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Marc Gellman: Israel's Six Day War offered American Jews a refuge from the social traumas of the 1960s

[Gellman holds a B.A. from the University of Wisconsin and a Ph.D. in Philosophy from Northwestern University. He was ordained by the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and is the senior rabbi of Temple Beth Torah in Melville, New York. Gellman is a past president of the New York Board of Rabbis.]

I will gladly cede to pundits and political scientists the dubious task of deciding how the Six Day War, whose 40th anniversary we mark this week, changed the Middle East conflict. What I know with agonizing clarity is how the Six Day War changed me and many other American Jews of the boomer generation.

By the year 1967 I had turned 20 and America had turned crazy. The murders of John F. Kennedy in 1963, Michael Schwerner, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman in 1964, Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968, in addition to the personal risk of my being drafted to serve in Vietnam, had made me feel both embarrassed and scared about America and about being an American. It was a very bad time. The only good thing I remember is that we had very good music.

Then suddenly, on June 5, 1967, we American Jews had a rabbit hole down which we could flee the social traumas of the ’60s. Forty years ago, Israel was the perfect escape for us. It was a socialist country of non-American superheroes that was amazingly both strong and innocent, both an underdog and a victor. Best of all, Israel welcomed all of the thousands of American Jews who flocked to Israel right after the Six Day War—including me and my wife, Betty—perhaps less to find ourselves as Jews than to forget ourselves as Americans. The deepest purpose of Israel, enshrined in the law of return, was to provide refuge for fleeing Jews. After the Six Day War, for a very brief period of time, the Jews returning to Israel were fleeing America....
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