REMEMBERING JUNE 1967 – Rabbi Elli Tikvah Sarah – SJN, June 2017
Looking back fifty years, 12 years old at the time, I have two enduring memories of June 1967: the release of the Beatles’ spectacular LP, Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which came out on the 1st of the month, and the Six-Day War, which began on June 5th.
I remember sitting with my elder brother, Geoffrey and younger sister Julia on my brother’s bed, gazing at the album cover, inspecting the photomontage, as we listened to a sound that was completely new. We were in rapture. Of course, it didn’t take us very long before we knew all the songs by heart. Needless to say, at the time I did not know that ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ was about the hallucinogenic drug, LSD.
And then, there was the Six-Day War. Another crystal-clear memory: sitting with my parents’ Israeli friends, Ofra and Henry, in their flat, watching the news reports on the TV. I was so fired up that the next day, during morning break time, as we ate our snacks, I stood on a chair in the classroom, and exhorted my classmates about the valiant Israelis. There were a few Jewish students in my class, and they were equally impassioned. After the war ended in victory for Israel, one of them got hold of a poster of Moshe Dayan, which soon took pride of place on his bedroom wall. As the war raged, my parents and my brother had given blood at our local synagogue. But when I asked Dad if I could also put up a poster of the hero of the hour, he refused, telling me angrily, ‘I will not have a photograph of a war-monger on any wall in my house.’ My mother, a passionate socialist Zionist, didn’t agree – but as usual, my father’s will prevailed.
It took me a long time to understand my father’s vehement reaction. A Viennese Jew, who had left Austria in 1936 for South Africa before the Nazi occupation, my father escaped the fate of his father, who was arrested on 13th November 1938 and incarcerated in Dachau. My grandfather was released on 19th January 1939, on condition that he left the country with his family, and my father managed to secure domestic permits for his parents, which brought them to England before an onward journey to the United States. But my father was left with an enduring horror of any form of nationalism – so much so that when the nationalist government came into power in South Africa in 1949, he and my mother, whom he met and married in London on a business trip two years earlier, promptly left the country, never to return.
Five years after the Six Day War, when the PLO massacred Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics in 1972, I spoke to Dad about the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. ‘Of course, Jews everywhere must be free from terror, persecution and anti-Semitism’, he said, ‘but Israel cannot have security and Israelis will never enjoy peace as long as they rule over the Palestinians.’ As we mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Six Day War, his words come back to haunt me. With the 70th anniversary approaching of the UN vote on 29th November 1947 in favour of partition of the disputed land into two states, and the centenary of the Balfour Declaration four weeks earlier (2nd November 2017), can we dare to hope that 2017 may also be the year that an agreement is reached, with international support, that will at last ensure security, sovereignty and peace for both peoples?