Dear Beautiful Jewish Students,
This school year (2015-2016) was one of the roughest years security-wise in decades that Israel and Jerusalem have known. As young and old Arab terrorists launched stabbing attacks in the streets and ran over unexpecting, Jewish pedestrians with their cars, a casual walk outside became an act of courage.
Some of your peers left Israel, and we do not judge them, for one cannot live in a state of continued trepidation.
Look at yourselves. Take a step back and understand what you accomplished: you are the brave students who, despite legitimate concerns for your very survival and safety, told your parents, “Mom and Dad, I am staying, period.”
Your presence strengthened the economy during parts of the year when tourism was down. You provided livelihood for the teachers and staff at your institutions of study, you purchased falafels and shwarma like crazy, and you strengthened the inner fiber of Israel through Torah study, and contributed to the Jewish Nation’s brain trust in your university classes.
As the Arab murders continued, I was sure that more of you would leave. But you didn’t. You demonstrated determination and staying power to stand with the Jewish State and the Land of Israel in sidewalks-turned-war zones. Each of you was handpicked by Hashem to be here.
Your parents deserve medals of distinction as well for letting you stay. Their reward is to receive children - you - who matured immensely and were empowered with increased internal fortitude, as you weathered terrorist attacks sometimes only a few yards away from where you were located.
Without realizing it, you Jewish teenagers and young adults made Jewish history this year. Interestingly, the Mishna in Chapter 2 of Shavuot says that in order to expand the borders of Jerusalem, a necessary ingredient is “song.” You sang your song by embracing Jerusalem, engaging joyously in celebrating the holidays and Shabbatot in Israel, and gathering in the streets to meet friends, exchange smiles, and trade stories. Your joy and song strengthened Jerusalem.
Today, Israel celebrates the liberation of Jerusalem from our enemies in the Six Day War. A friend and mentor of mine, Era Rappaport, wrote an amazing account of how he came to check out Israel for a year just before the Six Day War broke out. He was an American student who saw injuries and death. You, too, witnessed the same around you this year. Segments of his captivating story I am copying just below. Read it and you’ll appreciate Jerusalem more today, Jerusalem Day. You’ll understand that you too, just like Era, were players in the center of Jewish history.
May you all go from Strength to Strength. The Land of Israel issued its call to you this year. Stay intimately connected!
Bet El Institutions
Amazing Account of an American Jewish Student in Israel During the Six Day War
Era Rappaport is a modern-day Jewish hero, a former mayor of Shilo, and one of Israel’s top tour guides. In a letter below, he writes of his experiences as an American student who came to check out Israel for a year just before the Six Day War.
Three weeks after Independence Day, Nasser, the president of Egypt, closed the straits of Tiran and started threatening war in order to chase us out of Israel and drive us into the sea. He was joined by Syria, Jordan, and another three Arab countries. They all started preparing for war.
I went with some American friends to the army office and asked to be drafted, but they didn't agree. We heard that the Shaarei Tzedek Hospital in Jerusalem needed volunteers to help prepare the hospital for war. Our Rebbe had told all the students who were part of the army to report immediately to their units and the other students to help in other ways.
We reported to the hospital and started filling sandbags to place around the windows and parts of the roof. We worked day and night but who even thought about that? At least we were doing something. While in Yeshiva University, I promised myself that I would never allow a Jew to be killed without fighting back. Now, at least we could fight back.
Other American students in Israel received letters and telegrams and even phone calls from their parents telling them to come back to United States. I sent a letter to my parents and they kept it so that I will still have it to this very day. 'Please don't ask me to return to the United States. I don't want to transgress the commandment of Honor thy Father and Mother, but understand that I can't leave now and that I will stay in Israel. Therefore, please don't ask me to come, for I won't be able to fulfill your request. G-d gave me a chance that millions of Jews throughout the generations have always prayed for – the opportunity to fight for the land of Israel.’
My father and mother didn't request of me to return to the States.
The next soldier we brought in the hospital was almost dead. I was holding half of his brain in my hand. He spoke his last words to me. "Don't forget Jerusalem," he said. I was later told by other soldiers who were with him that he saved the lives of many of them.
The second night of the war in Jerusalem, I was outside the hospital and the sky was lit up with the bombing of Jerusalem by the Jordanians. We prepared the emergency operating room in the basement, for we were fearful that the hospital would be bombed. During a short lull in the fighting, I had a few moments to think. I was scared and didn't know if I would live through the battle. I thought of the battles for Jerusalem during the times of the Temple. And I remembered the words of our teacher Rabbi Kook, just three weeks earlier on Independence Day, that great miracles were going to happen soon. As I was thinking, I passed the room where the dead bodies of our holy soldiers were placed until their burial. I thanked them for giving their lives for me to live. I promised them that their lives were not sacrificed for naught. Jerusalem would be ours, and we would keep it forever.
Some of my friends left Israel for the States before the war, for they were afraid. I was also afraid, but does that allow you to run away from your destiny? To be in Jerusalem during a war for our freedom is a real honor.
I reentered the hospital, and soon after, the ambulances started arriving. We knew that we were going to battle to free the Old City of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount. The casualties mounted. Some soldiers were brought in who were hurt fighting near Ramallah, north of Jerusalem. One of them told us of the bravery of a fellow soldier. His platoon was charging up the mountain. The Jordanians forced them down, but a few of our soldiers were left on the hillside. The soldier yelled that he was going to rescue his comrades. Under an incredibly heavy barrage of fire, he started up the hill. Somehow the Jordanians missed him, and he reached the first wounded soldier and brought him down. Then, once again, he started up the hill, but this time he was hit by a sharpshooter's fire. He didn't stop. He continued up and brought down another soldier who was hit. Still, a third time, he started up, was hit again, yet succeeded in saving another soldier – then he was sent to our hospital.
One hour later, we brought in many other soldiers were seriously wounded. But before I tell you what happened, I want you to know that members of the hospital staff were working almost two full days without any rest. One time, we brought in four wounded soldiers. Three were ours, and one a Jordanian sharpshooter. While one of the doctors was trying to save the life of the Jordanian, one of our soldiers gave his soul back to G-d. One of the other soldiers present in the room pointed to the Jordanian and said, "he was the one who killed the soldier." The nurse turned to look at our soldier who died. Then she started screaming and lunged at the Jordanian soldier. She was stopped by the doctor and fainted. The soldier who passed away was her brother!! But we saved the Jordanian's life!! Later that night I said to myself, what a crazy people we are. Saving the lives of those who are killing us. Is that also part of being a Jew, I asked myself?
I had little time to continue my thinking, for the war was getting more brutal. The soldiers who were brought to the hospital told us that our forces were approaching Jerusalem. Suddenly, a miracle happened right before my eyes. Together with another soldier, I was wheeling the stretcher of a wounded soldier from one of the makeshift emergency rooms into another room. Just as we wheeled out the bed, a shell hit the window and the wall of the room. Both of us were thrown back by the explosion, and then another shelf fell into the room itself. Only the shell didn't explode.
Had it exploded, the entire hospital would have gone up, for there were gas and oxygen tanks in the room!
During the next day, more and more soldiers told us that we were getting closer to Jerusalem. The air was full of electricity. All the soldiers that we brought in, each and everyone, told us over and over, "Jerusalem, Jerusalem." Everyone felt seized by great anticipation. We were afraid to vocalize the thought. We were going to enter and take back Jerusalem! We were going to reach the Temple Mount! I guess we were too scared, too shocked to really accept it.
There was one soldier, a parachutist, who refused to stay in bed. He had been badly wounded but insisted on returning to the war. He argued with the doctor, “For almost two thousand years, we have been forced out of Jerusalem. Are you trying to tell me that on the day that we finally free Jerusalem from the Jordanians and all the other foreigners, on that day, I won’t be among the fighters? I have to be there.” We calmed him down. At least I that we had. One hour later, I went up to visit him. The bed was empty! Six hours later, I was bringing in a seriously wounded soldier. I looked at his face, all covered with blood. When he saw me, he smiled. You guessed it - it was the same soldier. He fought in Yerushalayim.
Time passed and then the radio announced that we had captured Mt. Scopus and were preparing to enter the Old City. The fighting was fierce. The number of wounded soldiers that we were taking care of was going up and up.
I knew that soon, very soon, one of the moments that the Nation of Israel had been waiting for for thousands of years was about to happen. I thought of all the Jews back in the States. I felt sorry for them. What they were missing. Then the question that very often fills me - Why me? Why was I privileged to be here? There was almost no time to think; things were happening too quickly. We were rushing toward another step on the road to our redemption. My mind and body were swirling, and the injured soldiers kept on coming.
Then, over the ambulance radio, the following message came through. “Do you hear? Do you hear? I am bringing in injured from the Old City of Jerusalem.” My body froze and I couldn’t move. We are home! I kept on saying over and over. Quickly, we ran to the emergency and recovery rooms and turned on the radios all over. Beep, beep, beep, the music was interrupted for a bulletin. “The Central Army Command announces that our soldiers have entered the Old City; the TEMPLE MOUNT IS IN OUR HANDS. THE PRAYERS OF TWO THOUSAND YEARS HAVE BEEN ANSWERED, THE TEMPLE MOUNT IS IN OUR HANDS.”
And then even the announcer couldn’t keep on talking, and he also started crying. Suddenly, in the middle of the pain, in the middle of the treatment, from both floors of the hospital, the HaTikvah was heard. Soldiers who moments before were in agony from pain, stood up somehow, for our national anthem. Those who couldn’t stand up asked us to hold up their heads. Never before and never since have I sang our HaTikvah the way I sang or cried it then. The feeling of that moment, I will never be able to explain or relate. Holding the head of a holy soldier in my hand, I promised myself. Here I will live. I am back home to stay.
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