Fifty three years ago, at almost 18, I got caught up in my high school Hebrew language course following the news in easy Hebrew, understanding that the Arab saber-rattling and posturing was on a war footing. Israel was threatened with brutal annihilation, its 3rd war, 22 years after the Holocaust. I took one of the last planes to Israel to join what was to be 50,000 volunteers who came to aid in Israel's time of need.
Everyone helped as we were needed.
Among the tasks assigned to me: Digging graves in Liberty Bell Park as 50,000 some odd fallen were estimated. In the end there were just short of 700 dead. Another task was filling bags of earth to protect entrances and windows against shelling. Finally we were assigned to kibbutzim or moshavim to harvest crops, milk cows, and collect eggs, enabling reservist soldiers to rejoin their units.
I replaced Ofer Feniger, releasing him from his kibbutz duties. He was a reserve paratrooper, who was the last soldier to fall in the key Ammunition Hill battle that led to the liberation of the the Old City and the eastern part of Jerusalem that had sat under the 19-year illegal occupation by Jordan. I was next to his father when Yitzchak Feniger received the sad news of his son's death. To this day, the Ammunition Hill Givat Hatachmoshet song is my phone ring tone.
Miraculously, Israel emerged from what has become known as the Six Day War. It was stronger. It had gained additional needed strategic depth. Most of all, Israel miraculously liberated its Biblical heartland and the Old City with the Western Wall and Temple Mount.
I remember having profuse tears of joy when then-Lt. Col. Motta Gur, later to become a friend, uttered the famous words "Har HaBayit beyadeynu": "The Temple Mount is in our hands."
My family and I made aliyah (immigrated to Israel - ed.) 30 years ago. Leaving business in the US, I devoted my energies to two vocations that have brought me much success and great satisfaction: 1) guiding Anglo tourists all around Israel - couples, and small and large groups of all kinds; and 2) teaching combat shooting and counter-terror martial arts tactics to individuals, groups, and security personnel, including secret service.
For me, Israel Independence Day and Jerusalem Day have the most personal intimate meaning.
We who were here and understood knew that we had been witness to a real miracle.
Living in tiny, chopped-up and virtually indefensible borders, fighting against overwhelming odds against a better-armed enemy, we emerged after a Six Day War. Has there ever been in so short a time such an unexpected victory?
And they rested on the Seventh Day.
Thank you G-d for Your many kindnesses and the special experiences of having been part of Israel's growth and defense. Happy Jerusalem Day.