Gal Beckerman is an author and journalist. A onetime editor at The New York Times Book Review, he has also worked at The Forward and the Columbia Journalism Review and written for many publications, including The Washington Post, New Republic and Wall Street Journal. He has been a fellow at the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation in Berlin and was also the recipient of a Pulitzer Traveling Fellowship from the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. His first book, “When They Come for Us, We’ll Be Gone,” a history of the Soviet Jewry movement, was published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in September 2010 and was awarded the National Jewish Book Award and the Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature, as well as being named a book of the year by The Washington Post and the New Yorker.
One man, who would become a refusenik, recalled how he would signal to another friend their secret pride in Israel: by placing a hand over one eye in homage to Moshe Dayan. The Six Day War created, almost overnight, a generation of dissidents willing to challenge a harsh regime for the right to emigrate to the country that was the source of this newfound pride.
For American Jews, too, there was an effect. Jews rushed to the Israeli embassy and consulates. They felt connected. They wanted to do more. Just as for the Soviet Jews, they felt the war as a surge of energy and attachment. Some made aliyah or, as in Russia, began a two-decade struggle to do so.
The war woke them up and reconnected them because it was a moment, even more clearly than the birth of Israel in some ways, in which Jews, so long the victims of history, were grabbing history by the reigns.
But there's something else of course: the blindness this euphoria produced. For fifty years now Israel has refused to accept that acquiring the West Bank and its now 2.7 Palestinians has created an existential crisis for the Jewish state.
For much of that half century Israelis either persisted in a sort of magical thinking that allowed them to avoid the direness of the situation, or they persisted in the false hope that this was temporary, an occupation that will one day not exist. Eventually, some day, there would be a leader who would solve the problem by giving the Palestinians their own state. But the seemingly unstoppable settlement enterprise -- led in many cases by those zealous Russian and American Jews who emigrated in the wake of 1967 -- combined with the lack of any true political will or constituency pushing for compromise forces us to face where we are in 2017.
If there is no way forward toward a two state solution today--toward a separation of the two peoples -- it is Israel, as much as the Palestinians, who will suffer the consequences.
Does acknowledging this crisis mean abandoning the pride and renewed Zionism that the Six Day War inspired? If that’s the case, then the Zionism awoken during the days of victory was a shallow thing. But I don’t think it was. The war allowed Jews to feel strongly; it proved to Israel's enemies that it was not going anywhere. But after fifty years, perhaps real strength means the ability to make sacrifices for long-term well being and survival of the Jewish state.
When thinking about the Six Day War it's difficult to reconcile the two realities that it spawned.
It is undeniable that the war served a redemptive purpose for the Jewish people--and not just in Israel. It provided a sense of strength -- even of the physical sort -- that bolstered the self-esteem and identity of Jews everywhere. When I interviewed Soviet Jews from Moscow and Leningrad for my book When They Come for Us, We'll Be Gone, Jews who were completely assimilated at the time of the Six Day War of 1967, they spoke about receiving the first news of Israel's victory as if it was they themselves in battle. They spoke about how it caused them to walk with their backs straight for the first time.