot was to enter the Old City, where they had not been since 1948. David Wilensky had that opportunity.
“I was invited to the home of one of my teachers for the ‘tikkun’ on Shavuot night. At four in the morning we began to walk, with footsteps echoing around us in the darkness, as throngs converged in the direction of the Old City. We entered through one of gates, walked through the rubble. We had arrived! We joined the multitudes of our fellow Jews as we all prayed for the first time at the Kotel, the Western Wall.”